Daily Journal

Editor's note: This story was edited to correct a mis-identification of the type of virus COVID-19 is.

KANKAKEE — Kankakee County's first COVID-19 case has been confirmed and it belongs to a man in his 70s, health officials confirmed at a press conference Thursday.

The man came to the emergency room at Riverside Medical Center on Monday with symptoms associated with the virus and a nasal swab was taken. The swab was sent to the Illinois Department of Public Health labs, and it confirmed the diagnosis on Thursday.

The victim is at his home and under self-quarantine, confirmed Riverside Healthcare President and CEO Phil Kambic.

Due to privacy restrictions, no other information regarding the victim could be shared.

Kambic and John Bevis, Kankakee County Health Department administrator, stressed that county residents should not overreact to the news of the local diagnosis.

"We're going to have more cases. It's that simple," Kambic said. "It's inevitable. Don't panic."

Across the state of Illinois, nearly 300 cases have been reported in 17 counties.

Kambic said that for the vast majority of the public, COVID-19 — also widely known as coronavirus — will cause little to no harm. In addition, advanced medical care will most likely not be needed.

"If you are under [the age of] 60, ride it out, stay at home and stay in bed," Kambic said. "Don't flood the ER."

He added people who come to either Riverside Medical Center or Amita St. Mary's Hospital in Kankakee will more than likely not even be tested.

Due to the limited capacity of testing, both hospitals will prioritize testing to those patients with severe acute lower respiratory illness or those who meet Illinois Department of Public Health criteria for testing, Bevis said. Tests are reserved for those cases in which the systems of high fever, cough or shortness of breath are extreme or have been long-lasting.

In the vast majority of cases, Bevis said, it's simply unnecessary.

"Getting tested will not change how your doctor will take care of you. If you do not feel better in three to four days, call your provider and discuss the next steps," he said.

Dr. Martin Phillips, an infectious disease doctor for both hospitals, however, made it clear this illness must be taken seriously by people of all ages. He stressed people maintain proper social distancing and stay away from gatherings.

But, as Kambic said, he said not to overreact.

"The public needs to stay calm. There will be a lot more cases ultimately [within Kankakee County]," he said.

Bevis agreed.

"This is not a cause for panic," he said. "Let me repeat that. This is not a cause for panic. We will be working to prevent further spread of the disease."

By that, Bevis said, the public must be working toward reducing the possibility of further coronavirus spread.

Bevis said people need to stay at home as much as possible. He said if gatherings are necessary, it must be limited to no more than 10 people. He also encouraged people to check on family, neighbors or older adults by calling them, rather than visiting.

"Most importantly, stay home if you are sick," he stressed. "Avoid the emergency department and other places you seek healthcare if you are not severely ill, unless your doctor advises otherwise. Stay home and keep healthcare access available for others with more severe illness."

Bevis said anyone experiencing a respiratory illness should stay home for seven days after symptoms started and for three days after the fever has stopped without the use of fever-reducing drugs, and the person's cough or sore throat symptoms have improved — whichever is longer.

Kankakee County Board Chairman Andy Wheeler said the county has declared this situation a disaster. By the proclamation, additional resources can be accessed through the Emergency Management Agency, as well as federal and state resources, to help ensure county residents and visitors remain safe.

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