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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

Beyond Testing, B-N Ambulance Runs Point To Even More COVID-19 Cases

One of the difficulties in estimating the penetration of the novel coronavirus in Bloomington-Normal has been a lack of testing. As of Tuesday, there were only eight confirmed cases of COVID-19 in McLean County. Protocols have not called for testing everyone. Early on there was also a lack of swabs used to collect test matter from nasal passages, though that is rising.

McLean County Health Department leaders have said all along the virus is in the community and spreading, despite the limited number of tests and confirmations.

Calls for ambulance services support that belief. Bloomington and Normal first responders have transported an average of 10-12 patients per day over the last 10 days. And those are people sick enough to seek emergency help, let alone those headed to doctors’ offices and emergency rooms on their own.

“Right now, we’re transporting on average three or four patients a day that meet the criteria. It doesn’t mean they’re going to test positive. Just through the questions the patient has been asked, it puts us on alert,” said Normal Fire Chief Mick Humer.

“We have probably had seven to eight a day over the last week,” said Bloomington Fire Chief Brian Mohr.

And illness in the community has been growing for some time, since well before there were confirmed cases.

“It really started to pick up about a week and a half ago,” said Mohr.

Metcom dispatchers ask a series of questions before sending an ambulance.

“And that triggers a response from when we get there to do further investigation. We limit the amount of people that make contact with the patient in the home or wherever they’re at and the people we send in to do the recon have personal protective equipment on,” said Humer.

The chiefs agree with the McLean County Health Department that it’s too early to say whether the restrictions on movement and public association are bringing down the number of new infections. The lengthy incubation period for the coronavirus makes that difficult to assess.

“We have no way of predicting what it will peak at. The plan is, with the executive order is, flattening that curve so we don’t get overrun. Did we stop things fast enough? Are people going to follow the direction and do what’s being asked of them?” said Mohr.

The goal of the shelter in place order from Gov. JB Pritzker is to prevent hospitals from being overrun.

“Overrun can be in a lot of different ways, right? If it starts impacting health care workers and we don’t have workers that could come to work, that would be one way it would be overrun. Getting to the point we don’t have an ambulance available to those needing it, that would be another way,” said Mohr. “We have mutual aid plans with Normal and other outlying agencies, but that all depends on the call volume in those areas as well.”

If it gets that bad, the dispatch screeners will ask additional questions and those asking for help get placed in a queue. Some would have to wait for an ambulance to become available.

“At this point we haven’t seen that," said Mohr.

The shelter in place order has also had an unintended effect unrelated to the coronavirus.

“It’s actually interesting, with the executive orders from the governor and so forth, we have actually seen a decrease in our volume of calls,” said Mohr.

With fewer drivers on the roads there have been fewer auto collisions that required a response, for one thing.

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WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
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