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Health officials, hospitals request limited visits during flu season

Jeff Smudde

The Peoria City/County Health Department and the Tazewell County Health Department are asking the public to “voluntarily limit hospital visits” with flu season showing an unexpected spike.

According to a news release, OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center, UnityPoint Health’s Methodist, Proctor, and Pekin campuses, Hopedale Medical Complex and Kindred Hospital request everyone age 18 or older limit their visits to two per patient, don’t visit if they’ve had any flu-like symptoms in the past seven days and wash or sanitize their hands when entering or exiting a patient’s room.

Peoria City County Health Department epidemiologist Tracy Terlinde said a rise in respiratory illnesses this time of year isn’t unusual, but you should still get a flu shot even if you’ve already been infected.

She said multiple flu strains are circulating, and the current vaccination is a good match for the most frequent ones.

"If you are sick, wear a mask; we have seen that help reduce the spread of illness in the community,” she said. “Washing your hands and isolating when sick can help reduce that spread as well.”

Local health officials also face the challenge of multiple respiratory illnesses circulating in the area at the same time. Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, causes mild cold and flu symptoms, but can be dangerous for older people and children. Terlinde said this has an impact on the capacity of the state's health care system.

“Currently, there are 289 pediatric ICU beds in all of Illinois, with 50% of those being in the city of Chicago,” she said. “As of Oct. 18, there were 6% of those beds remaining across the state.”

Currently, she said the Illinois Department of Public Health and Centers for Disease Control are tracking available beds every eight hours and helping sick children find a place in the state when a bed is needed. Terlinde said there are still available beds in central Illinois.

And, there’s also COVID-19. Terlinde said that the CDC shows community spread in the Peoria area at “medium” level, though she thinks this is likely lower due to the availability of home test kits, with results that are not reported to health agencies.

Terlinde pointed out there also have been some recent reductions and changes to COVID mitigation guidelines.

“If you have been positive, your isolation is only five days from (the) symptom onset date,” she said. “Those who have been exposed are not required to quarantine regardless of their vaccination status.”

Terlinde does encourage anyone exposed to wear a mask for seven days and monitor for symptoms, or mask for 10 days after a positive result.

In general, there are a few tips Terlinde said are essential to staying healthy during the holiday season. Regularly washing your hands and surfaces around the house is important because RSV and the flu can live much longer on surfaces than COVID can.

The most recent bivalent COVID booster is approved for everyone age 5 and older. Terlinde said it protects against the most prominent variants and you can get it at the same time as a flu shot, unless told otherwise by your doctor.

You can find more data on COVID positivity and flu activity in our areahere, where the Peoria City/County Health Department publishes a weekly report.

Collin Schopp is a reporter at WCBU. He joined the station in 2022.