The graph of average number of new COVID-19 cases in central Illinois looks a bit like a roller coaster, with small hills.
Three recent outbreaks caused a steep incline, said Dr. Jerry Kruse, dean of the SIU School of Medicine and CEO of the healthcare group, SIU Medicine.
In the last two weeks, 99 residents and employees at The Villas Senior Living Center in Sherman have tested positive for COVID-19, and 11 have died. Cass County, where an outbreak at a meat-packing plant JBS was recently reported, has 49 confirmed cases. And at Fair Havens Senior Living Center in Decatur, more than 70 residents and staff have been infected.
SIU Medicine is tracking the spread of the new coronavirus across nine counties – Sangamon, Christian, Macon, Logan, Morgan, Cass, Menard, Macoupin and Montgomery – with a population of around 460,000 people.
Kruse said there is some good news.
“The last four days we’ve actually seen a decline in the rolling three-day average,” he said.
Kruse said the decline means the outbreaks are being controlled and not leading to many infections outside the meat plant or senior homes.
“We have to remain careful and steadfast to protect against the infection now. We’re doing a good job and it’s not time to let up the guard yet,” he said.
Still, he said the region could soon be ready to ease some restrictions put in place to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
“The next ten days are big ones for this area for sure,” he said. “It is possible that we’re nearing the time of a little bit greater re-engagement.”
Public health experts believe 14 days is the incubation period for the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker released a five-phase plan to open the state, with each of four regions being able to loosen restrictions as they meet certain metrics. However, none of the regions would be able to open more businesses or allow other activities before the end of May.
The central Illinois region under the governor’s plan – dubbed Restore Illinois – is larger than the one tracked by SIU Medicine in the three-day average chart, stretching from the Indiana to the Missouri border and including the counties home to Champaign-Urbana and Quincy. The Illinois Department of Public Health published initial statistics for each region on its website.
Kruse said he supports a phased-in approach.
“We can measure it. We can continue to graph it, to tract the infections, to track the symptoms and see exactly and very scientifically where we stand before we take the next step,” Kruse said.