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COVID's impact goes beyond infected

KANKAKEE — One way of tracking the impact the COVID-19 virus has had on Kankakee County is to follow the county health department’s daily update.

The updates note the age and sex of those confirmed with the coronavirus. The information sheet also tracks the number of deaths which are determined to be “COVID-19 related.”

Of the 1,220 cases of virus infection, there have been 60 deaths listed as virus-related.

But for those in the health care industry, the number of deaths which could very well be associated with the coronavirus could even be much higher. How high could that number be? There is no way of knowing for sure, but Phil Kambic, Riverside Healthcare president and CEO, notes that it would be significant.

“There are more people dying at home,” Kambic said.

He said his wife reads through the obituaries in the Daily Journal on a daily basis, noting the ages and location of the deaths.

Many recent deaths have been individuals in their 50s and 60s, and they are passing away at their homes.

“They are not seeking care at our hospitals,” Kambic said. “We are seeing this over and over again.”

Basically, people are so fearful of contracting COVID-19 that they are staying at home rather than taking a trip to a hospital’s emergency room or their doctor’s office to be examined. They are waiting so long to have a health problem addressed that many people are simply dying in their easy chair for a condition which could have more certainly been addressed and treated.

“We are having people come in who have said they have had chest pains for three days in a row,” Kambic said.

That is a heart attack taking place, the CEO said.

“People are waiting too long.”

He said the situation not only exists for those with chest pains, but also people having strokes. People with cancer symptoms. The list goes on and on.

Dr. Kalisha Hill, chief medical officer at AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital, said there is no question the COVID-19 pandemic has been two-fold. There have the been the illnesses and deaths from those who contracted the virus, but there is damage beyond the disease itself.

“The second-fold damage has been the delayed care. We are so focused on preventative medicine and we can identify illnesses or conditions early now that they can be dealt with. But COVID prevented that from happening,” she acknowledged.

On May 11, the local hospital reopened its operating rooms to elective procedures. The mission is getting the patient back to the hospitals so concerns can be managed as best as possible.

“Patients are starting to come back,” she said. “But it’s always in the back on my mind, ‘Was that lymph node positive a couple weeks ago?’”

The lymph node is an immune system gland that usually enlarges in response to a bacterial or viral infection, but sudden swelling may indicate cancer.

One of the truly unfortunate situations regarding this problem is that hospitals have put in place areas for patients to come into a hospital or medical office which are separate from where a person dealing with COVID-19 would be.

During the early stages of the pandemic, Hill said patient fears regarding the virus were appropriate.

“But that time has passed. [Non-COVID] patients are going no where near any COVID area,” she said.

She notes numbers are rising in terms of patients seeking treatment for other issues and that is a positive sign.

“It very important,” she said. “Our hospitals are safe. We want people to come in so we can take care of them.”

People are dying of coronavirus-related illness and the illness had nothing to do with the virus at all, but rather the fear it has spread.

Matt McBurnie, Riverside’s vice president of institutional advancement, said it is time for people back to the mindset that hospital staffs are here to serve.

“We want to provide the greatest quality of life for them as we can,” he said, adding that the end goal is to not have COVID-19 lead to long-term disabilities as a result of delayed treatment.

Regarding COVID-19, Riverside officials noted staff has completed more than 12,000 tests — or tested just over 10 percent of Kankakee County’s total population.

Figures from AMITA were not available.

“In order to mitigate this pandemic and its ongoing effects on our community’s health, testing is key,” Kambic said. “Particularly as our community opens up more fully, testing gives us critical insight to do so safely.”

Coroner provides update on Kankakee County deaths

Daily Journal staff report

Through May 2020, there were 711 deaths recorded in Kankakee County.

That’s up 81 deaths from the same time last year, when the county recorded 637 deaths through May 2019, Kankakee County Coroner Bob Gessner said.

Through June 9, 59 of the 711 deaths were due to COVID-19. A death is considered coronavirus related when the primary care physician or coroner includes the virus as the cause of death or a contributing condition to the death on the death certificate.

Of those 59 deaths, 100% have had previously documented medical history, according to the coroner’s office. Forty percent have been under the care of hospice and 68% have occurred in long-term care facilities. The average age of coronavirus-related deaths is 81 years old, with the youngest at 48 and oldest at 97. There have been 32 males and 27 females. Racial percentage of the deaths are as follows: 83% Caucasian, 8% African American, 7% Hispanic and 2% Asian Indian.

The Kankakee County Coroner’s Office has been regularly providing these death statistics via its Facebook page.

