Woodford County reacts to coronavirus outbreak

By Holly Eitenmiller For Chronicle Media

In a March 15 YouTube video, Pastor Bradley Watkins of Willow Hill United Methodist Church in East Peoria spoke of a parishioner who was diagnosed with COVID-19.  Services are canceled through March 22 and Watkins has put himself under quarantine for two weeks. (Photo courtesy of Bradley Watkins

The  COVID-19 outbreak has come to Woodford County.

An unidentified Germantown Hills man has tested positive for the coronavirus strain after attending a church service while he was presumed contagious.

The 70-year-old man was tested at a UnityPoint Health clinic, and positive results were returned March 13.

The test results were announced by state and local officials March 14, but the date of and location of where he was tested were not released. At the time of the press conference, there were 64 confirmed coronavirus cases across eight counties; Cook, Kane, Lake, McHenry, Lake, Cumberland, DuPage, St. Clair, and Woodford.  Confirmed cases rose to 70 by late Saturday night, with that number expected to rise over the coming days.

Four people, so far, have been tested in the Peoria/Woodford region — one is confirmed, two tested negative and another is pending.

“People in the community want to know if they have potential exposure … we are trying to do some of our contact tracing to find out who might be at medium or high risk for this individual,” Woodford County Health Department Administrator HIllary Aggertt said at the press conference. “In the general population, at large, we would say it is low risk, but we are still evaluating our investigation process.

Less than a week before his diagnosis, the man attended a Sunday service at Willow Hill United Methodist Church at 304 E. Far Hills Drive in East Peoria. Pastor Bradley Watkins announced the news on the Willow Hill Facebook page shortly after the announcement.

“Yes, there is a confirmed Covid-19 case among our congregation. One individual tested positive … they attended the 11:00 service on March 8 during the presumed period in which they were contagious, but asymptomatic. Our facility is being disinfected over the next few days,” he said.

Willow Hill boasts around 450 members, but Watkins said less than half attend regularly, and most of them frequent the Traditional Worship service at 8:45 a.m. each Sunday, rather than the 11 a.m. Contemporary Worship. All church services through March 22 have been canceled. Watkins, and a small contingency of others who were in close contact with the patient are self-quarantining for two weeks.

In a YouTube video published to the church’s website, Watkins said the patient “is mildly ill and we believe he will make a full and complete recovery, but we have done our best to keep all safe and to observe all the health regulations and suggestions for making our space ready and available again for your safe participation, worship, education and joy.”

The Woodford County Health Department is working with the Illinois Department of Public Health and other departments in the region in monitoring potential cases of COVID-19 or coronavirus. (Photo courtesy of Woodford County)

The World Health Organization has estimated the coronavirus survives on surfaces for “a few hours to a few days”, however that information is based on how the six other coronaviruses behave. According to a study conducted, in part, by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, the SARS-CoV-2, the cause of the current pandemic, can survive on hard surfaces such as plastic and stainless steel, for up to four days.

Symptoms of Covid-19 are fever, coughing and shortness of breath. In most patients, the symptoms are expected to be mild, and only high-risk people, older adults and those with serious chronic medical conditions, should seek emergency medical help.

Others should stay indoors and contact a health care provider by phone and describe the symptoms. A health care professional will make an assessment and provide recommendations.

“I need to be frank, we can have a massive effect on bending the transmission curve if people will take this seriously,” Gov. J. B. Pritzker said in one of his daily press briefings last week. “If you are young and healthy, listen up, we need you to follow social distancing guidelines. You may only have mild symptoms for a few days and think that you’re just fine, but you can have the unintended, tragic effect of spreading Covid-19 to others who may be more vulnerable.”

RELATED: Central Illinois faces COVID-19 as first case reported

In step with this, Eureka Mayor Scott Zimmer issued an announcement March 14, announcing the closure of the City Building to visitors, but noted that city officials have yet to call for “emergency actions … should circumstances change, whether based on a higher governmental decree or otherwise” the city will follow suit for the safety of the community.

A week after hosting its grand opening, Maurie’s Sweet Shop on Main Street in Eureka has closed until further notice due to the coronavirus outbreak.
(Photo courtesy of ADDWC)

“One of the best things we can do at this time is remind everyone to stay home if sick … and contact your doctor with any concerns or questions,” Zimmer said. “If you or your family members are sick, please stay at home and check with your medical providers for care.”

To stem the spread of the virus, local businesses have flipped their Open signs to Closed.

Just one week after its grand opening, Maurie’s Sweet Shop has closed its doors until further notice and posted this on its Facebook page: “We will remain closed until further notice. ADDWC (The Association for the Developmentally Disabled of Woodford County) owns Maurie’s and serves clients that are especially vulnerable in regard to their health. We are closing to protect our customers and those we serve. We look forward to serving folks delicious treats again in the near future. Thank you for your understanding.”

The Eureka Et Cetera Shop is closed until March 21, and has canceled its annual Mennonite Relief Sale.

Eureka Public Library also is closed until March 21, and all of the libraries in the Illinois Prairie District Public Library system, which encompasses most of Woodford County will be closed at least until the end of March.

The Peoria region is taking steps to increase its testing capacity and will share new information on testing as soon as it becomes available. Individuals who have questions or concerns about COVID-19 can contact the Illinois Department of Public Health Hotline at 1-800-889-3931.

For more information on public health issues, visit your local county health department website:

Peoria City/County Health Department, http://www.peoriacounty.org/pcchd

Tazewell County Health department, http://www.tazewellhealth.org

Woodford County Health Department, http://woodfordhealth.org