KANKAKEE — J.J. Hollis opened the front door of his Kankakee home and looked out on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon.
With the sun shining and the temperature reaching the low 80s, spring was most certainly in the air.
He was more than a little frightened as he looked outside.
“It’s been an experience I wouldn’t want anyone to go through,” Hollis said during a telephone interview as he remains quarantined in his home as a result of being part of the first wave of those in Kankakee County diagnosed with COVID-19. “I got real nervous. I was scared at first. I even stopped watching the news because it got so depressing.”
While there have been countless news reports of what effect this virus has had on the world, the United States, Illinois and Kankakee County, Hollis has a much more intimate view — having been pummeled by the virus since the final days of March.
The 49-year-old Kankakeean has endured. A rehab consultant at the Illinois Veterans’ Home in Manteno, he knows one thing for sure, he will be eager to return to his duties at the veterans’ home.
“I miss work. I miss my veterans,” he said. “It’s very fulfilling work. That’s why I love it.”
Of course, Hollis only can speculate where he might have picked up the coronavirus, but it would seem plausible it came from the veterans’ home. About half of all positive Kankakee County COVID-19 cases are connected to long-term nursing-type facilities.
Hollis was the perfect candidate for contracting the virus as well. He suffers from asthma and has congestive heart failure.
“I probably got it at work,” he said. “I was trying to be so careful. I would come home and take off all my clothes, take a shower and wash the clothes I wore to work. I was trying to make sure this didn’t happen.”
However, on the night of March 28, he started experiencing chills. His breathing became labored so he took a breathing treatment.
With no signs of improvement on the morning of March 29, he called his doctor. He was instructed to get to the Riverside Medical Center’s emergency room right away.
The hospital gathered a test swab from him, and he was instructed to go home and stay there. The 14-day quarantine began.
On March 31, he was informed his test result came back positive. His temperature had reached a high of 103 degrees. He was officially a COVID-19 victim.
Since then, Hollis has been taking his medications, sleeping, watching TV and praying.
He’s experienced many rough days, but recovering from his home rather than a hospital room has been a plus.
“Every day I’ve been feeling better. The past few days it feels like it’s been leaving my body.”
The assistant football coach for Bishop McNamara Catholic High School and board commissioner for the Kankakee Valley Park District, Hollis is very much a person out in the public, so these days of confinement have not been easy. But he understands they’ve been very necessary.
He can counsel others on just how overpowering the virus can be and is certainly well aware of how devastating it has been to the Kankakee County community in terms of confirmed cases and, of course, deaths.
He has received many calls of encouragement as well as countless text messages and emails. They all help.
What makes him feel even better is the fact his fever has subsided. That fact means he is well on his way to recovery. He hopes soon his case will be one of the “recovered” cases as denoted by the Kankakee County Health Department in its daily updates to the community. His quarantine officially concludes Sunday. He will need his doctor’s clearance before returning to work. He hopes that might happen in a week or so.
But for now his chief concern is rebuilding energy.
“This takes all of your energy,” he said. “It takes it all.”
“I’ve relied on my faith. I have done my daily devotions every morning. It’s helped bring me through this, and I know a lot of people have been praying for me.”
While he is eager to return to see those he works with and the veterans he helps care for, there is a certain sense of apprehension. It’s an apprehension he also feels when crossing threshold of his front door and venturing outdoors. The experiences he’s endured since late March bring him a changed view of the world.
“It’s most definitely given me a renewed perspective on life,” he said. “When you think about this, I’m still here to fight the fight. I’m going to want to go even harder [at living life].”
But, of course, that first step he must conquer is the one out the door of his house.
“This disease is real,” he said. “I have to adjust my life now. I’m going to be honest. I’m leery of opening the door, as crazy as it sounds. I have to laugh, but that’s the world we are living in now.
“We’ll all get back to normal — eventually.”
GRANT PARK — Rich Shronts’ actions speak louder than his words.
When asked why he joined the Grant Park Fire Protection District, he said, “I wanted to help my neighbors.”
Shronts did that well, serving the department for 51 years including the past 36 as its chief. Shronts took over as chief after Donald Buhr.
Now, the 69-year-old is familiar with the man who replaced him as chief on April 3, his son, Matt Shronts. Matt has been with the department 19 years including the past seven as assistant fire chief.
It marks the third generation of the Shronts family to lead the department as chief. Rich’s dad, George Shronts, was chief for eight of his 27 years with the department.
Like father, like son
The chance to serve alongside his son is something Rich Shronts cherishes.
“I’m proud to keep a family tradition going and serving the community to make it a safer place to live,” Rich said.
Given the chance to carry on as chief is in father’s footsteps is an “honor. It’s as simple as that,” Matt said. “For some, they are never given the opportunity to work alongside their parents.
“For me, I got the opportunity to not only work alongside him, but more so work with him to help people during the worst day of their lives, seeing things together that most people will never want to see or experience. We responded to many auto accidents, medical calls, structure fires and brush fires together.
