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Local News

Peoria-Area Hospitals Impose Immediate Visitor Restrictions

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Tim Shelley / WCBU
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Beth Crider, Peoria County Regional Superintendent of Schools, at a press conference Friday, March 13, 2020 in Peoria.

The local and statewide response to the COVID-19 outbreak just ratcheted up another notch.

UnityPoint Health's area hospitals, OSF Saint Francis Medical Center, and Hopedale Medical Complex are limiting visits to two adults at a time for patients. Visitors under age 18 can visit only if they're an immediate family member and their visit is considered "essential" by the medical provider. Only healthy patients will be allowed to visit.

"This restriction is to a higher degree that is currently being done in our facilities," said Monica Hendrickson, administrator for the Peoria/City County Health Department.

Those restrictions are meant to not only protect patients and their families, but also hospital staff.  Dr. Samer Sader, UnityPoint's executive medical director of acute care services, said staff at all major Peoria hospitals are ready to handle potential COVID-19 cases.

"We are ready to take care of these patients. We know how to do droplet isolation. We do it frequently for influenza, for tuberculosis," he said. "This is not something we're not used to doing. What we're trying to prevent and what we're trying to prepare for is the avoidance of that big peak of a large number of patients coming in."

Medical experts recommend "social distancing," or standing about six feet apart from the nearest person, to avoid that droplet exposure from sneezes or coughs which can transmit the COVID-19 respiratory virus.

Sader said local hospitals are rethinking staffing from the entrance to the exam room in an effort to better protect staff from exposure as schools shut down and major employers reconfigure their operations.

Many colleges and universities across the state are extending spring breaks and implementing online-only courses into next month in an effort to maintain social distancing and contain the virus' spread. That includes Bradley University, Illinois Central College, Eureka College, and Illinois State University.

On Friday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced 14 new COVID-19 cases, concentrated in the northeastern corner of the state. That brings the statewide total to 46. He also announced all PreK-12 public and private schools in Illinois will be closed from March 17 through March 30.

Peoria County Regional Superintendent of Schools Beth Crider said the 18 local school districts she oversees have prepared for e-learning days or paper packets for a few days off. Starting Friday, those district superintendents are now looking to adapt those plans for the long haul.

"Closing school, if you're a school administrator, is a double-edged sword. We do need to protect and flatten the curve, but our number one priority is the safety of the children," she said. "So we have been putting together contingency plans around feeding the students, keeping them safe, thinking about childcare, and what happens when we come back."

"Flattening the curve" refers to the theory of adhering to basic best practices like proper handwashing and social distancing to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system with too many COVID-19 cases to handle. Children are believed less susceptible to the illness' most dire effects, but can act as carriers of the virus.

Crider said some districts are exploring a "food truck" concept to deliver meals to children who depend upon school for regular meals. Crider acknowledged the extended time out of school will have an impact on parents - particulary those who work hourly wage jobs.

"We're going to have to support one another. It is going to take the entire village to support these families and these children, because you don't want them in a large setting," she said. "So it doesn't make sense to close school and then recongregate at a camp. So we have to look at those options and figure out how do we reach out and support one another."

She said employers will also need to step up.

Andrew Rand, the Peoria County Board chairman and CEO of Advanced Medical Transport, said the county's CodeRED phone emergency system will send out an alert at 10 a.m. Saturday to residents with information on the coronavirus supplied by Peoria City/County Health Department medical director Dr. Gregg Stoner. The goal is to reach residents who may have missed media reports.

Rand also said the 211 phone information service will add options to learn about COVID-19 from live operators.

There are still no positive COVID-19 cases in Peoria County or the larger Tri-County region. Two people tested negative, and another test is still pending. Another pending test was transferred to another county outside the immediate region.