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

State Expands Digital Medical Access For Suspected COVID-19 Cases

JB Pritzker at a podium.
Gov JB Pritzker
The state of Illinois has expanded digital medical services during the pandemic.

State officials have set up digital medical programs with several partner outlets for people with COVID-19 symptoms to keep them in their homes until advanced medical services might be needed.

Peoria-based OSF HealthCare will administer the program in central and north central Illinois, including cities such as Ottawa, Pontiac, Bloomington-Normal, Champaign-Urbana, Monmouth, Peoria, and Alton.

The number to call in central and north central Illinois is (217) 454-5100. That service is available now.

The Southern Illinois University School of Medicine is the state’s partner for southern Illinois, stretching north to Springfield and Decatur. Southern Illinois service will be available starting Monday at (833) 673-5669.

Digital services will soon be available in northern Illinois, Gov. JB Pritzker said at a briefing on the pandemic Saturday afternoon.

At the briefing, Dr. John Vozenilek, OSF’s chief medical officer for innovation and digital health, said people in central Illinois with COVID-like symptoms can call 1-833-OSF-KNOW for an interview with a pandemic health worker.

“It is a critical need to care for patients in place as long as we can,” said Vozenilek, adding that is key to prevent overwhelming the rest of the health care system and will help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

The program may include daily check-ins with health care workers and, if necessary, shipping to the home of kits that include a digital thermometer, patient manual, alcohol wipes, and other materials.

The state also has announced a text service that can offer information and other support. Pritzker said people can text the hotline 552020 with the key word "talk" to access emotional support in a "call for calm" program. A counselor will call back. Information about other services is available by texting different key words to the same number, such as "unemployment," "food," and "shelter." Spanish language counseling also is available at the same text-to-talk number by texting the word "hablar," Pritzker said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health also announced 1,293 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Illinois for a total of 19,180 since the pandemic began. As of Saturday, there were 81 new deaths. So far, IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said COVID-19 has taken the lives of 677 people in the state.

“I am lifting up the memory of every individual who is no longer with us,” said Ezike. “Death has hit the same families sometimes multiple times.”

State leaders said the pandemic remains a serious situation even though the rate of increase of cases has diminished. And there has been a lower rise in hospitalizations than was originally expected, said Pritzker.

“These numbers will bounce around each day, but if you look at a moving average of days you can see the rate of ascent has slowed in recent days," he said. "It is not flat, exactly. We are encouraged by that, but it is not determinative of what tomorrow or the next day will look like.” 

Ezike again urged Illinois residents to stay the course.

“No doubt we will get through it. But it is a marathon. We cannot get tired of washing hands. Despite the cabin fever, there is still a long road ahead,” she said.

Pritzker said as state experts look at the numbers, they  also will consult other epidemiologists to consider whether the April 30 deadline to shelter in place for Illinois needs to be extended.

As Illinois gets closer to a peak and plateau of COVID-19 cases, state officials hope to begin a program to test for antibodies to the virus, to help determine who has had it, perhaps without symptoms, and who might be protected.

Even after the shelter-in-place order has expired, people who have not contracted the coronavirus will still be vulnerable.

“We are going to have to get hundreds of thousands if not millions of tests in the state, so we can identify the percentage of people who have been exposed to get at essentially the herd immunity,” said Pritzker. “That is key to identifying when we can open up the state.

Other keys, state officials said, will be more robust contact tracing system for people who test positive, both through traditional shoe leather investigation and through digital technology involving Apple and Google GPS data.

Mclean County cases of COVID-19 remained unchanged from Friday to Saturday at 75

Pritzker urged people to avoid in-person Easter church services and to attend virtually.

The Pekin Country Club has said it has opened up for the season. Pritzker responded to a reporter question whether it should be shut down.

“This is not a time to loosen up the standards we have set,” said Pritzker. “I would discourage people from opening a golf course or using a golf course.”

We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.

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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