KANKAKEE — Wearing a surgical mask constructed from Chicago Cubs-branded fabric, Riverside Healthcare President and CEO Phil Kambic gave local media a tour of what the hospital has put in place in case a rush of COVID-19 patients hits the hospital.
Of course, Kambic and other Riverside Medical Center personnel say they hope these plans are not needed to be enacted, but the hospital stands ready.
“We’re going to be OK,” Kambic said near the conclusion of an approximate two-hour session with media members. “Just be cautious and do the right thing.”
Currently, Riverside has 10 COVID-19 patients at the hospital. Testing for the virus continues, with saliva samples being sent and returned on a two- to three-day cycle from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.
However, if all goes as planned, that portion of the equation may be eliminated within the next three weeks.
Kambic said Riverside will be equipped with sample-testing equipment and all that’s needed is the go-ahead from the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, which regulate laboratory testing.
Three federal agencies are responsible for CLIA: The Food & Drug Administration, Center for Medicaid Services and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.
When that certification is complete, test results confirming or denying the presence of the coronavirus could be determined within the same day, most likely within a few hours.
That would be a welcomed relief to those who require the testing due to presence of symptoms, but hospital officials stressed that does not mean tests will be conducted on anyone who shows up at the hospital’s emergency room.
TESTING NOT NEEDED FOR MOST
Kathy O’Grady, Riverside’s vice president clinical services, said the hospital is capable of doing 300 tests a day, but noted that is not the plan. She said testing will be conducted only as symptoms — such as persistent high fever, tiredness and dry cough — warrant. Difficulty breathing is a symptom associated with a severe case of COVID-19.
The vast majority of people who have been hospitalized as a result of the virus have pre-existing medical issues.
Dr. Keith Moss, Riverside’s chief of staff, also stressed that 80 percent of people who contract the virus have no need of testing nor hospitalization. Many do not even realize they have contracted the virus.
Moss noted those who show up seeking the test will not get it. Instead, most people will be sent home with the instruction of getting adequate rest so the body can fight the virus.
In another big move in the ER, the hospital increased its negative pressure room capacity from one to eight. Negative pressure rooms are those which hold infectious patients. Basically, a negative pressurized room dispels the air in the room to the outside rather than recirculating it throughout that area, which helps eliminate potential spread of illness.
WEAR A SURGICAL MASK
All medical experts note much the same when it comes to fighting this illness. Their advice is simple: get rest, wash hands and stay away from public places. They also said wearing the doctor/nurse surgical masks provides the benefit of not spreading the virus.
They noted cloth surgical masks should be washed on a regular basis. A throw-away type mask should last someone 4 to 6 days and can only be used until they become wet.
Kambic noted the emergency room traffic has dropped significantly. Prior to the illness, RMC’s ER saw about 150 patients. Within the past three weeks, the daily count is down to about 50.
He also noted surgeries at the hospital are down significantly, with about only one-third of the normal surgery load being completed. He noted, however, that surgeries can only safely be pushed back for only so long due to potential damage or danger of not having the procedure completed.
“It’s my fear that people who should be coming in for some care are not coming in due to the fear of contracting the virus,” Kambic said.
The social distancing guidelines that led Illinois county fairs to cancel off-season events on their grounds through the end of April is one part of a financial impact double-whammy, a trade official said.
Many local fairs use revenue from off-season events and activities to “pay the bills,” said Ken Tyrrell, president of the state’s Association of Agricultural Fairs.
Before the stay-at-home order was in place, guidelines from Gov. JB Pritzker’s office regulating the number of people allowed to congregate shrank from 1,000 to 50 to, finally, 10. County fairs canceled expositions, contests and other events back when that number was 250.
In Debbie Krones, competitive exhibits coordinator for the Iroquois County Fair, said organizers are hopeful they will be able to host the fair this year, but they are holding off on major spending items until the state gives official word on the status of summer events.
The Iroquois County fair is scheduled for July 15 to 20.
“We are moving slow with what we’re doing and waiting to see how things play out,” she said. “We still have some time right now.”
Though July is still months away, cancellations of springtime camping groups and 4-H events at the fairgrounds means funding for the summer fair will be limited.
That’s not the only financial concern on fair organizers’ minds.
Krones said that if the fair has to be canceled, many participants will have wasted time and money on their projects, and local businesses that participate as vendors will also be out of luck.
“There’s a lot that goes into it behind the scenes,” she said. “If we didn’t have a fair, people have gone out and purchased and got their animals, and they probably are going to be sitting on a heavy loss because there won’t be a livestock sale.”
