A few days after the coronavirus-related death was reported in this county, the administrator of the Fayette County Health Department said she is seeing an increased compliance to guidelines for helping to prevent the spread of the disease.
And, Melissa Storck said, what’s needed is continued compliance and “working together.”
The health department, in its daily coronavirus report on its Facebook page, reported the death of a female in her 90s on Sunday.
That female was one of six individuals at a local congregate facility, such as a nursing home or assisted-living facility, who tested positive.
The number of people who have been tested for the virus has increased, as the standards for who is tested have been somewhat expanded.
The determination of who is tested for coronavirus at Sarah Bush Lincoln Fayette County Hospital is still being made by local physicians, Storck said.
Some of the actions that health officials are telling people to take – including washing hands and staying isolated to help prevent spread – are similar to what has been recommended for flu in the past.
What’s different this time, Storck said, is that coronavirus “is more contagious than the flu, and the mortality rate seems to be higher than the flu, more deadly to the vulnerable populations.”
Those who are considered more high risk for coronavirus, she said, are the elderly, obese and “people with chronic conditions who are already sick.”
In its Sunday report, the FCHD listed ways that people can help prevent the spread of coronavirus:
• People are contagious up to 14 days before feeling ill with this virus.
• Stay home – leave only if absolutely necessary, then practice social distancing.
• All are encouraged to wear masks in public (same as we encourage hand washing, not touching your face, practicing 6 feet of social distance, no different).
• False negatives are possible. Treat yourself and all others as if you have this highly contagious virus.
• Many stores report customers are coming in often, to buy only non-essential items, such as lottery tickets and soda. Please refrain.
• Take care of yourself and boost your immune system through adequate sleep, stress management, healthy diet and exercise.
Storck said that the health department was even just recently getting reports of local residents going out to buy non-essential items, but that that has seemed to decrease.
“Personally, I have seen more compliance with time,” she said. “We are now getting reports from local businesses that people are wearing masks and trying to refrain from non-essential business as best they can.”
Storck said that a person can be exposed to the virus “and not show any signs or symptoms of illness two to 14 days upon exposure.
“However, they are contagious for up to two days before they get a fever or have reported GI (Gastrointestinal) symptoms or fall ill.
“That’s why we all need to take extra precaution at this time,” Storck said.
There are days when Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker says that there are signs that the virus is leveling off or decreasing, but Storck said such reports should not result in people letting their guard down.
“I’m afraid to give people a false sense of security, because the fear is that people who are maybe contagious may spread it to loved ones who are vulnerable.
“Then, there is an outbreak and the hospital perhaps have a difficult time treating everyone,” Storck said.
“So, we’re just trying to, as we keep saying, (minimize) the spread,” she said.
“The good news is that it is said that 80 percent of us have had it or will get it and we’ll be fine.
“And, as the governor said, you have almost 20 percent where they will require hospitalization or some treatment. Then you have the 1 percent who will unfortunately pass away,” Storck said.
“So, we just have to do our part, to continue to treat ourselves as if we have it and treat others the same while doing our best to protect those at high risk,” she said, adding that she would not be surprised to see Pritzker extend the stay-at-home order, which is set to expire at the end of this month.
There is a faction, including some state legislators, who are saying that rural areas do not need to have the same, strict guidelines for social distancing that more dense areas such as Chicago or other larger metropolitan areas.
“I’m uncertain about that,” Storck said. “I think time will tell, really.
“I do think it’s best at this point to continue to follow CDC (Centers for Disease Control) guidance and maintain social distancing or the stay-at-home order, until we know more, because it continues to evolve,” she said.
“We have some things going for us, being more of a rural population, and we are less dense, that’s for sure.
“But, we still have a lot of vulnerabilities as a community the elderly, cancer and obesity rates, and just the overall health,” Storck said.
“I also think this helps bring to light the public health issues that we’ve had all along, like underfunding, people with poor diets eating a lot of processed food, a sedentary lifestyle and stress management, with people being overworked,” she said.
“This just further brings to light all of these issues. Not having enough ventilators – this isn’t really a new issue,” Storck said.
“It’s been years that it’s not uncommon for a nurse case manager to be working in a hospital before this even happened, trying to discharge a patient to the next level of care who needs a ventilator, and that discharge being quite delayed.
“So, I really think we’re obviously going to learn a lot from lot from this, and I think it’s changing every day,” she said.
In addition to the medical issues that the coronavirus pandemic is causing, Storck said, there is also the mental health aspect.
“We also have to talk about the harm or the negative impact of social life, social isolation that it has on our community,” she said.
“Research indicates that social isolation can lead to depression, abuse – it definitely impacts our mental health, and we have been struggling to improve our mental health system for some time now, to address such things as our suicide rate,” Storck said.
“We’re all hurting, we’re all hurting,” she said.
One of the positives for Fayette County is the decision made by county government a number of years ago to have a health department employee work part time as the county’s Emergency Management Agency coordinator.
“I am so blessed and so happy that Kendra (Craig) is here and already part of our team and also wears the EMA hat,” Storck said.
“That has been very beneficial, and she’s been doing an amazing job,” she said.
Craig agrees with what Storck says about everyone being a part of helping to prevent the spread of coronavirus.
“As far as the sheltering restrictions, I understand people’s frustrations,” Craig said. “(But) staying at home is by far the biggest help that individuals can do to help our community, and our best line of defense.
“Social distancing is not a means of stopping the virus, it’s a means of stopping the spread.
“We are all waiting for this to calm down, but to do this, we have to stop the spread,” Craig said.
“Right now, our main focus is communicating with the community’s key stakeholders,” Storck said, and Craig is leading those conference calls three days a week as the EMA coordinator.
“We’re holding the weekly meetings with school officials, the mayor, many other people just to open the lines of communication and to just talk,” Storck said.
“And now, I just started, we’re meeting with all of our congregate facilities, just to, again, support one another, talk to each other and see what is working, what’s now working, what have we learned, what can we do together moving forward,” she said.
“That’s my main priority right now, really protecting our vulnerable population,” she said.
This, Storck said, is not a time for finger-pointing or ridiculing others for their opinions or beliefs about coronavirus.
“We all need to be part of the solution and be thinking about how we can help one another and how we can pick up the pieces and move forward,” she said.
“I’m proud to say that this is the best country, America’s the best country, and we’re resilient and we’ll come out OK.
“But, it’s going to take all of us – the health care workers, government officials, the city – everybody working together to figure out, how do we get back to life as we want to do it or our new normal.
“As we all know, things will never be the same after (this),” Storck said.