SOUTHERN ILLINOIS -- As COVID-19 cases continue to rise across the state, southern Illinois is no exception.
During a regional media briefing on Wednesday, officials with Southern Illinois Healthcare reported that Tuesday their facilities in Herrin and Carbondale had a record number (50) of patients hospitalized with COVID-19. As of noon on Wednesday, that number had fallen to 45.
SIH President and CEO Rex Budde said that 118 employees are on sick leave, including 65 who have tested positive for COVID-19. There are others who are quarantining due to potential exposure.
Budde said the primary concern continues to be having enough staff to care for patients.
"Beds are not a significant problem," said Budde, noting that the hospital is following its contingency plans for opening more beds when needed.
SIH Chief Nursing Officer Jennifer Harre agreed.
"COVID-19 patients require more employees per patient for effective care," she said, which is due to the expanded safety protocols.
In fact, the surge in positive cases has forced SIH officials to suspend elective surgeries.
Budde said these surgeries are not considered life-threatening but would require an overnight hospital stay. The elective surgeries include procedures such as knee or hip replacements and bariatric surgeries.
"We simply don't have the capacity from a staffing standpoint right now to do that," he said.
Budde said SIH is "sensitive" to the fact that even though the surgeries are considered elective, those awaiting the procedures may be living in pain. He said the cases are being reviewed by a group of physicians who make the final call based on urgency, said Budde.
Those procedures will be rescheduled "as quickly as possible" as the number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized decreases, said Budde, who could not speculate when that would happen.
"It just depends on how long this peak lasts," he said, "hopefully in a few weeks."
Budde and Harre both repeatedly rubber-stamped simple precautions that the community can take to curb the spread of the virus including frequent hand washing, social distancing and wearing masks.
Budde said officials are worried that the approaching holidays will result in a rise of cases if people carry forward with family gatherings against the advice of health experts.
"We're going to anticipate the worst, and cut surgeries back to make sure we can take care of people," he said.
Harre noted that the majority of COVID-19 patients have contracted the virus through community spread. She said cases have been tied to weddings, birthday parties, and large social gatherings. She also noted that the lack of compliance with mask wearing is driving the number of cases up in the region.
By the time you have symptoms " ... so I have a fever or I'm coughing -- you're five days past when you have been impacting or infecting other people," she said. "That's typically that time frame that you're shedding live virus, and that's why wearing a mask is so important because you have no idea when you've been infected with COVID-19."
Harre noted that the CDC has stated the virus is spread through respiratory droplets.
She said that wearing a mask "is a matter of respect" that can also significantly cut down the risk of community spread.
Harre said SIH has increased its testing numbers at the drive-through clinics in both Carbondale and Marion. She said SIH will also expand the testing hours and lines to alleviate wait times.
Those needing a test should call the SIH COVID-19 hotline at (844) 988-7800 to reserve a time slot.
Scheduling and additional information is also available online at www.sih.net.
SIH is also putting out a call for donations of convalescent plasma among patients who are recovered from COVID-19. To donate, please visit www.redcrossblood.org/donate-blood/dlp/plasma-donations-from-recovered-covid-19-patients.html.