Kankakee County has recorded 18 COVID deaths in the past four weeks, an increase of 10 from the previous month.
Kankakee County Health Administrator John Bevis gave his monthly report at the county board’s executive committee meeting on Tuesday at the county administration building.
“There has been a bad stretch here where we’ve had a number of individuals who had passed recently due to the COVID illness, and we’re up to 269 [total deaths],” Bevis said. “So that’s an increase of 18.”
In his report on Sept. 28, the county had reported 251 deaths since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Kankakee County has now recorded more than 18,000 COVID cases since the beginning of the pandemic. Bevis reported there have been more than 15,000 recoveries.
“So we’re still doing the contact tracing,” he said. “And those individuals, and as was mentioned before, are individuals who’ve had COVID, maybe twice now possibly. There are those breakthrough cases that can happen, obviously, and those are individuals that have made it through both times and are recovered.
Some of those may be “long haulers,” which are those who have recovered but still experiencing long-term symptoms.
“Now, they may still have some of these side effects and symptoms ... in regards to how they breathe and fatigue and things like that. The smell and the taste that take a little while to come back. But they’ve survived, so that’s a good thing.”
On a positive note, Bevis reported that the positivity rate for Kankakee County for the month of October is at 3.7 percent, which is down from September’s 6.1 percent.
“The numbers are still continuing to trend down, so that’s very good,” Bevis said. “Will County’s numbers continued to turn down, they’re at 3 percent, so our 3.7 makes the total positivity rate [for Region 7] at 3.1. We are beginning to notice that now with the number of cases that we pull out each day for the contact tracers of who we need to contact, there’s less.”
With the number of cases declining, the health department has let a couple of our contractual contact tracers go.
“We don’t need them right now,” Bevis said. “I hope that that’s a trend that can continue because that’s actually moving in a positive direction. They are contractual, so they understand that the job is not forever. Nobody would want it to be. So those are good signs for our county.”
The vaccination rate of the total population of Kankakee County in October is at 43.57 percent, up from 41.73 percent in September.
“It’s kind of disappointing in the terms of our total population,” Bevis said.
That number compares to 56.7 percent for the state of Illinois and 57.9 percent for the nation. Bevis said that possibly by the first week of November a pediatric COVID vaccine will be available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for 5- to 11-year-olds.
Bevis said the health department is already working with a number of agencies to schedule clinics for those pediatric vaccinations. It’s from Pfizer, and it’s a different dosage than the one for adults.
The 5-to-11 age range is one of the largest subsets of the total population in the county, and getting that group vaccinated could push the vaccination rate above 50 percent. That could also push parents or other adults to get vaccinated.
“Maybe they’re waiting for their kids to get vaccinated which is their right,” Bevis said. “Maybe they’ll get vaccinated as a result of helping to calm the fears of youngsters who are just concerned about getting a shot in the first place, let alone that it’s a COVID shot. But we’re excited about that, and we’re planning for that.”
KANKAKEE — Three years ago, Grace Flynn moved from Bourbonnais to Kankakee. This past spring, she added a new addition to her home.
Just next to the walkway to her south Eighth Avenue home sits a free library made of white steel. Next to it is a planter with a flag that says, “Take a book, Leave a book.”
Tuesday, she held a trick-or-treat event on her lawn where local kids could come by for a treat bag and a book. She made up 54 treat bags, and went through her stock to select dozens of books for younger kids as well as pre-teens.
Within the first few minutes of the trick-or-treat event, a child stopped by and took home a copy of “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.”
While most free libraries are found at parks or outside of businesses, it’s been a dream of Flynn’s to operate one from her home.
“I found out about the Little Free Library organization and I’ve always wanted to do it,” she said. “Finally, I saw that box online and was like, ‘I want that.’ So, I ordered it and, on April 3, I opened it up.”
Flynn said that the library has been a huge success with over 800 books having gone out in just seven months.
“The community has been just awesome,” she said, sharing that donations from the community allow her to operate.
Because of her ever-changing schedule, she always allows for donations to be left on her porch — unless it’s raining — and enjoys coming home from work to see how the inventory has changed.
