Indoor dining and drinking to close in metro east

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The Illinois Department of Public Health announced Tuesday that all indoor service at bars and restaurants in the metro east will be prohibited effective Wednesday.

That is the only new mitigation measure that will 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.

According to the state’s coronavirus resurgence mitigation plan, if the region’s positivity rate remains over 8 percent after the 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, the current mitigation measures will be lifted. 

The Illinois Department of Public Health announced Friday that Monroe County was at its warning level for the novel coronavirus for the third time.

Thirty counties, including fellow metro east counties Clinton, Madison, Randolph and St. Clair, made the list this week. The data to determine the warning levels is from the week of Aug. 16.

“Although the reasons for counties reaching a warning level varies, some of the common factors for an increase in cases and outbreaks are associated with weddings, large gatherings, long-term care facilities and other congregate settings, travel to neighboring states, bars and spread among members of the same household who are not isolating at home,” the IDPH reported.  “Cases connected to schools are beginning to be reported. General transmission of the virus in the community is also increasing.”

“Public health officials are observing people not social distancing, gathering in large groups, and not using face coverings,” the IDPH added in a press release. “In some counties, local law enforcement and states’ attorneys are not enforcing important mitigation measures like social distancing and the wearing of face coverings.”

For the week of Aug. 16, Monroe County had 128 cases per 100,000 people (the goal is 50 or fewer), a test positivity rate of 8.4 percent (the goal is less than or equal to 8 percent) and performed 308 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.

Also on Friday, the IDPH and Monroe County Health Department announced a free COVID-19 community testing site is coming to the county.

On Sept. 4, there will be 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.

Individuals with or without symptoms can be tested, masks are required and no appointment is needed to be tested.

While having this community testing site could help lower the county’s positivity rate, Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner said that is 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.” 

Monroe County has had 461 reported cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, with 60 new cases since Aug. 18.

Wagner said two new outbreaks account for at least some of the new cases. Wagner reported eight new cases Monday and Tuesday, three new cases each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 14 new cases Thursday and 11 more Wednesday. At last count, 61 cases are active in Monroe County and three residents are hospitalized with the virus.

“(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. “We will continue to monitor to determine if this is a sustained increase or solely due to the outbreaks.”

LifechurchX, which meets at 400 Park Street in Waterloo, announced that it would hold services online only for the time being after church members – including Pastor Matt Heck and his wife – tested positive for coronavirus.

“We’ve been processing a lot of information in full contact with our local health department,” Heck said in a video posted to Facebook. “I want to also remind you that our county continues to be at a warning level for pending positive COVID cases right now, which has also further added to the decision we made to be online only this weekend.”

Last week, The Backyard Learning Center, located at 715 Remlok Park Drive in Waterloo, temporarily closed because of COVID cases. 

“There are a couple staff that have tested positive and close contacts have been notified for isolation,” Wagner confirmed. “No children (have tested positive) at this time.”

Additionally, 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 its operations, according to Wagner.

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

Per the Monroe County Health Department, a person who tests positive is counted as one case regardless of how many times they subsequently test positive. Wagner has said his department does not monitor how many cases are symptomatic or asymptomatic because that constantly changes from case to case.

The health 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,” Wagner 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.”

Another Monroe County resident died of COVID-19 last week.

Wagner reported the death related to COVID-19 on Aug. 21, bringing the county’s total deaths from the virus to 14.

Wagner said the deceased was a woman in her 70s who went to the hospital and died shortly thereafter.

“We don’t know the exact details on this yet, but COVID was detected either soon before or right after death,” he said before noting the woman could have died from other causes and just tested positive for coronavirus. 

If that is the case, the state will adjust its numbers accordingly when it has the facts and time to do so.

Deaths from COVID-19 are provisional, meaning anyone who dies and tests positive for the virus is counted as a death. 

Health officials will then go back and examine each death to determine if it was actually caused by the coronavirus. 

That may mean some deaths may be counted, at least provisionally, as being due to the virus when they are not, but health officials like Wagner said that rarely happens. 

Last week, rumor spread that the state would close indoor dining and drinking at bars and restaurants Aug. 26, despite the original plan being the region would have two weeks to get its numbers under control before new restrictions were imposed. 

That rumor was untrue, but Gov. Pritzker said in a press conference on Aug. 25 that it was “a mistake” to not impose stricter measures in the metro east as part of initial mitigation efforts, according to Capitol News Illinois

“I will readily admit that that was not a good idea, and it appears now that we want to put those mitigations in place exactly as we had originally intended,” Pritzker said, adding it seems the region will have more stringent measures in place beginning Sept. 2 based on its current trajectory. 

The region’s positivity rate has risen five days since Aug. 20. The metro east had a 9.6 percent positivity rate as of Aug. 29.

The region has also seen two days of hospitalization increases since Aug. 20. It has 29 percent hospital availability and 38 percent ICU bed availability. 

While Pritzker did not announce any new rules specific to this region on Aug. 25, he did order a stricter statewide mask mandate requiring all bar and restaurant patrons to wear a face covering at all times they are not eating or drinking. 

That order, which was previously only an IDPH guideline, includes when patrons are placing orders or waiting for their food. 

Wagner said measures related to indoor dining and drinking will not affect Monroe County’s numbers much because his department has traced very few cases back to bars and restaurants. 

Overall, the Waterloo zip code has had 215 cases (3,367 tests), the Columbia zip code has had 197 cases (1,497 tests) and the Valmeyer zip code has had 21 cases (176 tests), according to the IDPH.

In St. Clair County, there have been 5,935 total positive tests and 175 coronavirus-related deaths. A total of 64,070 tests have been performed there.

On Aug. 26, the St. Clair County Health Department set up a mobile COVID testing site at the Dupo Fire Department.

Randolph County has had 767 confirmed cases, 128 of which are active. Sixty-five of the active cases are offenders at Menard Correctional Center. Eight people have died from the virus. A total of 9,014 people have been tested there.

The Red Bud School District is reporting four total cases of COVID-19 after just completing its second week of school. Two of the cases are high school students, another is an elementary school student and one is a staff member. 

The second positive RBHS student was reported Friday.

“The resulting contact tracing found that the student was in close contact with quite a few students, but no staff members,” Red Bud Superintendent Jonathan Tallman said. “Therefore, at this moment, as a result of our two high school students who tested positive, we have 46 students at the high school that are required to quarantine. This does not mean they are positive, rather they must simply stay in their home for 14 days. As a school district, we don’t have any say in this matter. We communicate with our health department, and they lead the way with regard to who to contact, who to quarantine, and who not to quarantine.” 

The number of quarantined students does not include those who tested positive for COVID.

The school then had another student test positive, and the case was “linked” with the other positive student. 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. Those who opted for remote must stay that way for the full first semester. Those who opted for in-person are able to switch to remote at any time. 

Statewide, there are 236.515 cases of coronavirus and 8,064 deaths, according to the IDPH.

Missouri has recorded 84,697 confirmed cases and 1,530 deaths as of Tuesday. That includes 18,920 cases in St. Louis County and 6,089 cases in St. Louis City, according to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services.

Nationally, more than 6 million people have contracted the virus, while at least 183,695 people have died.

Worldwide, there are over 25.5 million cases of coronavirus and at least 851,328 COVID-19-related deaths. 

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