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.”

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