Krones added that rescheduling the fair for later in the season would not be a likely possibility.
In Kankakee County, Fair Manager Tammy Focken said this year’s fair will go on as planned unless the Illinois Department of Agriculture cancels it or if restrictions on public gatherings are still in place through the summer.
This year’s Kankakee County Fair is scheduled for July 29 through Aug. 2.
Though revenue from fair ground rentals will undoubtedly be limited this year, organizers are planning for the annual fair to still take place.
“Of course our business has been affected,” Focken said. “We host wedding receptions and trade shows of all kinds. All of those events have had to be canceled and/or rescheduled.”
The other problem, Tyrrell said, is a delay in reimbursements from the comptroller’s office for costs incurred last year. Under statute, the state is responsible for paying county fairs 66.67 percent of what organizers spent on agricultural premiums. That includes activities related to horticulture, poultry, livestock, horse races and rodeos.
County fairs in Illinois begin hosting their main events in June. If the novel coronavirus pandemic continues into the summer, forcing fairs to begin cancelling, Tyrrell said “it would be devastating.”
If a fair is canceled, expected revenue needed to pay laborers to maintain the grounds is lost, for example. Marla Calico, president of the International Association of Fairs & Expositions, added they additionally would lose vendor deposits and presale ticket money.
“Many downstate fairs struggle getting along as it is. They don’t have money put away or deep pockets. All of them struggle,” Tyrrell said. “Any time you lose revenue, it’s going to affect the fair.”
According to IAFE data, most county fairs across the country are scheduled for July, but events largely begin in June, extend strongly into August and wind down in September.
Member county fairs told Calico “they are taking a wait-and-see attitude,” choosing not to close unless forced to do so by public health authorities because “many times, they are the single largest economic driver in the community.”
She said county fair cancellations would cause “an entire ripple effect.”
“It’s not just the funds that not-for-profit organizations may gain and do good within the community when they give out scholarships to young people,” Calico said. “It’s the small businesses all around them — the gas station benefits, the hotels benefit, the cafes and restaurants benefit.”
According to a study commissioned by the IAFE, fairs in the U.S. are estimated to generate $4.67 billion in economic activity annually. A survey of the association’s members found that number is already down $66 million due to 320 fairs forced to shut down 10,578 events thus far this year.
Daily Journal staff report
On Monday, Kankakee County was nearing the 100 mark for confirmed cases of coronavirus. On Tuesday, the county sprinted past that milestone, ending the day with 128 confirmed cases. Tuesday also brought a new coronavirus-related death in the county, bringing the total to six.
Twice-daily reports on the Kankakee County Health Department’s Facebook page had been hovering in the single-digit range. It was a different story on Tuesday. The department’s morning update brought 18 new cases and its afternoon update brought 20.
“As you have seen, there has been a surge in positive cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours,” said a post on the department’s Facebook Tuesday afternoon.
The department attributed the jumps to increased testing at long-term care facilities with active outbreaks, as well as an increase in testing being performed by healthcare agencies in the community.
“There will continue to be a rise in numbers as more individuals are tested, this is no cause for panic,” the post continued.
During Tuesday’s daily press briefing in Chicago, Illinois officials announced the largest single-day increase of novel coronavirus-caused deaths in the state — 73 new fatalities in 14 counties — bringing the total to 380.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of the Illinois Department of Public Health, added that 1,287 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the last 24 hours. There are now 13,549 cases in 77 counties, as of Tuesday’s afternoon briefing.
The number of actual cases is likely higher, as testing is not widely available, Gov. JB Pritzker said. About 19 percent of the 68,732 people tested for the virus in Illinois have tested positive, he added.
Pritzker added “these terrible numbers” should caution Illinoisans that the novel coronavirus pandemic is “deadly serious.” Residents should continue to follow the stay-at-home and social distancing orders, frequently wash their hands, sanitize regularly-used objects and surfaces and wear a face covering when going outside, the governor said.
The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has advised the use of simple cloth face coverings to slow the spread of the virus and help people who may have the virus and do not know it from transmitting it to others.
In an IDPH survey of those who received a positive COVID-19 test seven days ago, 43 percent responded they had already recovered, Ezike said, calling it “positive news.”
“The solution [for COVID-19] isn’t coming tomorrow or next week or next month, but it is coming,” Pritzker said. “Every day that we support our health care systems, every day that we flatten the curve, that’s another day that the incredible roster of scientists and researchers and innovators in the world come a little bit closer to finding solutions in the fight against COVID-19.”