Outside of coronavirus-related deaths, there have been 24 drug overdose deaths with two other cases awaiting toxicology reports. Gessner told the County Board’s Criminal Justice Committee on Wednesday that OD deaths are on a pace to reach the 56 deaths recorded in 2017. There were 28 OD deaths in 2019 and 29 in 2018.

The county has seen eight suicides so far this year. Gessner said there were 19 total in 2019.

There have been five motor vehicle fatalities this year, compared to 20 in 2019 and 10 in 2018. In both 2017 and 2016, there were 22 deaths as a result of motor vehicle crashes.

In all of 2019, 1,230 deaths were recorded in the county as compared to 1,274 recorded in 2018.

Kankakee schools aim for equity in AP class opportunities

KANKAKEE — Increasing access to AP classes for African American boys will be a focus at Kankakee School District 111 next year through the initiative of a group the district partners with called Equal Opportunity Schools.

During Monday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Genevra Walters reviewed goals to support students from disadvantaged backgrounds taking AP courses.

Equal Opportunity Schools, a Seattle-based group that promotes a multi-phased model to ensure students, particularly low-income students and students of color, have access to rigorous academic high school courses.

The phases include access to opportunity, experiencing success, extending equity and sustaining equity. Walters said the district has partnered with EOS for four years and estimated it is in the third phase of this process.

The group decided earlier this year to focus efforts on African American boys.

While the group focuses on assisting minority students and students in poverty, its efforts have led to an increase in students taking AP courses across the board, Walters said.

The group also provides data about students’ individual strengths and interest in college regardless of their GPA.

“The data EOS collected says that if we can get our students to take at least one AP class, it’s like practicing for college,” Walters said. “So they take that one AP class, regardless of how they do, they actually understand the rigor that they’re going to experience freshman year.”

Walters said the district has increased the number of students taking AP classes overall by participating in EOS. One of the district’s aims for next year is to make sure students in those classes have the support they need — not just academically, but also making sure they feel like they belong there.

“Some end up passing the exam for college credit; some won’t,” Walters said. “But remember, the goal is for them to experience a highly rigorous class while they’re with us and provide the support so they know what they can expect when they get to college.”

District staff have a meeting scheduled Friday with an EOS representative to discuss the group’s equity and excellence initiative. An equity team will be tasked with rolling plans out over the next three to five years.

“One of the things that is really important is that we are not saying to take anything away from anyone in order to create equity,” Walters said. “What we are saying is give the students that are struggling the most the kind of support they need in order to meet the expectations that we have.”

Illinois Supreme Court appoints Sabol to resident judge in Iroquois County

Daily Journal staff report

WATSEKA — Justice Thomas L. Kilbride and the Illinois Supreme Court announced Wednesday the appointment of Associate Judge Michael Sabol as a resident circuit judge of Iroquois County in the 21st Judicial Circuit, which also includes Kankakee County.

Sabol was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge James B. Kinzer on Aug. 2.

“Serving the citizens of the 21st Judicial Circuit as associate judge has been an honor,” Sabol said in a news release. “Replacing Judge Kinzer will be no easy task, although I look forward to the challenges of presiding as resident circuit judge.”

The appointment is effective Aug. 3 and will conclude Dec. 7, when the position will be filled by the general election in November. Sabol will be on the ballot in that election and is running unopposed.

“The circuit is losing a real asset and institutional knowledge with the retirement of Judge Kinzer. Judge Sabol has done a good job for the 21st Circuit and Iroquois County in particular,” Kilbride said in the release. “He has earned the opportunity to become circuit judge and continue to serve the people of the 21st Circuit.”

Kilbride recommended Sabol’s appointment to the Supreme Court following a request by 21st Circuit Chief Judge Michael Kramer to fill the vacancy in order to best serve the needs of the court.

“On the behalf of the 21st Circuit, I would like to thank Justice Kilbride and the Illinois Supreme Court for making this timely appointment,” Kramer said. “We will greatly miss Judge Kinzer’s wit and wisdom, but we have great confidence in Judge Sabol.”

Sabol has served as associate judge for Iroquois County since September 2016.

From 2006 to 2016, he was an associate at Elliott & McClure and then Godin, Denton, & Elliott, and concurrently served as Iroquois County assistant public defender. From 2002 to 2006, he was an assistant state’s attorney with the Iroquois County State’s Attorney’s Office. “

Sabol earned his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and received his Juris Doctor, cum laude, from the Michigan State University College of Law.

Sabol’s professional affiliations include the Illinois Judges Association, Kankakee County Bar Association, the Illinois State Bar Association, and the Iroquois County Bar Association, where he serves as treasurer.