Pritzker visits SIU, discusses county COVID status and transmission

By Rana Schenke, Managing Editor

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker held a press conference at SIU on Tuesday to discuss Jackson County’s warning level status for COVID-19 transmission.

Jackson County was included on the Illinois Department of Public Health’s list of counties at COVID-19 warning status on Friday. The list is updated every Friday and counties that fail to meet two or more established targets are placed on the list.

“It is vitally important for local leaders and residents alike to follow and evaluate the facts on the ground in your community at a more granular level,” Pritzker said.

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Pritzker said the state is providing residents with local information about the spread of COVID-19 in every county on the IDPH website, as well as on county health department websites.

“The data can tell you if you’re winning or losing against the virus,” Pritzker said. “Unfortunately, right now the virus is winning in Jackson County.”

Pritzker said all residents need to take the virus seriously and protect themselves, no matter their age.

“The largest increase in cases is occurring among young people in their 20s and below,” Pritzker said. “This virus is dangerous no matter how young you are because of the long term damage it can cause you and because you can spread it to other you come in contact with who may even be more vulnerable than you are.”

Along with graduations and bars, among the traced origins of cases in Jackson County are parties held by SIU students coming back early for athletics and orientation activities, Pritzker said.

“I know that coming back to college is a celebratory time for so many young people, but I can’t emphasize enough that we need everybody to do their part in the fight against this pandemic,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker said large gatherings, particularly large, unmasked gatherings, are a no-go.

“This is serious,” Pritzker said. “This is about the health of older adults around you, everyone form parents to grandparents to strangers on the street. But it’s also about the health of our young people.”

Pritzker said many young people who have recovered from COVID-19 are still experiencing debilitating health issues.

“They can’t play sports and can’t fully catch their breath, […] and many get tired easily,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker said the first COVID-19 patient in the nation to receive a double lung transplant, which was performed in Illinois, was only 28 years old.

“Yes, the odds are high that a young person won’t die from COVID-19,” Pritzker said. “But you don’t want to be the reason someone else does and you don’t want to live with the long term consequences of COVID-19 either.”

Pritzker also spoke about the new state campaign to promote the wearing of masks.

“Just like a seatbelt or a bicycle helmet, a mask is a precautionary measure against the worst possible outcome,” Pritzker said. “But it can’t keep you healthy if it’s in your pocket or sitting around your neck. It only works if you wear it and wear it over your nose and your mouth.”

Jackson County Health Department administrator Bart Hagston also spoke at the press conference. Hagston said the county has seen 287 new cases in just the past 21 days, 44% of the county’s total cases to date.

“Almost 70% of those new cases during this time frame have been in young adults, those in their teens and late 20s,” Hagston said.

Hagston said young adults have been achieving remarkable things on SIU’s campus for 150 years.

“Now young adults in Jackson County can make a difference by following the oft-repeated public health precautions,” Hagston said. “Your actions hold the key to reducing COVID transmission and ensuring our schools and businesses can continue to operate and serve the community.”

Carbondale mayor Mike Henry spoke at the conference about the city’s new mask ordinance.

“The city council unanimously passed an ordinance last week that requires the wearing of face masks in Carbondale anytime you’re in public and cannot social distance effectively,” Henry said.

Henry also said the city has an ordinance limiting occupancy in entertainment venues to 25% of normal occupancy or 100 people, whichever is less.

“I remember what it’s like to be young and bulletproof and want to have some fun, and that’s a big part of the university experience, but now we have to be guided by common sense and a safe approach to the way we do things,” Henry said.

The Jackson County Health Department recommends young adults take the following actions: 1) avoid parties and large gatherings, 2) do not share drinks or vaping devices and do not smoke/vape in groups, 3) practice social distancing, 4) wear a face mask/face covering around others, 5) stay home if you are sick, even with mild symptoms, 6) model behaviors for peers to follow and 7) return calls to public health officials and follow their instructions.

If you are experiencing fever, cough, difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle aches, loss of taste or smell, nausea or diarrhea, you should contact your healthcare provider for further guidance.

Managing Editor Rana Schenke can be reached at [email protected]

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