Matt said he spent a lot of time at the fire station growing up.
“At an early age, I got opportunities to learn many aspects of the fire service from him and many others in the department that volunteered,” Matt said. “As I got older, I wanted to find a profession where I could help people.”
While attending high school, Matt became a fire cadet with the department. Upon graduation, he went to the fire academy, as well as EMT and paramedic school. Matt earned a bachelor’s degree in public safety management through Southern Illinois University. He also earned the state’s high fire certification, Chief Fire Officer. The 35-year-old works full time as a lieutenant/paramedic with the Beecher Fire Protection District.
“I saw opportunities through past mentors that wanted me to push my potential to the next level,” Matt said.
That has not been lost on Rich.
“I am very proud that he has the interest in the community. In today’s world, the fire and EMS is a changing business,” Rich said.
Rich said he takes with him fond memories of his time in the department, especially meeting great people and making friends in the community.
What will he miss most? “Being around my fire department family.”
Matt will keep with him many memories of serving with his father and the importance of commitment the his father and late mother Nancy instilled in him.
“The fire service takes a lot of commitment and dedication especially in our area,” Matt said. “For me, I had a lot of high expectations to live up to personally to be successful and meet that commitment level that was instilled from me at a young age.”
Is there a chance of a fourth generation joining the department in the future?
Matt and his wife, Lisa, have two children, daughter Cameryn, 8, and son Conner, 7 months.
KANKAKEE — Infected staff and residents of Shapiro Developmental Center account for 40 percent of Kankakee County’s total confirmed cases of coronavirus.
As of 10 a.m. Friday, 21 staff members and 56 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, according to the Illinois Department Human Services which operates the facility for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The center’s 1,195-person staff cares for 478 residents.
The Kankakee County Health Department reported Friday afternoon the county has a total of 195 confirmed cases, 10 deaths and 25 recoveries. Of 195 cases, 119 are associated with long-term care facilities.
With Shapiro accounting for nearly 65 percent of those 119 cases, the location of the other cases has not been released. The health department’s administrator John Bevis said he could not say how many long-term care facilities in the county had confirmed cases.
“Shapiro Developmental Center has been treating and isolating individuals who are symptomatic as if they are COVID-19 positive,” read an email from IDHS communication director Meghan Powers. She added that the state’s mental health and developmental centers are approaching the COVID-19 emergency “with the urgency and seriousness it demands.”
“This past weekend, IDHS received test swabs and have been able to significantly increase our capacity to test residents who are symptomatic and residents who were in close contact with a positive resident,” she said. “We received the first set of test results this week.”
After reports surfaced when the first cases were discovered at the center, some employees said Shapiro officials had not informed them of what was happening. At the time, management of the facility said employees and families were notified. The facility now is sending a daily correspondence to employees with updates of the situation at the center. In Friday’s report, marked as from center director Lynne Gund, 35 residents are currently being supported in isolation from others because of potential coronavirus symptoms though they had not yet been tested.
During Thursday’s daily press briefing, Gov. JB Pritzker and Director of Illinois Department of Public Health Dr. Ngozi O. Ezike address a question in regard to treating COVID-19 in residential centers throughout the state.
“It is a difficult one for us to manage,” Pritzker said. “However, in each one of those, we’ve provided PPE to the staff and residents who need it. We have a specific set of protocols around it. First of all, right up front, we closed visitations at these facilities. Most of them, in fact, because we didn’t want any outside people coming in bringing COVID-19 in with them.”
Ezike said state facilities were proactive at the end of February or beginning of March, saying that centers were quick to determine if they needed to isolate and segregate.
“A lot of steps were taken even before they had a single case,” Ezike said.
BOURBONNAIS — While the annual Easter egg hunt was canceled because of Gov. JB Pritzker’s “stay-at-home” mandate, the Easter bunny still will make a visit to the village of Bourbonnais on Sunday. Village officials say the Easter Bunny Town Tour will be 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. that day.
“There is a lot going on in the world and it is hard for kids to understand it all,” Mayor Paul Schore said. “We want to brighten up their day.
“We couldn’t bring children to the Easter bunny this year, so we decided to bring the Easter bunny to them,” he said, adding that children are near and dear to him. “It’s not ideal but these are unusual and challenging times. We are doing what we can to help overcome challenges by bringing some normalcy to our community. We are all in this together, the Easter bunny included.”
The village will release the tour route and approximate time frames for neighborhoods on Saturday via Facebook and the village’s website.
The no-contact event promotes social distancing by encouraging residents to watch and wave from windows inside homes or safely from driveways.
The Easter bunny will be escorted in a village vehicle down neighborhood streets. The village has 83 miles of roads so in order to reach the largest number of residents, the Easter bunny will not be making stops. For everyone’s safety, there will be no candy or passing out of Easter eggs. Gathering in groups roadside is extremely discouraged.
For more information, go to villageofbourbonnais.com/easter-bunny-town-tour.