PEORIA — Though no one knows how the COVID-19 pandemic will play out in Peoria, infectious disease doctors Joseph Kim and Douglas Kasper expressed some optimism about the community’s ability to handle the issue moving forward.
Both men are faculty members at the University of Illinois College of Medicine Peoria and work with COVID-19 patients at OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center.
"There will be issues we will see, I think in Bloomington a rehab facility had 56 new COVID cases occur in the last week or two. Those types of situations are going to occur in congregate-living situations," said Kasper during a phone interview last week. "Peoria has a lot of those facilities, and those centers are taking dramatic measures. All residents will be tested eventually as part of the governor’s plan, and there’s no visitors. They are very aggressive about bringing people with concerning symptoms to the hospital — there is very high vigilance. But as we go into the summer and fall, there may be clusters in congregate settings."
Relative to Chicago, Peoria has had a fairly low number of cases. Kasper said the way people live in central Illinois might be helping.
"We naturally social distance here. We don’t live in high-rises, in our communities people tend to live in homes that are separated by some distance. People drive to and from work, people don’t do as much public transportation. The system is set up differently. People ask why our numbers aren’t similar to Chicago, but the lifestyle here is completely different, so I think that has been a large predictor to what will happen in the community," he said.
Another factor that has kept numbers lower in the Tri-County Area is the fact that the community entered the shutdown with a relatively low level of COVID-19 in the community. During that time, infrastructure and materials key to managing the pandemic were put in place. Now that the community is opening back up, we are in a much better position to deal with any surges going forward.
"If things change in the future, the response is already well advanced from where we were in March," said Kasper. "Back in March, the capacity to test was very low, and other things have changed too – telemedicine, where we can do visits over the phone, over video, helps reduce the risk of transmission."
Another thing that will be helpful is the fact that members of the general population now have a good understanding of how to protect themselves.
"They know how to distance, how to mask. I know we’ve seen videos, in Lake Geneva and at the Lake of the Ozarks, of people congregating in large numbers. I know individual freedom is another part of this, but people now understand the risk, and are assessing their risk before going into all sorts of situations," said Kasper. "We ask people to assess risk every day — do you want to drive the motorcycle, or do you want to drive the car? People assess risk on how they want to live their lives. This is part of that. Where the state is providing guidance is, they are providing the prevalence part for us. That’s the strategy in general: Assess the prevalence, monitor with testing, do some baseline level of personal protection. And if that is in place, then people should feel very confident with going back to basic activities."
Testing and contact tracing are key to the strategy going forward, said Kim.
"The more people being screened, the better. The benefit of this is not just to know what the numbers are in your community — that’s very beneficial to public health officials and city officials — but the other benefit is the contact tracing part. In all honesty, that is the most effective strategy we have against this pandemic, the good old-fashioned contact tracing, finding out who is sick, making sure they isolate themselves, finding out who they have had contact with. Isolating them and making sure they don’t spread the virus. At the end of the day, I think that’s the key. So, the more testing, the better."
Leslie Renken can be reached at 686-3250 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.