EFFINGHAM — Effingham County health officials this week warned that COVID-19 cases here are “going up like crazy,” imploring residents to wear face coverings in public and avoid large gatherings.
By Tuesday evening, 4,965 people in the county have been tested for COVID-19. Of those, 136 were positive. An additional 11 new positive COVID-19 cases were reported on Wednesday evening.
Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Karen Feldkamp said during a county board health committee meeting Tuesday 50 positive people were in isolation and 200 in quarantine.
“We are starting to seeing individuals in quarantine becoming sick, which is something we haven’t seen much of before,” said Feldkamp.
Feldkamp explained the difference between isolation and quarantine.
“A person that tests positive is placed in isolation, which means they have to stay home and can’t go anywhere and are not able to have visitors,” she said. “The reason they are in isolation is so that they don’t affect anyone else. A person is put in quarantine for 14 days when they come in contact with someone positive. That gives us the opportunity to determine if they are going to become infected.”
Whether in quarantine or isolation, that person is required to stay home and not to have visitors.
“The important thing for people to remember when they are in quarantine or isolation is that they shouldn’t be in contact with somebody else,” Feldkamp said. “If other individuals are living within the home, they should be isolating themselves in the home — away from anyone else.”
She said people isolating and in quarantine should have their own bedroom and bathroom in the house, away from everyone else so they don’t infect them.
“Our numbers are going up like crazy,” said Effingham and Clay County Health Department Administrator Jeff Workman. “I am encouraging people to wear a mask and practice social distancing, and knock off the large parties.”
The local health officials say Effingham County is getting closer to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s “orange” level for COVID-19, which means there are warning signs of increased risk in the county.
“This means recommendations for restrictions on activities in our community may be made,” the department said in a recent press release about the possibility of reaching that warning level. “Without restrictions or community participation in precautionary measures, persons will continue to suffer from COVID-19 and disease spread will continue at a rapid pace.”
Feldkamp offered the advice that “outside is better than inside. However, it doesn’t do any good when you don’t social distance and are standing right next to each other. The danger is the number of people and how close they are to you.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines “contact” as being within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes.
“We want you to wear a mask and social distance,” Feldkamp said. “It is really important to do both things.”
She said the health department is fielding more calls from residents about COVID-19.
“A lot of the positives are associated with large events where individuals are not following any safety precautions, no social distancing and no masking,” Feldkamp said. “So, we are starting to see more positive cases from people going to these events.”
Feldkamp said the events that help spread COVID-19 include weddings, going to church and fundraisers.
Committee member Heather Mumma asked Feldkamp why some other counties were reporting the name of the restaurant if an outbreak happens, but Effingham County is not.
“We are held to very strict HIPAA guidelines,” Feldkamp said, referring to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. “If there was a situation where it would benefit the public health or we felt there were individuals who were at higher risk for exposure, then we would obviously work with that business to put some kind of information out.”
“There have been some other counties that have had legal issues in regards to HIPAA,” Feldkamp added. “We’re just trying to do the best we can balancing between what is best for public health, but also providing privacy for individuals who are going through a rough time.”
“The reason we don’t get into more detail on positive cases is because of HIPAA, too,” Workman said.
Committee member Lloyd Foster asked whether area schools would open as scheduled.
“As of right now, they are planning to open,” Workman said, noting that the health department has been working with schools on their plans to resume in-person class instruction.
“There will be a lot of changes,” Workman said. “I fully anticipate we’ll have some positives in the school before too long, and that’s going to be a challenge.”
Workman reported the ECHD has received a $817,632 grant from the Illinois Department of Public Health to hire contact tracers and pay associated expenses. He said that they were already conducting interviews for seven contact tracer positions. Anyone interested in becoming a contact tracer should apply as soon as they can.
“We are actively in the process of hiring and we’ve had several interviews,” Workman said.