Flynn said that her room looks like “a storage unit” with all of the books she has, all of which are organized in totes. About four times throughout the summer, she had tables of books outside of her house and many local book lovers enjoyed stopping by for a new read.
“I’m just waiting for more people to realize what it is,” she said of the setup, and invites local readers of all ages to stop by the free library located at 932 S. Eighth Ave., Kankakee.
For more information on the Little Free Library organization, go to littlefreelibrary.org.
KANKAKEE — While five employees were granted a court-issued extension in regard to receiving the COVID-19 vaccination to continue working for Riverside Healthcare, that same extension does not cover any other employee.
The hospital, in a Tuesday email message to its staff, noted the Oct. 31 deadline regarding being vaccinated remains in effect.
“The court ruling does not apply to any other Riverside employees,” the statement read.
Of the organization’s 2,913 employees, 90 percent have been vaccinated. Employees not vaccinated by Oct. 31 face a two-week unpaid suspension. If they are not vaccinated following the suspension, they will be terminated.
On Monday, Kankakee County Circuit Court Associate Judge Nancy Nicholson issued a temporary restraining order for five nurses who were set to be either fired or suspended by the organization for not gaining the vaccination.
The restraining order was for only those five employees, not any other staff members who have yet to be vaccinated.
“[Monday’s] ruling granted a temporary restraining order until Nov. 19 for four of the six Riverside nurses who filed a suit asking they be exempt from getting the vaccination,” the statement to employees read.
The four employees are Neelie Panozzo, Kathryn Hamblem, Valerie Kietzman and Judy Busato. A fifth nurse, Carmen Wymore was late in getting a signed document to the court before the hearing began, but her name will be added to the list of four.
The message noted that while Riverside disagreed with the court’s decision and it plans to contest the ruling, it would comply with the decision handed down by Nicholson and the nurses will continue to work at the hospital as the legal process proceeds.
The five employees and other unvaccinated staff members are required to comply with the safety protocols, including wearing an N95 mask at all times and weekly testing.
“We are unwavering in our belief that requiring our employees to be vaccinated or receive an approved religious/strongly held belief or medical exemption will allow us to provide the safest environment possible, and that the criteria we’ve been using to guide our decisions is fair, justifiable and clearly focused on protecting the health and safety of our patients and workforce,” the message stated.
The message concluded by noting Riverside is grateful for every member of its team, the vast majority of whom have already been vaccinated or are approved exemptions.
“Our hope continues to be that those who haven’t received this vaccine will take this important step before the deadline on October 31st.”
KANKAKEE — The Kankakee Valley Park District still doesn’t know to what extent Beckman Harbor was damaged as a result of heavy rains in early October.
Dayna Heitz, KVPD executive director, reported at Monday’s board of commissioners meeting at the Bird Park administration building that a claims adjuster from the Park District Risk Management Agency and a marine engineer inspected the harbor on Wednesday.
“We do not have any further information from the insurance company at this time,” she said.
The dock on the north wall of Beckman Harbor collapsed into the water after heavy rains on Oct. 2 inundated Kankakee. All boats have been removed from the harbor. The park district property is insured through PDRMA, and there’s a $1,000 deductible.
Heitz said all the docks have been removed from the harbor with the exception of the middle row strip which is anchored by 50-pound barrels of concrete. She added that the ground surrounding the harbor is continuing to erode from heavy rains, and that exacerbates the problem.
“And the river is coming up, and it’s just getting worse and worse,” she said. “We’re hoping for the best with that.”
Board president Ray Eads asked Heitz if she could talk to the PDRMA engineer about recommendations to combat the erosion problem. She said she would inquire about what can be done.
“We do have to do something,” Heitz said. “I need them to compile their report first. It’s only been a week.”
The district is also continuing discussions of a settlement agreement with Rink Management Services Corp., the management company based in Mechanicsville, Va., that had been running Splash Valley Aquatic Park and Ice Valley Centre Ice Arena. RMSC began managing both facilities in April, but the contract was mutually terminated on Sept. 15.
RMSC has claimed that the park district owes it $99,000. The park district hired the accounting firm Lauterbach & Amen LLC, of Naperville, to do an audit. It’s unclear when an agreement will be reached.