Central Illinois Hospitals, Social Service Agencies Prepare For New Coronavirus

Mar 10, 2020

As the number of new cases of COVID-19 in Illinois continues to rise - as of Tuesday afternoon, 19 people have contracted the disease - social service agencies and hospitals are taking steps to protect the people they serve.

Dr. Raj Govindaiah is chief medical officer with Memorial Health System, which runs five hospitals across central Illinois. The system has opened an incident command center to coordinate its response to the virus and work together with other hospitals and public health departments.

He said residents can help ensure emergency rooms are not overwhelmed by contacting their county or state public health departments before going to the hospital if they think they’ve been exposed to someone sick with the novel coronavirus.

“The county and the state are screening individuals, and when they find an individual they believe needs to be screened and tested, they then work closely with the emergency rooms, so that testing can occur with the minimum of disruption to everyone involved,” he said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health has a phone line for questions - 1-(800)-889-3931, and an email, dph.sick@illinois.gov. The Sangamon County Department of Public Health opened a line available weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., at (217) 321-2606.

Calling public health departments first will also ensure that people who need care for other illnesses at an emergency room can get it, Govindaiah said

The 19 reported cases are concentrated in Chicago and surrounding counties, and there are no reported cases in Sangamon County.

Govindaiah said Springfield residents are slightly more at risk after an Amtrak train carrying a passenger who later tested positive for the virus stopped in the city last week. He said passengers on that train should contact the county health department if they’re experiencing symptoms such as coughing or fever.

“And if they are not showing signs of illness, they still need to be responsible and keep away from other groups of people,” he said. He pointed to the family of the woman sick with COVID-19 in St. Louis County who was on the Amtrak train as an example. St. Louis Public Radio reported they did not follow recommendations to self-isolate, potentially spreading the disease.

“Disregarding or ignoring your own personal responsibility can put other people at risk. And that's really not appropriate in this situation,” Govindaiah said.

Meanwhile, the City of Springfield, and its police and fire departments as well as Springfield School District 186 released a statement Tuesday reassuring residents city and public safety officials are collaborating on their response to the new coronavirus.

"We are closely monitoring the situation of COVID-19 and following up-to-date guidance from the Sangamon County Department of Public Health and the Illinois Department of Public Health while gathering insights from our local hospitals and medical community," the statement reads.

Erica Smith, the executive director of Helping Hands, a men’s shelter in Springfield, said the homeless face particular challenges when it comes to treatment and prevention of illnesses.

“When they do get sick… it takes them longer to recover because unlike people who are housed, they can't just say ‘Okay, I'm going to go home and rest for a few days,’ that option really isn't there for them,” she said.

Smith said the shelter is taking the advice of public health officials and encouraging clients to wash their hands regularly. They’re also cleaning and sanitizing the facility more frequently and offering primary health care services several times a week.