Monroe County records another COVID death

Pictured, an individual gets tested for the coronavirus at an Illinois Department of Public Health mobile testing site in Dupo on Aug. 26. 

Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner reported Tuesday that another Monroe County resident has died from COVID-19, bringing the Illinois Department of Public Health’s tally for the county to 15.

Wagner said the deceased is a female in her 80s who died shortly after going to the hospital. He said the state has confirmed that coronavirus caused her death.

“She just came on our list probably about three days ago,” Wagner said. “It wasn’t a prolonged stay in the ICU or anything like that.”

This death comes after Monroe County reached the IDPH warning level for the fourth time and second week in a row Friday, the same week new state-imposed mitigations took effect. 

Twenty-nine counties, including fellow metro east counties Clinton, Madison, Randolph and St. Clair, made the list. The data was from the week of Aug. 23.

“Some of the common factors for an increase in cases and outbreaks are associated with college parties, weddings, large gatherings, bars and clubs, long-term care facilities and other congregate settings, travel to neighboring states and spread among members of the same household who are not isolating at home,” the IDPH said in a press release. “Cases connected to schools are beginning to be reported. General transmission of the virus in the community is also increasing.”

For the week of Aug. 23, Monroe County had 146 cases per 100,000 people (the goal is 50 or fewer), a test positivity rate of 8.1 percent (the goal is less than or equal to 8 percent) and performed 432 tests (the goal is to do enough tests to meet the positivity rate goal).

The county met the other metrics of number of deaths, emergency department visits and hospital admissions for COVID-19-like illnesses and ICU bed availability.

The designation comes after the IDPH announced that all indoor service at bars and restaurants in the metro east will be prohibited effective Wednesday. 

That is the only new mitigation measure to be implemented due to a continued high test positivity rate for COVID-19 in the region. Current restrictions like limiting capacity and social distancing will remain in place. 

These measures, which will last at least 14 days, come after the metro east region – which includes Monroe County – had more restrictions put in place beginning Aug. 18 for a 14-day period that expired Sept. 1. 

Those restrictions included the closing of bars and restaurants by 11 p.m. and the reduction of gathering sizes to 25 people or 25 percent of room capacity, whichever is lower.

State Rep. Nathan Reitz (D-Steeleville) expressed frustration about the new regulations before calling on Gov. JB Pritzker to provide grant funding for small businesses. 

“These proposed rules add to the burden of businesses that have already felt the brunt of this pandemic and adds to the economic toll it has taken on southern Illinois employers and employees,” Reitz said. “We all want residents to be safe and healthy, but it must also be done in a way that does not create additional burdens on those facing difficult financial situations. Many employers that have already made long-term investments and are now left in an even more strained position, and when we look at growing case numbers, many of these are in closed state facilities where community spread is highly unlikely.” 

State Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) weighed in on Thursday, also criticizing the new measures.

“This morning I asked Gov. Pritzker to significantly revise and update his COVID-19 mitigation plan,” Schimpf said. “From the very beginning, he made it clear that the goal was to flatten the curve so that our hospitals aren’t overwhelmed. Yet his plan relies on the positivity rate as a trigger for actions, even though we’ve clearly seen that in Region 4, the positivity rate does not contain sufficient accuracy or insight to meaningfully assess the spread of COVID-19. He should switch to the hospitalization rate, a far more accurate metric for where we are, before he asks our businesses and their employees to take another significant hit that they can’t afford.”

According to the state’s coronavirus resurgence mitigation plan, if the region’s positivity rate remains over 8 percent after current restrictions have been in place for two weeks, more measures will be implemented.

If it drops to an average between 6.5 and 8 percent, current restrictions will remain in place. If it goes as low as 6.5 or less, current mitigation measures will be lifted.

So far, the numbers have held relatively steady or even slightly worsened. 

The region’s positivity rate has risen five days since Aug. 27. The metro east had a 9.8 percent positivity rate as of Sept. 4.

The region has also seen three days of hospitalization increases since Aug. 27. It has 30 percent hospital availability and 41 percent ICU bed availability.

Metro east officials spoke with the state Monday, pushing for indoor dining at bars and restaurants to remain open because relatively few cases have been traced back to those businesses, Wagner said. 

Monroe County has had 541 reported cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with 127 new cases here since Aug. 25.

There were 11 new cases Tuesday, five new cases Monday, 15 new cases Sunday, eight new cases Saturday, 25 new cases Friday, four new cases Thursday and 12 new cases Wednesday.

Wagner said the large increase in cases Friday was due to case numbers being low on Thursday.

“I do not know if there was a delay in lab reporting yesterday or why the decrease in numbers yesterday and then increase today,” he said. “Many positives came in late yesterday after the low number was reported for the day. Those numbers are reported today along with the new positives for today.”

