Number of recorded cases has doubled since Oct. 5
STERLING – While nurses inside the COVID-19 unit at the CGH Medical Center on Thursday rushed to strap on caps, face shields and gowns before entering the room of a patient who was calling out, frightened that he couldn’t catch his breath, Kristie Geil was reassuring him that everything would be OK.
She has learned that a patient’s anxiety comes from a lack of oxygen – one of the most intense effects of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus – and that patients, isolated from their families and the community, benefit from her encouragement.
But those comforts only go so far, and for this patient, they were his last.
He died Friday morning and now represents one of the 30 patients in Whiteside County who have died from the disease since March.
“No patient is going to die alone in our hospital,” said Geil, the chief nursing officer at CGH Medical Center. “The nurses are at their bedside because you can’t be there right now, and they will continue to do so, and our physicians – but we really need your help right now.”
Geil’s appeal was the focus of a larger plea made Friday by local public health officials at an afternoon news conference for residents in Whiteside County to take serious measures aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus.
Officials urged residents to wear face coverings when in public, wash their hands for more than 20 seconds, stay 6 feet apart and to avoid physical contact or gathering indoors with others within homes and at local businesses.
“The choices we make every day matter in how this turns out, and it matters especially right now,” said Dr. Eric Kuhns, who heads the CGH department of medicine and leads the CGH Coronavirus Task Force.
“We haven’t seen anything like this before. It’s really bad right now,” Kuhns said. “We really need your help right now.”
Kuhns’ and other health officials’ concern is largely rooted in recent surges in new cases of the virus and increases in admissions to local hospitals.
The county logged a 14.7% rolling seven-day average positivity rate Oct. 27, the highest that metric has been recorded since the Illinois Department of Public Health started tracking it in June.
On Friday, Whiteside County reported 65 new cases, bringing the number of cases recorded since the start of the pandemic to 1,784.
That total has doubled since Oct. 5, when the number of cases recorded by the county was only 892.
CGH Medical Center’s critical care unit consistently treats 20 to 25 patients with COVID-19, Geil said, but the hospital hosts between 45 and 50 patients with the virus each day.
Those totals and the sobering likelihood of more infections and transmission unless community members take preventative steps will only add to the stress nurses and other medical professionals feel each day, Geil said.
“My team has been wearing [industrial N100 masks] for eight months,” Geil said. “And we’re really tired, and we need your help.”
Geil added that she doesn’t judge anyone for wanting to socialize and spend time with one another. She just asks that residents act responsibly when they do.
Whiteside County Health Department Administrator Cheryl Lee agreed, saying that what individuals do in their personal life is “spilling over” into the community.
“This is a global pandemic. You cannot go anywhere in the world to escape this,” Lee said. “Whether you agree with the masking or you don’t, the bottom line is we’re a community. We need to embrace the strategies that we have been given and work together to save our businesses, keep our kids in school, preserve our health care and help ensure less and less people die from this.”