McLean County saw an unprecedented increase in COVID-19 cases on Friday, tied to an outbreak at the Bloomington Rehabilitation and Health Care Center at 1925 S. Main St.
The McLean County Health Department said the facility has 36 confirmed coronavirus cases, including 28 among residents and eight affecting staff. The county's most recent COVID-19 death, a woman in her 70s, was a resident of the nursing home; five residents remain hospitalized.
Health Department administrator Jessica McKnight said the county recommended the facility test all residents and staff after the initial outbreak. She said some tests are still pending.
"This just shows us COVID is a very infectious illness and how quickly it can spread," McKnight said. "No red flags, even when you are taking all the necessary precautions, there's still a chance for this illness to spread.
The health department announced 25 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, bringing the total of confirmed cases in McLean County to 161.
According to the department’s website, 45 residents are in home isolation while seven patients remain hospitalized and 103 people have recovered.
The county's previous one-day high of coronavirus cases was 14 on April 7.
Statewide, Illinois health officials have confirmed 90,369 coronavirus cases and 4,058 deaths. Among the 130 additional deaths reported Friday are a Champaign County woman in her 40s and a Sangamon County woman in her 60s.
McKnight wouldn’t say whether the state or McLean County should move closer to reopening the local economy.
She acknowledged that state and local government leaders face a difficult balancing act as they weigh the health and economic factors in deciding when it will be safe to allow more businesses to reopen.
“We’re having discussions with our local officials and our board of health, knowing that how we do the reopening, it's going to be a tricky thing,” McKnight said. “Slow and steady wins the race.”
She said the county hasn’t tabulated its coronavirus positivity rate, a data point the state is using to determine the virus’ spread.
“That is something we are looking at getting and being able to present,” she said. “The Restore Illinois plan looks at the positivity rate. We know there has been some interest in getting that specifically for the county."
The county presents testing data from the Illinois Department of Public Health that includes diagnostic and antibody tests. The state reports 4,125 COVID-19 tests have been conducted in McLean County.
McLean County is part of the 27-county North-Central Region. It has a 7.5% positivity rate. That number has been declining over the last two weeks, helping keep the region on pace to move to Phase 3 of Gov. JB Pritzker's reopening plan later this month. That would enable manufacturing, offices, retail stores, barbershops and salons to open with capacity restrictions.
The higher COVID-19 totals in the county come as testing at the drive-thru site at the Interstate Center in Bloomington has increased sharply. For the first time, the clinic reached its daily capacity of 250 on Tuesday and Wednesday after the state announced plans to move the site, and then later extended it to May 22. The site administered 223 tests on Thursday.
McKnight said she doesn’t know if the increased use in of the site will be enough to keep it in Bloomington beyond next week, but she said the department has to prepare to find additional testing sites.
She said the department has been talking to state officials, along with local medical facilities, universities and other community groups that could help identify where a testing site is needed most and where a new site could be located.
She acknowledged that will involve more grassroots engagement in the community. The local chapter of the NAACP has said a lack of community outreach and the lack of a walk-in clinic likely hindered turnout.
“We can always do more and since we are in the planning phase, we definitely are wanting to reach out to those grassroots groups and make sure that when we are planning a site that we are taking into account locations, even if it means making sure that they are accessible to those without transportation,” McKnight said.
McKnight also said her department has no plans to pursue single-unit housing for the homeless population to limit the COVID-19 risk.
Illinois People’s Action has called for the county to move all residents in congregate housing to single-unit housing, citing an increased risk of an outbreak.
“We’re not looking at single dwellings at this point. They do have plans in place to provide isolation,” McKnight said of the homeless shelters in Bloomington-Normal. “The guidance from (The Illinois Department of Public Health) and Illinois Emergency Management Agency has been what we are basing our plan on.”
The county has said anyone in a homeless shelter or otherwise in need of a place to stay while in quarantine will be placed in one of two undisclosed locations in the county and the federal government would reimburse the county for the cost. McKnight said the county is looking for additional locations for alternate housing but, so far, hasn’t needed to use those sites.
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