Mitigations return to region Wednesday

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As coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths surge in many parts of the country, the metro east, including Monroe County, will again see Illinois impose measures to slow the spread of the virus in the region beginning Wednesday.

On a more local front, another senior care facility has a resident sick with the novel coronavirus and another person has died from the virus.

Mitigations will return because, after dropping below 6.5 percent for three consecutive days just a couple weeks ago, the region’s positivity rate is again on the rise. The seven-day rolling average positivity rate was 8.3 percent on Oct. 24, marking the fifth consecutive day of it being over eight percent.

Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health officially announced Monday morning that the mitigations would resume here and begin in Cook County, which has seen its positivity rate increase and its hospitalizations rise for the last week.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, we were concerned about overwhelming our hospitals and we must take action now to prevent that possibility,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “We are entering flu season and our hospitals are facing both COVID-19 and flu admissions. The same things that can help prevent the spread of COVID-19 can help prevent the spread of flu. Please, wash your hands, watch your distance and wear your mask. And make sure you get your flu shot.”

With the metro east and Cook County set to begin mitigations, six of the 11 regions in the state will have some restrictions in place on Wednesday.

“Just look at the curves,” Gov. JB Pritzker said during a news conference in St. Clair County on Thursday. “We’re working very hard but we need everybody’s help in the public. We need the restaurant owners and bar owners to follow the mitigations and to stop fighting and trying to find some flaw in the data, trying to find somebody who will say that a bar or restaurant is not a spreading location.”

This will be the second time this region has been under limitations because of a rising positivity rate.

To start, the restrictions include no indoor dining or bar service, no seating of multiple parties at one table, closing outdoor bar service at 11 p.m., no dancing or standing indoors and reservations being required at bars and restaurants. There is also a limit on gatherings to 25 people or 25 percent of overall room capacity, and gaming and casinos close at 11 p.m. while operating at 25 percent capacity.

With businesses throughout the state ignoring many of these regulations, Pritzker said last week the state will be more stringent when enforcing them going forward.

“We can take away people’s liquor license, which I have been reluctant to do because it has a semi-permanent effect on a business to take away their liquor license, especially for not having followed the regulations that are set out for them,” Pritzker said Oct. 21. “So it will be hard for them to get that license back. But now, we’re going to be making sure that we enforce that.”

To have the mitigations removed, the positivity rate in the metro east must be less than or equal to 6.5 percent for three consecutive days.

As he has throughout the pandemic, state Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) decried the restrictions as flawed.

“Although Region 4 hospitalization rates have steadily remained low for the past four months, today Gov. Pritzker once again used a flawed positivity metric and an arbitrary 8 percent threshold to announce the shut-down of businesses and further destruction of livelihoods in the metro east,” Schimpf said. “The governor’s unwillingness to update his flawed mitigation plan, despite clear evidence that the positivity rate has not been a leading indicator of COVID-19 hospitalizations in our area, shows a frightening indifference to the hardships caused by his decisions. Gov. Pritzker should immediately rescind these mitigation sanctions and rethink his COVID-19 strategy.”

That news came as, on Monday, Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner confirmed that a resident at Cedarhurst Senior Living, located 518 Legacy Drive in Waterloo, has tested positive for COVID-19.

Wagner also announced Monday that a resident of Integrity Healthcare in Columbia has died from the virus, bringing the death toll in the county to 30, per the IDPH.

The death of another Oak Hill Senior Living & Rehabilitation Center resident and Waterloo High School reporting its first coronavirus cases were the main developments on the local pandemic front last week.  

Wagner announced the latest Oak Hill death on Oct. 17. The resident, a man in his 80s, had been hospitalized with the virus for some time. 

Oak Hill Administrator Brian Koontz told the Monroe County Board on Oct. 19 that the facility has had 61 residents and 45 staff members contract the virus. Koontz said 14 of the residents’ cases are active, while 12 staff members are currently in quarantine. Thirty-five residents have recovered from the disease. 

Some of those cases include students and teachers at WHS, according to Wagner. 

Five WHS students have the virus, resulting in about 50 individuals quarantined due to being in close contacts with those people. 

Waterloo Superintendent of Schools Brian Charron confirmed the cases and noted the school is working with the health department to assist in contact tracing. 

“We have not identified spread of the virus in our schools, which is why we are still open and operating,” Charron emphasized. “We currently feel confident that we have isolated all potential spread with the quarantines that are in place.”

Wagner seconded that there does not appear to be one source or spread within WHS right now. 

In addition, Charron said he is unaware of any of the close contacts getting sick so far, and since there does not appear to be community spread the school is not in danger of closing. 

The more pressing concern would be if more teachers get sick before others come off quarantine because the district is already out of substitutes. 

Finally, Charron said there has not been a coronavirus outbreak at Zahnow Elementary School despite rumors to the contrary. 

Wagner also said he was unaware of a problem there. 

The county overall has seen around 10 cases a day in the last week, but it had 17 new cases reported Tuesday. There were 16 cases on Friday and eight cases Thursday following 11 new cases reported Wednesday.

Wagner said that was largely because the health department received notice of eight new positive cases from the IDPH mobile testing site in Waterloo over the weekend. 

The county is still waiting for full results from that event and the one the previous weekend. 

Wagner also noted that the average age of cases in Monroe County is trending up from people in their 20s-30s to individuals in their 50s-60s. 

Overall, the Waterloo zip code has had 502 cases (7,683 tests performed), the Columbia zip code has had 343 cases (2,649 tests) and the Valmeyer zip code has had 40 cases (330 tests), according to the IDPH.

Monroe County learned Friday it did not make the IDPH list of counties at the warning level for the virus again, though half the counties in the state did.

For the week of Oct. 11, Monroe County had 157 cases per 100,000 people (the goal is 50 or fewer), but that was the only criteria it failed to meet. It had a positivity rate of 6.6 percent (the goal is less than or equal to 8 percent) and performed enough tests to meet the positivity rate goal. Both those metrics have been problematic in the past.

The metro east region, state, Midwest and country are also seeing a resurgence of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. 

In St. Clair County, there have been 9,023 total positive tests and 221 coronavirus-related deaths. A total of 112,714 tests have been performed there.

Randolph County has had 1,315 confirmed cases, 143 of which are active. Fifteen people have died from the virus in that county. A total of 15,889 people have been tested there.

Red Bud Regional Care also announced Wednesday that it was suspending in-person visitation until further notice amid rising COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations.

Illinois overall is up to 382,985 cases of coronavirus and 9,568 deaths, according to the IDPH. There are 2,758 people in Illinois reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 595 were in the ICU and 241 patients were on ventilators.

“It is very serious right now,” Pritzker said last week. “If we need to close down restaurants and bars or take away their liquor licenses, take away their gaming licenses, we will do that. Because we are now headed into a peak that is beyond, potentially, where we were in March and April.”

Missouri has recorded 172,717 confirmed cases and 2,838 deaths. That includes 28,182 cases in St. Louis County and 8,164 cases in St. Louis City, according to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services. 

Nationally, more than 8.8 million people have contracted the virus, while at least 226,220 people have died.

Worldwide, there are over 43.7 million cases of coronavirus and over 1.1 million COVID-19-related deaths.

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