County talks Oak Hill, voting

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Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner criticized the way the state is tracking COVID-19 statistics during Monday’s meeting of the Monroe County Board.

He said this opinion is shared by health officials throughout southern Illinois.  Wagner answered commissioners’ questions on the matter, telling them that treatments for people being hospitalized for COVID-19 are improving.  

He also said he expected a vaccine to be announced by mid-November or the month’s end at least.   

Oak Hill Senior Living & Rehabilitation Administrator Brian Koontz updated commissioners on the COVID outbreak at the county-run facility. 

Koontz acknowledged some beds are unavailable due to use for isolating positive COVID patients and that admissions are being slowed.

He confirmed both census numbers and finances are still reflecting the facility’s strong start to 2020, but said year-end numbers will likely fall.

Citing COVID-19 matters, he said 61 residents have tested positive to date, including 14 currently listed as positive. He noted that 35 have recovered from the disease, but that 12 residents have also succumbed to COVID impacts.

“The fatality rate has been 21 percent, which although tragic for families impacted, is actually much lower than the national average for like facilities,” Koontz said.

Looking at figures for Oak Hill staff, he said 45 have tested positive with 12 currently isolating at home awaiting recovery and testing to confirm recovery.

Koontz said the Illinois Department of Public Health had conducted a survey at Oak Hill recently to check if best possible procedures are being followed.  The survey reported no findings of issues and made no recommendations for changes.

Koontz gave the Monroe County Health Department a “shout out” for its support of Oak Hill, including providing personal protective equipment when it was most critical and transportation support to take test samples to Carbondale for evaluation and next-day results.  

Voting updates

Monroe County Clerk Jonathan McLean informed commissioners that the county is receiving a check for $10,334 from the Center for Tech and Civic Life in Chicago to support costs of administering a safe and secure election in 2020.  

McLean said he will use most of this money to increase salaries for election judges who will serve a long day on Nov. 3, from the promised $200 for the day to $250. Some of the money will also go to provide a good meal for judges as they work. Any amount left over will be used only to pay for expenses directly connected to the election, he said.

McLean also said that as of Friday, his office has had a total of 1,989 early voters. As of Monday, his office had mailed out 4,652 ballots and have received 2,923 mail-in ballots back. 

“I am seeing a heavy early turnout,” McLean said.

Monroe County voters can visit mococlerk.com to check on the status of their voter registration and track mail-in ballots.

In addition to regular weekday hours, the county clerk’s office at the courthouse will host early voting this and next Saturday from 9 a.m. to noon.

“Voters will also be able to drop off their completed mail-in ballots in the courthouse circle drive during that time,” McLean added.

New ambulance

Monroe County Ambulance Service Director Carla Heise received approval to purchase a new ambulance at a cost not to exceed $143,879. The vehicle, based on a Ford Transit Van, will be ordered from Demers Ambulances USA and will replace one of the service’s aging box-on-truck-chassis versions currently used. 

Heise said the initial cost will be much lower, and other services using van ambulances have found maintenance costs to be much lower as well. The price will include the power lift and power stretcher at delivery.

Road matters

Monroe County Engineer Aaron Metzger received tentative approval to pursue a grant to pave shoulders on Bluff Road, for 5.5 miles from DD Road in Columbia south to Hanover Road as bike lanes.  

The paving would be four-foot wide asphalt.  The total project would run 11 miles since bicyclists are required to ride on the right side of a road while traveling either direction. 

The estimated cost, $2.5 million, would be covered by the Illinois Department of Transportation grant through the Federal Transportation Enhancement Program. 

Public open house informational hearings to discuss the project were held Monday in Columbia and take place 4-6 Wednesday at Fountain Inn. Read more about Monday’s hearing on page 1A.

Metzger also received authorization to continue work to complete land transfers necessary to enable improving the safety of the Bluff Road/HH Road intersection in the bottoms.  

The commissioners presented a certificate of appreciation to Dean Doerr on his retirement.  The certificate cited Doerr for 35 years of “service and excellence with the Monroe County Engineering Department” – including his last seven years as the department’s maintenance foreman.

The county board will next meet Monday, Nov. 2 at 8:15 a.m.

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