COVID cases stack up

Kankakee County Health Department administrator John Bevis talks Wednesday about the influx of positive cases, each represented by a piece of paper work in the stack of the more than 3,000 they’ve received since Nov. 1. Workers tackling contact tracing at the department would need to make upwards of 250 phone calls each day to catch up, a task nearly impossible as some calls can take an hour or more. “It’s like we’re in a swimming pool, being thrown 50-pound bags of concrete to catch and sinking to the bottom. Just as we’re able to come to the surface, we’re catching another bag. Then another,” Bevis said. “We’re barely able to tread in water until a break comes.”

KANKAKEE — There’s a stack of papers in the Kankakee County Health Department’s office that’s over 10 inches tall. It’s the paperwork for positive test results in the county. And that’s just for this month.

Since the first of November, Kankakee County has seen at least 3,000 new positive cases of COVID-19. It’s nearly doubled the total number of positive test results since the pandemic’s start in March — which now stands at just over 7,000.

Health Department Administrator John Bevis said the virus’ second wave is unlike what was seen back in the first two or three months of its arrival.

“Take this seriously,” Bevis said Wednesday.

Since Nov. 1, the county has averaged 200 cases per day, Bevis said.

For each individual who tests positive, there are at least four people who were in close contact with them. This recent tidal wave of positive tests has made contract tracing daunting, even with 16 people conducting contact tracing on a daily basis.

“It’s like juggling chainsaws,” Bevis said.

The surge has also overwhelmed both Riverside Medical Center and AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital, Bevis said.

“I compare it to a natural disaster,” he said.

Typically, if a hospital becomes overwhelmed, say in the case of a natural disaster, it can look to other providers in the region to offer assistance. That’s not the case with COVID as it is taxing hospitals and staff across the U.S.

“You can’t count on there being help,” Bevis said. “There is no simple solution. There is no Plan B.”

As of Wednesday, AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital was caring for 36 COVID-19 positive inpatients, as well as three people who are awaiting COVID test results.

“Kankakee County’s high COVID-19 positivity rate continues to manifest as higher COVID-related hospital admissions and ICU bed usage,” said Christopher Shride, president of AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital Kankakee. “Clinical staffing levels, not actual beds, is the concern right now, as our nurses and clinical staff work harder than at any time since the start of the pandemic.

“‘Outstanding’ best describes how AMITA Health St. Mary’s Hospital’s clinical teams continue to rise up and meet all the community’s needs during this critical time.”

Riverside is not at full capacity, but it is seeing more patients than during COVID-19’s first wave, said Carl Maronich, Riverside’s director of marketing and public relations.

“We’re not full in an area and we are working to get the employees to the right place,” Maronich said.

“At this point we are stressing people continue to wash their hands, wear masks, social distance from one another, do not gather in large groups.”

Maronich did say they are seeing positive cases in employees.

Within the past week, Bevis and his department have become even more vocal in asking residents to heed the guidelines laid out by the state: washing hands, wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and not congregating in large groups.

Easier said than done as we head into the holiday season starting with Thanksgiving next week, he said.

“People gather with family and friends. That is something we cannot do. We have to protect one another,” Bevis said.

“Maybe you think you won’t get it. You think this kills older people or those with underlying causes. But it’s just not older people. There was a person in their 40s who died.”

Bevis said he hopes this is the last hurrah for COVID-19 with recent announcements from pharmaceutical companies of successful vaccines.

“We all just need to continue making sacrifices to turn the corner,” he said.

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