Steady rise in COVID cases locally


Monroe County has had 1,110 total coronavirus cases since the pandemic begin, with 185 of them active at last count. 

There have been 218 new cases here since Oct. 20. Seven residents are currently hospitalized with the virus.

There were 16 new COVID cases reported Monday, 17 both Sunday and Saturday, 24 reported Friday, 27 new cases Thursday, 36 reported Wednesday and 15 new cases last Tuesday. One of the new cases Friday was from Oak Hill Senior Living & Rehabilitation in Waterloo.

Six new cases announced Monday were previous ones from Integrity Healthcare of Columbia, which moves its residents with COVID-19 to locations in Carbondale or Alton because those facilities have dedicated wings for people with the virus.

The county’s death count also rose by six on Monday for similar reasons, per Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner.

“All additional deaths were from Integrity over the past five weeks,” he said. “These were not counted at times of deaths because they were located outside the county. The state has adjusted reporting to make sure these are captured.”

The Illinois Department of Public Health death toll here now stands at 34.

The Integrity Healthcare development comes after Wagner reported Wednesday that 11 people – eight residents and three staff members – at Cedarhurst Senior Living have tested positive for the virus.

Wagner first reported a case at the facility, which is located at 518 Legacy Drive in Waterloo, last Monday. He said it appears the virus is under control there.

“Hopefully they’ve got it locked down and got it contained,” he said.

Wagner was not sure why there was such a jump in overall new cases this past week, aside from the cluster at Cedarhurst.

“That accounts for some of it, but it’s still a spike,” he said. “The numbers are all over the board. I can’t put my finger on anything. I think with colder weather people are moving indoors, and it’ll spread easier indoors.”

Given that, Wagner said he anticipates cases will peak in the next week or so before dropping briefly. He predicted the virus will then again spike around the winter holidays.

“We believe the virus entered our memory care community after a resident visited their doctor,” Samantha Prinster of Cedarhurst said. “After testing this resident upon their return, we learned they were positive for COVID-19. This initiated a mass swab of all residents and staff. That’s when we learned in total nine residents and three staff were positive. Of the nine residents, two are showing symptoms. The residents remain at the community, quarantined in their own apartments. The three positive employees who tested positive remain home on paid sick leave while recovering. We credit vigilant testing and safety protocols for catching this early and stopping the spread of the virus in Cedarhurst of Waterloo.”

Immaculate Conception School in Columbia also emailed parents Sunday to inform them a cohort of students would be quarantined after a staff member in pre-kindergarten tested positive for COVID-19.

“We are also in a precautionary role with the pre-school cohort until further information is available,” ICS Principal Mike Kish wrote in the email. “We are being aggressive in trying to make sure we minimize any spread of the virus.”

As coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths surge in many parts of the country, the metro east – including Monroe County – is again under increased restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus in the region. 

Illinois imposed mitigation measures on the region for the second time beginning Wednesday because, after dropping below 6.5 percent for three consecutive days earlier this month, the region’s test positivity rate is again on the rise.

The seven-day rolling average positivity rate was 10.2 percent on Oct. 31, marking the eleventh consecutive day of it being over 8 percent.

Gov. JB Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Public Health announced Monday morning the mitigations would resume here.

“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.”

Each of the state’s 11 regions have some restrictions in place, with Cook County beginning mitigations because of a rising positivity and hospitalization rate. Chicago had mitigations take effect Friday.

“Just look at the curves,” Pritzker said during an Oct. 22 news conference in St. Clair County. “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.”

To start, 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 must 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 last week. “But now, we’re going to be making sure that we enforce that.”

Several establishments – including Washy’s Saloon in Waterloo, Gallagher’s Restaurant in Waterloo, Family Kitchen in Waterloo, The Corner Pub in Valmeyer, Riefschneider’s Grill & Grape in Columbia and Farmers Inn near Millstadt – have posted publicly on Facebook that they are continuing ahead with indoor dining. 

Wagner maintains, as he has for months, that these limitations are unwarranted. 

During contact tracing, Wagner said individuals with COVID-19 often report being at a bar or restaurant, which is why the state reasons they get the virus there. But Wagner said those people also most likely go to other places like grocery stores, yet none of those businesses are targeted for mitigations. 

“They don’t have any hard numbers, especially for restaurants,” Wagner said. “Some of the big cities with the large bars might have had some outbreaks you can trace back to there  but, in general, we are not tracking them back to bars or restaurants.” 

In smaller communities like Monroe County, Wagner estimated the closing of indoor dining may result in a drop of about one coronavirus case a week. 

