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Nine months in, It’s not going away: We have reached a crisis point


GALENA–The leaders of the Jo Daviess County Health Department and Midwest Medical Center are calling for support during these trying times of the coronavirus pandemic as the community hits record marks weekly.

“We need our community support right now,” said Tracy Bauer, CEO of Midwest Medical Center. “We need everyone to follow mitigations to get through this and get on the other side of the curve.”

Bauer said the positivity rate impacts the nursing home and that the nursing home has been hit by an outbreak that is beginning to subside and all residents are off of isolation.

“The positivity rate over 10 percent means we have to mass test all of our employees and our residents at the senior care campus twice per week,” said Bauer. “The amount of additional staff time that requires and a lot of times you are testing them before the previous test even comes back.”

Bauer said the nursing home has been on visitor restriction since March 13 and the staff has stepped up to give support and help to those at the senior care facility.

“It has been challenging,” said Bauer.

Public health administrator Sandra Schleicher said her staff is working hard with contacts but as the numbers increase, this task becomes more difficult.

The health department hired one additional contact tracer last week to assist with the phone calls.

“The number of phone calls is overwhelming,” said Schleicher.

The surge of positivity has also increased the amount of outpatient COVID testing on a daily basis, and Midwest Medical Center has converted a wing of the hospital including installing new walls to keep that area separate from other patients.

“Since we opened that up, we have been seeing anywhere from two to five patients in that wing that are positive with COVID,” said Bauer.

Bauer also said the hospital has seen an increase in the volume of emergency room visits.

“Tuesday, for example, we saw 16 patients in our ER,” said Bauer. “ We are seeing more patients with COVID symptoms.”

Bauer said that workforce challenges have also been something that Midwest Medical Center is facing, even as patient census increases. Bauer noted that she had 14 staff members out with COVID or as a result of quarantine.

“This is so much bigger than you can even imagine,” said Bauer. “If you or your loved one needs a bed, we might not have a staffed bed available for you in our hospital. If you need an ICU bed, you may have to go to Madison because one finally opened up. We are sending patients 100 miles away with no visitors and no family.”

Bauer is balancing the difficulty of COVID and trying to figure out how many they can handle on a daily basis.

Midwest Medical Center is able to handle 13 beds with their inpatient nursing and the hospital does have contingency plans in place if they increase that number by pulling staff from other areas of the hospital to help cover and provide support for the COVID patients.

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Schleicher said she has seen an increase in those wanting to be tested.

Bauer emphasized that those needing a COVID test should not go to the ER to get tested but rather the drive through option that Midwest Medical Center offers or an outpatient test.

Schleicher said there will be an upcoming test scheduled for Nov. 29 that will be in a new location in the county.

“The last one was very well attended and got quite a few positive cases out of it,” said Schleicher. “We had people waiting in line for an hour due to a test.”

According to Schleicher, as of Nov. 12, the county had 239 active cases with 428 people in quarantine on top of those 239 positives.

Schleicher said the cases are all over and there isn’t one central location that is growing faster than others.

“There have been a lot of social gatherings that are causing a lot of cases,” said Schleicher. “There are also a lot of households where the entire household is coming up positive.”

Bauer and Schleicher, as well as the Illinois Department of Public Health officials, are concerned about the upcoming holidays and the number of people that could potentially gather during Thanksgiving and Christmas celebrations.

To help decrease the positivity rate, IDPH recommends the following:

•For the next three weeks, work with your employer to plan to work from home unless it is necessary for you to be in the workplace. We ask employers to make accommodation for this. Our goal is to reduce transmission as we head into the holidays so businesses and schools can remain open.

•For the next three weeks, stay home as much as possible, leaving only for necessary and essential activities, such as work that must be performed outside the home, COVID-19 testing, visiting the pharmacy, and buying groceries.

•The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health experts tell us that gatherings and travel in and out of communities present a high risk of spreading the infection. In our current situation, with a rising prevalence of the virus, attending even small gatherings that mix households, or traveling to areas that are experiencing high rates of positivity, is not advised and is potentially dangerous.

“People are going to be traveling and having visitors from out of town,” said Schleicher as she is concerned about the upcoming holiday gatherings and the impact that could have on positive cases in the county. “Keep your group small, I know it stinks, but making a decision to not be around as many people is a good idea.”

Bauer said she asks her staff to follow region one mitigation strategies.

“There is a reason that those were put in place,” said Bauer. “If we all would do our part and follow the recommendations from IDPH, we will reach the other side much sooner. If we don’t look out for the best interests of our families and our community then this will just continue to run rampant and overwhelm the health care system.”

“I think our message needs to be that the health department and hospital can’t do it by ourselves, it will take the entire county working together to slow it down,” said Schleicher.

“We have reached a crisis point with this pandemic,” said Bauer. “We all have to take ownership in it and we all have to come together and make the right decisions not just for ourselves but put other people in front of ourselves.”