KANKAKEE — Kankakee County has not recorded a coronavirus-related death in almost a month.
It’s one of the positive pandemic trends local health officials noted at a joint press conference Wednesday in the Sheriff Timothy F. Bukowski Public Safety Center in Kankakee.
John Bevis, Kankakee County Health Department administrator, said the last recorded coronavirus-related death in the county was June 26.
“That is something that is trending, we feel, in a positive light,” he said.
Together, state and local officials and health leaders stressed during the press conference the importance of continuing to follow safety guidelines, including face masks and social distancing to curb the virus’ spread.
Officials also expressed relief that Kankakee County is now grouped with the south suburban region with Will County instead of the Chicago Metropolitan region in Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Restore Illinois plan.
As of Wednesday, Kankakee County has recorded 1,628 COVID-19 cases, 63 deaths and 1,133 recoveries. The county currently has 432 active cases of the virus, including 10 hospitalized patients, Bevis said.
“We continue to ask everybody to be very diligent in wearing the masks, washing the hands, watching your distance and staying safe,” he said.
Bevis said that as of Tuesday, the Illinois Department of Public Health approved $2.8 million in grant funding for the COVID-19 contact-tracing program in Kankakee County.
This will allow the county to hire more people to trace those who may have been infected through exposure to an individual who has tested positive for the virus. Tracers work with hospitals and testing agencies and help to identify and aid vulnerable populations.
“This is much needed money that comes at a perfect time for us,” Bevis said.
Phil Kambic, Riverside Healthcare president and CEO, further stressed the importance of following safety guidelines.
“How do you protect yourself, your loved ones and others? Wear a mask in public, guys,” Kambic said. “I’m not a politician. Maybe it’s an infringement on your personal human rights. I don’t really care. I wear a mask in public because I don’t want to infect you. Wear a mask in public so you don’t infect me, please.”
Kambic added that when a vaccine is developed, it likely will not be widely available at first. He said governments would probably prioritize access to the vaccine to vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and those with chronic conditions.
“I tell people this and they cringe. Here’s a reality: COVID is not going away,” he said. “COVID is going to be with us for the next 12, 18, 24 months. Let’s hope and pray there is a vaccine.”
Kambic also recommended not ignoring routine medical care, including getting a flu shot.
“The healthier you are, the less likely you are to get COVID-19,” he said. “Keep yourself as healthy as you can as we go into the winter months here.”
Since April 21, when Riverside acquired COVID-19 testing equipment, the hospital has conducted 21,854 tests, Kambic said. About 6.88 percent of those tests were positive, totaling 1,503 positive tests.
“What I look at are trends, and that continues to trend downward,” Kambic said.
The hospital’s trend in the past week was 3 percent. The positivity rate peaked in mid-April and continues to decline, he said.
From March until Monday, Riverside had about 150 COVID-19 patient admissions. The highest daily count was in the mid-20s, and currently the average is four patients, Kambic said.
There has been an uptick in people wanting to get tested, he added. The hospital sees about 200 patients per day at its main campus for drive-thru testing.
AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital in Kankakee has treated more than 275 patients for COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic and is currently seeing a 4.3 percent positivity rate in testing, Chief Medical Officer Kalisha Hill said.
The hospital also has discharged over 70 patients who recovered from the virus, and is currently providing between 60 to 80 drive-thru tests per day.
Hill encouraged people to follow through on routine healthcare as well and stressed that hospitals and doctors’ offices are safe.
“This is not the time to sit at home when you know you are feeling ill,” she said.
State Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex, said he was relieved that Kankakee County won’t be lumped in with Chicago as the state moves through its reopening phases, but he also believes everyone should stay vigilant in their efforts to curb the spread of the virus.
“As we reopen, make sure you wear your masks, wash your hands, do the things that all the local officials are begging and pleading so we stay in the fourth stage and we’ll move forward,” Joyce said.
Kankakee County Board Chair Andy Wheeler cited the efforts of the Healthy Business Alliance of Kankakee County, a group of about 50 community leaders, in providing the state with up-to-date numbers on local COVID-19 transmission. He said these efforts along with letters from local representatives were critical in getting Kankakee County moved to a different reopening region.
“Rather than fist pounding and reckless reopening policy and rhetoric, we chose the path of reason and respect,” Wheeler said. “I think that passion was backed up by data, and it appears this path is something we should revisit for other difficult issues.”