COVID mitigations lifted in region; 3 more deaths at Oak Hill

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Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced that the metro east region – which includes Monroe County – will return to Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois Plan starting at 5 p.m. Friday.

Meanwhile, the COVID outbreak at the county-run senior care center in Waterloo continues.

While the rate of testing in the metro east (Region 4) has remained relatively stable, the rolling average positivity rate in the region has fallen from a high of 10.5 percent on Aug. 27 to a rate of 5.8 percent today. The rollback of restrictions is a result of close coordination between IDPH, local health departments and community leaders encouraging proven and targeted mitigation efforts, Pritzker said.

“(The metro east) has secured the progress necessary to end the increased mitigations in Region 4,” Pritzker said.

Region 4 initially moved to stricter mitigations on Aug. 18 following three consecutive days of a rolling positivity rate above 8 percent. On Sept. 2, additional mitigations were implemented after the region increased its positivity rate to a seven-day rolling positivity rate of 9.6 percent. As of Friday, Region 4 has reached the threshold to lift mitigations following three consecutive days of a rolling positivity rate below 6.5 percent.

The seven-day rolling average positivity rate was 6.6 percent on Oct. 10.

Indoor dining and bar service has resumed along with larger gathering sizes as outlined in Phase 4 of the Restore Illinois plan. Gatherings of 50 people or fewer are allowed and bars and restaurants can operate under normal hours.

State Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) celebrated the end of the mitigations while criticizing them again.

“I’m thankful that our businesses will now be able to operate at a higher capacity and hopeful that we will see many of the recently-lost jobs return to the area,” he said. “I do not believe these restrictions should have been enacted on the region in the first place because they were based on the wrong metric, which itself was based on flawed and incomplete data. Moving forward, I continue to urge the governor to focus on regional hospitalization rates, which are a much more accurate assessment of the actual COVID-19 situation.”

A total of 11 residents at Oak Hill Senior Living & Rehabilitation Center in Waterloo have died from COVID-19 following an outbreak at that facility, per Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner. 

Wagner reported another death Monday. The deceased is a man in his 70s.

“The person was a long-term COVID case,” Wagner said. “There was nothing strange about this death.”

There were two new Oak Hill deaths reported Saturday, bringing Monroe County’s overall death toll to 26. The two latest deaths were a male and female in their 80s and 90s.

Males and females ranging in age from their 60s to their 90s at Oak Hill have died from the virus. 

Monroe County has had 819 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began, up 126 from Sept. 29, with most new cases coming from Oak Hill. 

There was one new case Tuesday, 22 new cases Monday, two new cases Sunday, eight new cases in Monroe County on Saturday – four from Oak Hill. Nineteen cases – seven at Oak Hill and 12 among the general public – were reported Friday. Twelve cases, all among the general public, were reported Thursday and nine cases, all among the general public, were reported Wednesday.

There are 124 active cases and seven residents hospitalized with the virus. Nearly 700 Monroe County residents have recovered from the virus.

Oak Hill Administrator Brian Koontz said spirits at the facility are relatively high given the outbreak. 

“This is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in health care,” Koontz said. “It’s difficult to keep spirits and morale high among ourselves and the residents. We’re doing the best we can, and we’re doing pretty good. We’ve got a good group of people here, and we’re going to see this thing through to the end.”

Wagner also said Monday the state confirmed two previously suspected coronavirus deaths. Neither of those were associated with a senior care facility.

One of those individuals fell and died shortly after, while the other had a number of serious health conditions, Wagner said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, a death is attributed to COVID-19 when it is reported as a cause of death, including a “probable” or “presumed” cause. That means complications caused by the virus, like pneumonia, are included in the death count because COVID-19 precipitated those problems.

Wagner said that has happened at Oak Hill, with residents being counted as a COVID death because of the stress it is putting on their bodies and thereby exacerbating other conditions. 

Oak Hill has about 40 people sick with the virus currently, most of whom are residents of the care center. There are also a few staff members who contracted the illness who live in other counties, so Wagner does not know the total cases at the facility.

Koontz said an IDPH rapid response team visited the facility last week to check on its response, and it offered no suggestions on how to improve. 

“It’s comforting to know that we’re doing the right thing, but at the same time they did note ‘this is a pandemic and this is an outbreak, and it’s going to sweep through your building no matter how hard you try,’” he said. “So we’re just trying to handle it with as much grace and compassion as we can.” 

Wagner also pointed out earlier this week that a few people at the facility have recovered from the virus. 

Koontz said Oak Hill is emphasizing those recoveries by playing music over the speakers and having employees applaud residents as they return to their normal abodes. 

“We’re trying really hard to celebrate the victories while at the same time understanding that with each loss it just gets more and more difficult to process and to move forward,” he said. 

A prayer session took place Thursday outside Oak Hill to show support for all those battling the outbreak. Attendees brought signs of encouragement.

Koontz was happy about the event.

“It’s not easy,” he said. “It’s not your normal fun, lighthearted environment when something so serious is going through the building, so for the community to recognize that and support the residents and the staff, that’s going to mean a ton.”

Wagner said Thursday that a former resident of Integrity Healthcare in Columbia died from the novel coronavirus.

That facility transfers its residents who test positive to locations in Carbondale or Alton, as those places have wings for individuals with COVID.

That has caused some problems Wagner said they are ironing out with the state, as those individuals may not be included in their new home county’s numbers.

“We think that some of these numbers are not being counted correctly,” Wagner said. “There’s a lot of positives at Integrity that are not counted in our numbers.”

The former Integrity resident who died, according to Wagner, was transferred to a hospital before going to the Carbondale facility.

An IDPH mobile testing site will be in Waterloo this Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 10-11 and again next Friday and Saturday, Oct. 16-17. The site will be at 901 Illinois Avenue. It is a drive-up site with no appointments being taken.

Overall, the Waterloo zip code has had 431 cases (6,505 tests performed), the Columbia zip code has had 309 cases (2,276 tests) and the Valmeyer zip code has had 32 cases (284 tests), according to the IDPH.

In St. Clair County, there have been 8,147 total positive tests and 205 coronavirus-related deaths. A total of 100,677 tests have been performed there.

Randolph County has had 1,077 confirmed cases, 83 of which are active. Fourteen people have died from the virus in that county. A total of 13,963 people have been tested there.

Statewide, there are 324,743 cases of coronavirus and 9,026 deaths, according to the IDPH. Hospitalizations for the virus continue to push heights not seen since June in Illinois. As of Thursday night, 1,812 people in Illinois were reported hospitalized with COVID-19 – the first time that metric exceeded 1,800 since June 18. Of those, 395 patients were in intensive care units – a number reached only once since June 29 – and 153 of those patients were on ventilators.  

In an exclusive report, the IDPH does not know where many people in the metro east have contracted the virus based on data obtained by the Republic-Times.

Missouri has recorded 144,230 confirmed cases and 2,422 deaths as of Monday. That includes 24,924 cases in St. Louis County and 7,457 cases in St. Louis City, according to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services.

Nationally, more than 7.8 million people have contracted the virus, while at least 215,190 people have died.

Worldwide, there are over 37.9 million cases of coronavirus and over 1 million COVID-19-related deaths. 

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