At last count, 61 cases are active in Monroe County and two residents are hospitalized with the virus.

“Our cases are on the upswing right now, kind of,” Wagner said. “It looks like we are going to be at that higher level of 10-plus cases a day. It’s definitely not going in the right direction, but with schools going back and people going out a little more it’s not unexpected.” 

Amid this uptick in the county’s numbers, the IDPH and Monroe County Health Department announced a free COVID-19 community testing site is coming to the county.

This Friday, there was community testing from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Monroe County Annex building’s parking lot at 901 Illinois Avenue in Waterloo.

Wagner estimated about 250 people got tested at the event.

“It was a good day for them,” Wagner said of the testing site workers. “The lines never got too long.”

While having this community testing site could help lower the county’s positivity rate, Wagner said that was not the main goal.

“I don’t want healthy people going to get tested. Unfortunately, to get our numbers down we need healthy people to get tested, but what we’re running into now is our labs are running two-three days behind on sick people getting tested,” he explained. “To cut the spread, we want to get sick people tested and get their results back as soon as possible so we can quarantine them and their close contacts as soon as possible. By testing random, healthy people, it’s going to slow that down even more. But I also want to keep our businesses open, so it’s kind of a catch-22.”

Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those who get tested should quarantine while awaiting test results. 

Wagner said two new outbreaks account for at least some of the new cases. One of those is at The Backyard Learning Center, while the other is at LifechurchX, which meets at 400 Park Street in Waterloo. 

“(The) increase in recent numbers is partially due to two small outbreaks currently going on — one in a small church and the other in a day care (staff only, no children as of today),” Wagner said Friday. “We will continue to monitor to determine if this is a sustained increase or solely due to the outbreaks.”

Similarly, Hope Christian Church at 9273 Coach Stop Road in Columbia announced it was suspending in-person services this week because a staff member is quarantined while awaiting the results of a COVID test. 

The health department also had a case this week, but it did not affect operations, Wagner said.

“We were never closed and operated our normal business hours,” he said.

The Monroe County Circuit Clerk’s office also announced Wednesday that it will be closed the next two days because someone in the office may have been exposed to COVID-19.

“We have been in contact with the health department to put together a proactive plan,” Monroe County Circuit Clerk Lisa Fallon said.

Wagner also clarified that his department gets its numbers for positive tests directly from privately-owned and state-run laboratories that process the tests.

“My numbers come completely straight from the labs,” he said. “Any lab that does any testing is required to notify the county of residence of the person of their test results.”

“Multiple positive tests do not show up in the state’s total when they pull the information,” Wagner added. “It will not allow multiple inputs.”

Overall, the Waterloo zip code has had 257 cases (3,699 tests performed), the Columbia zip code has had 224 cases (1,684 tests) and the Valmeyer zip code has had 23 cases (185 tests), according to the IDPH.

In St. Clair County, there have been 6,356 total positive tests and 178 coronavirus-related deaths. A total of 70,414 tests have been performed there.

Randolph County has had 811 confirmed cases, 100 of which are active. Forty-seven of the active cases are offenders at Menard Correctional Center. 

Eight people have died from the virus in that county. A total of 9,816 people have been tested there. 

Also in Randolph County, Red Bud High School has temporarily switched to remote learning after at least three students contracted COVID-19. 

One of those cases was “linked” with another positive student, according to Red Bud Superintendent Jonathan Tallman. 

Therefore, RBHS will go into remote learning only for 14 days at the recommendation of the health department, which said the linking of the cases makes this an outbreak.

The school is set to be back in-person on Sept. 14.

Parents of Red Bud students had the option for in-person or remote learning this year. 

Statewide, there are 252,353 cases of coronavirus and 8,186 deaths, according to the IDPH.

Missouri has recorded 95,113 confirmed cases and 1,661 deaths as of Tuesday. That includes 19,988 cases in St. Louis County and 6,306 cases in St. Louis City, according to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services.

Nationally, more than 6.3 million people have contracted the virus, while at least 189,175 people have died.

The CDC released a report the last week of August showing that only 6 percent of COVID-19 deaths had the virus as the only cause listed. The other 94 percent had coronavirus and various comorbidities like respiratory failure, hypertensive diseases, diabetes and obesity. 

According to the CDC, 60 percent of U.S. adults have an underlying medical condition and 40 percent have at least two. 

Worldwide, there are over 27.3 million cases of coronavirus and at least 893,023 COVID-19-related deaths. 

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James Moss

James is an alumni of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville where he graduated summa cum laude with degrees in mass communications and applied communications studies. While in school, he interned at two newspapers and worked at a local grocery store to pay for his education. When not working for the Republic-Times, he enjoys watching movies, reading, playing video games and spending time with his friends.
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