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

3rd Person Dies From COVID-19 In McLean County

McLean County Health Department sign
Staff
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WGLT

UPDATED 3:30 p.m. | A third person from McLean County has died after contracting COVID-19, officials said Thursday.

The person was a woman in her 80s with no history of travel or exposure, according to the McLean County Health Department.

McLean County hadn't seen a death from COVID-19 since March 31. All three people who've died were older, in their 70s or 80s.

No new cases of COVID-19 were reported Thursday. There have been 82 cases locally, and 65 of those people have  recovered. Two remain hospitalized.

“We have seen the number of new cases reported leveling off over the last few days, which can largely be attributed to social distancing measures the public is practicing,” said Jessica McKnight, administrator of McLean County Health Department. “But we expect to continue to see this virus impact our community for some time.”

“Now is a time to be cautious,” McKnight added. “Relaxing the stay-at-home order too quickly without key measures in place could lead to a spike in new cases and put a burden on our health care system.”

The health department says these measures include widespread access to COVID-19 testing, which would allow public health at the state and local level to be able to quickly identify and isolate new cases and quarantine their contacts.

The death in McLean County was one of 125 reported across Illinois on Thursday, pushing the statewide total to 1,072. Illinois added 1,140 coronavirus cases, bringing the total to 25,733.

Bending The Curve

A pulmonologist at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal said he thinks McLean County is starting to "bend the curve" in reducing the rate of coronavirus cases.

“I always feel a little superstitious about saying it out loud,” Dr. John Burr said in a Facebook Live videoconference with the health department. “But I think the social distancing has begun to work in our community and I think people in this community have been very compliant compared to some areas with the recommendations.”

Burr added Advocate BroMenn has been able to maintain an adequate supply of personal protective equipment (PPE), adding that Advocate has instructed staff to use one N95 mask per day. They keep each mask in a paper bag when not in use during the day and discard it after each shift.

“We’ve not had to do multiple-days use like some of the hospitals,” Burr said. “We also think that’s probably not an effective way to isolate people.”

Burr said other medical facilities in the Advocate system, particularly in the Chicago area, have had more challenges maintaining sufficient PPE supplies and noted some have had higher rates of infection among medical staff.

The McLean County Health Department reports 10 of the county’s 82 COVID-19 cases are medical professionals.

Contact Tracing

McLean County health officials said they plan to continue contact tracing for all COVID-19 patients, even though a rising number of cases has made it a time-intensive challenge.

County Health Department assistant director Cathy Coverston-Anderson said isolating those who came in contact with a patient is key to containing the coronavirus.

“It’s important to reach those contacts and educate them on what to look for and how to behave and how to keep themselves and their families safe,” saidCoverston-Anderson.

McKnight said the state's shelter-in-place order has made it easier to maintain contact tracing. 

She said her staff tries to track down everyone who has been in contact with a coronavirus patient in the two days before they developed symptoms. She said since people are going outside less, there are fewer calls to make.

“In public health we don’t have a whole bunch of staff and so it’s something that we are still doing and still doing the same measures as we were at the beginning of this,” said McKnight, adding  the typical case involves three contacts, but some have been as high as 15. She said that has made it more manageable.

She said she would consider enlisting the help of the county’s volunteer medical reserve corps to help with contact tracing if more widespread testing was available or the number of coronavirus cases rose sharply.

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