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'Don't panic,' Central Illinois health pros say as coronavirus spreads
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'Don't panic,' Central Illinois health pros say as coronavirus spreads

BLOOMINGTON — Don't panic.

That's a message from Central Illinois health professionals as COVID-19 spreads worldwide and in Illinois.

"The best thing that you can do for yourself and your community is to wash your hands, stay vigilant and don't panic," said Dr. James Nevin, chief medical officer for Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal and Advocate Eureka Hospital in Eureka.

As of Friday, a fifth person in Illinois had tested positive for the novel respiratory illness but there were no confirmed cases in Central Illinois.

Worldwide, more than 100,000 cases and nearly 3,200 deaths have been reported, according to the World Health Organization.

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"The similarity between this and the H1N1 outbreak a decade ago is that it's novel and so we are not as informed about it as we are, say, seasonal flu," Nevin said. "The situation is very fluid and we continue to work closely with and follow the guidance of the experts at the CDC, the Illinois Department of Public Health and the McLean County Health Department."

Because the virus is a new strain and there is no vaccine, some people are concerned about how the virus spreads and shortages of medical supplies, including face masks and hand sanitizer.

"There is no reason to panic," said Troy Erbentraut, director of preparedness and response for OSF HealthCare, which has hospitals, urgent care centers and doctors offices throughout Central Illinois. "OSF HealthCare prepares on a daily basis for events like this ... and every day, we make adjustments."

Alex Trickett, Advocate BroMenn manager of safety and emergency preparedness, said, "Patient safety and emergency preparedness are what we do every day. We have policies and protocols in place that are being reviewed with all staff and we are following the guidance of the CDC. We have contingency plans ready for all our locations, including outpatient areas."

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Erbentraut said OSF has a centralized supply chain for face masks, hand sanitizer and other medical supplies, and sends those supplies to OSF locations as needed.

"But our restock is not coming in as quickly as it once was. We are looking at conservation measures," Erbentraut said.

Trickett said that if the coronavirus outbreak escalates and the state declares an emergency, more supplies are available locally. Stores and pharmacies also are experiencing reduced supplies of face masks and hand sanitizer.

"We're having trouble getting masks in," said Nick Sartoris, pharmacist at Merle Pharmacy in Bloomington. "Same with hand sanitizer.

"We are getting supplies," Sartoris said. "But the wholesalers are limiting supply. So we limit what we give out ... to people who are sick and the elderly. Usually, if you're healthy, you don't need a mask."

He said the best defense is just washing your hands several times a day. "Shaking hands? None of that," Sartoris said. "If I was sick and had a low immune system, I wouldn't be touching anybody."

People shouldn't be nervous about the limited supplies. "Just wait," he said. "It'll come in. We're out of masks now but we'll get more. Meanwhile, wash your hands."

Rob Taveggia, owner and pharmacist of Chenoa Pharmacy in Chenoa, said supplies are low but "there has been no sense of panic at this point."

"Don't waste your money on masks," Taveggia advised. "Just be ultra-conscious of washing your hands with soap and water."

On its website, Kroger Co. said it is limiting the number of sanitization, cold and flu-related products to five per order. Walgreens said it was reviewing inventory and working with suppliers.

Contact Paul Swiech at 309-820-3275. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_swiech.

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