“For the financial impact on those business owners to save one case a week, it’s not justifiable,” he said. 

State Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) joined Wagner in decrying these restrictions as flawed, a position he has held throughout the pandemic. 

“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,” Schimpf said. “Gov. Pritzker should immediately rescind these mitigation sanctions and rethink his COVID-19 strategy.”

The Pritzker administration said it is providing relief for small businesses impacted by the pandemic. Thursday, the administration announced that through the Business Interruption Grants program and Local CURE funding, a total of $94 million has already been deployed to Illinois businesses and communities to help offset costs and losses. For more on how to submit for these programs, click here.

The virus has not yet spread at Waterloo High School, which had five students sick with coronavirus last week. 

“We have not had any more cases associated with that initial outbreak,” Wagner said of WHS. 

Wagner also said a resident at Garden Place in Waterloo who appeared to have COVID-19 tested negative after an initial positive test. 

Garden Place Executive Director Donna Foy explained the person tested positive using the more accurate but less rapid molecular test during the facility’s routine testing. A second test, however, resulted in a negative result.

Foy said the person did not use the rapid, but less accurate antigen test at Garden Place because the facility does not use them. That may have been administered by a medical provider.

Wagner also reported another death last Monday, this one a resident from Integrity Healthcare of Columbia. 

That facility, located at 253 Bradington Drive, moves its residents to locations in Alton or Carbondale when they contract the coronavirus because those places have wings dedicated to caring for those individuals. 

That results in cases and deaths from the Columbia facility not usually being counted here, but this death was because the person did not live in his/her new place long enough to count as living there. 

Wagner noted the county might see a jump in deaths associated with Integrity Healthcare. 

“Some of Integrity’s numbers in the past look like they weren’t being counted, so we may have a death toll that jumps by, I think they’ve had five or six deaths,” he said. “They could always come back to us.” 

He also guessed that a discrepancy between his death count and the IDPH’s is probably due to Integrity Healthcare’s practices. 

For months, the IDPH has counted one more COVID-related death in Monroe County than Wagner because it counts a person who may have died from the virus while Wagner does not. 

But now it counts two more than Wagner, with the IDPH reporting 30 deaths here to Wagner’s 28. 

“It’s probably something to do with Integrity and moving those patients around,” Wagner said of the difference. “(Integrity) makes it very difficult to track.”

Overall, the Waterloo zip code has had 573 cases (8,323 tests performed), the Columbia zip code has had 422 cases (2,881 tests) and the Valmeyer zip code has had 47 cases (355 tests), according to the IDPH.

The age breakdown of COVID cases is 112 for ages 20 and under, 160 for ages 20-29, 138 for ages 30-39, 122 for ages 40-49, 158 for ages 50-59, 114 for ages 60-69, 51 for ages 70-79 and 116 for ages 80 and up.

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

For the week of Oct. 18, Monroe County had 227 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 7.8 percent (the goal is less than or equal to 8 percent) and performed enough tests to meet the positivity rate goal (988 in this case). Both metrics have been problematic in the past.

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

In St. Clair County, there have been 9,608 total positive tests and 226 coronavirus-related deaths. A total of 119,206 tests have been performed there.

Dupo Junior/Senior High School announced that starting Tuesday, students will attend only remotely until Nov. 6 “due to a COVID situation.” 

Randolph County has had 1,441 confirmed cases, 150 of which are active. Eighteen people have died from the virus in that county. A total of 16,775 tests have been performed there.

Red Bud Regional Care Rehabilitation & Senior Living has suspended in-person visitation after 22 residents and 12 employees have tested positive for the virus. 

The number of positive cases in Red Bud Regional Hospital remains low at approximately two patients daily, the hospital said.

Illinois overall is up to 430,018 cases of coronavirus and 9,878 deaths after reporting its highest ever single-day increase in cases at over 6,000 on Friday, according to the IDPH. There are 3,594 people in Illinois reported to be in the hospital with COVID-19. Of those, 755 were in the ICU and 326 patients were on ventilators.

On Tuesday, the IDPH announced it was advising against high schools and recreational leagues playing basketball, wrestling or hockey this winter. Despite that recommendation, the Illinois High School Athletic Association said Wednesday that it planned to press on with basketball.

Missouri has recorded 190,424 confirmed cases and 3,064 deaths. That includes 30,351 cases in St. Louis County and 8,692 cases in St. Louis City, according to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services. 

Nationally, more than 9.4 million people have contracted the virus, while at least 231,990 people have died.

Worldwide, there are over 47.3 million cases of coronavirus and over 1.2 million COVID-19-related deaths.

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