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No confirmed COVID-19 cases in McLean County but caution urged
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No confirmed COVID-19 cases in McLean County but caution urged

BLOOMINGTON — While there are no confirmed cases in Central Illinois of COVID-19, health professionals are prepared if the new strain of coronavirus spreads to Central Illinois and urge residents to do things to reduce their risk.

"We are not aware of any confirmed cases in Central Illinois," McLean County Health Department Administrator Jessica McKnight said.

The health department said Monday afternoon it had been notified by the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) that there were no other Amtrak passengers for which the health department needed to follow up after a passenger, who was "presumptively positive" for COVID-19, was on an Amtrak train that passed through Normal last week.

"Don't panic," advised Becky Smith, senior vice president of nursing and clinical services with Bloomington-based Heritage Operations Group, which owns or operates 34 skilled nursing homes and 11 assisted and supportive living facilities statewide.

While there is no recommendation for Central Illinoisans to alter their normal routines or self-quarantine if they aren't sick, health professionals are encouraging steps to reduce the risk of exposure or transmission.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asks travelers returning from affected countries to stay home for 14 days.

"We encourage any McLean County resident returning from China, Iran, South Korea and Italy to contact the McLean County Health Department at 309-888-5435 to assist with self-monitoring and ensure they have the information needed in the event the resident may develop symptoms," McKnight said.

If there were COVID-19 cases locally, affected residents would be asked to quarantine themselves in their homes. "We have been strongly encouraging our community to prepare their households in the event they need to stay home for 14 days," McKnight said.

"If you are not feeling well, stay home" and call your health care provider, Smith said.

"Masks and gowns are things that health care providers need to take care of patients," Smith said. Masks should be worn by people who are sick but not the general public.

Laurel Mode, infection preventionist with Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, said "We are still in the midst of influenza season so, to help us all stay healthy, persons who are ill should stay home and not attend large group activities or social programs."

While COVID-19 is new, preparing for responses to disasters, including potential epidemics and pandemics, is not new for hospitals, Mode said.

"We have strong infection prevention protocols in place and have instituted recommendations for screening patients for respiratory symptoms and travel history or close contact with others who may have been exposed to the COVID-19 virus," Mode said. "Last month, we assembled a team representing infection prevention, emergency preparedness, supply chain and other departments to ensure our facilities are prepared with ample supplies and support to keep our patients and team members safe."

OSF HealthCare Media Relations Coordinator Libby Allison said "OSF HealthCare leaders remain prepared and on alert. We are working with state and federal public health officials to take all preventative steps available to limit the spread of COVID-19."

"We have drafted plans if we were to fall short on some of our necessary supplies (such as personal protective equipment) but we are not at a point where supplies are not available for patient care," Allison said.

Heritage has "a very robust infection control program," has enough supplies and has a task force to make sure that policies and procedures are followed, Smith said.

Heritage and Westminster Village, the Bloomington continuing care retirement community, have protocols in place if they would need to quarantine residents and if they would need to shelter residents if there was a case of COVID-19 in the community, said Smith and Matt Riehle, Westminster chief operating officer and registered nurse.

Westminster has been "hyper-vigilant" about infection control, Riehle said.

Visitors who are ill or have traveled to countries affected by COVID-19 have been encouraged to avoid visiting residents, Riehle said. "We have plenty of personal protective equipment."

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

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