St. Margaret’s Health responds to recent surge in COVID-19 cases


SPRING VALLEY - As holiday festivities and gatherings continue, the number of positive COVID-19 cases and exposures continue to rise at an alarming rate, as well.  According to Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) data, the state of Illinois is now averaging more than 10,000 new COVID-19 cases a day for the first time since Nov. 27, 2020. St. Margaret’s Health alone has experienced a major spike in the rate of positive cases requiring hospitalization as of late, specifically targeting a younger demographic and mostly amongst those who remain unvaccinated. As of Sunday, Dec. 19, Illinois had 3,960 COVID-19 patients in the hospital - the most in almost a year. As of Monday, Dec. 20, St. Margaret’s total inpatient census hovered around 50% COVID-19 patients, as the line at the testing facility swelled and snaked throughout the parking lot. In just LaSalle County, only 8% of ICU beds are currently available as of the most recent data, and hospitalizations have increased in 10 out of the last 10 days.

Dr. Bob Morrow, St. Margaret’s Family Health Center physician, reiterates the simple truth that vaccination is paramount to getting through this. “The fact still holds true that if you are vaccinated, you are far less likely to need admission to the hospital. You are far less likely to die from COVID.”

The fact is, St. Margaret’s has seen too many patients die unnecessarily because of refusal to vaccinate.

The most recent data shows that LaSalle and Bureau Counties currently report only 53.78% and 51.83% fully vaccinated, respectively. If trends continue, St. Margaret’s is concerned that patients or their loved ones will not have prompt access to necessary, required care - whether it is COVID-related or for some other medical emergency, injury, or illness.

“We’ve had patients with strokes and heart attacks wait for days for state-of-the-art treatment because there are no tertiary care beds available in our region. There have been ambulances stacked up and waiting in our parking lots because we don’t have beds available and most of our ventilators are in use,” Dr. Morrow continues.

Hospitals aren’t the only places affected by this influx of patients. St. Margaret’s walk-in clinics are also experiencing a surge of patients looking for answers.

“The surge in cases that you may see on TV in big cities like New York and Chicago is playing out right here in our own community,” Dr. Rahul Sampat, St. Margaret’s Midtown Health Center Walk-In Clinic physician, explains.  “And the surge isn’t limited to only COVID. Unlike last year, Flu and RSV are also surging, which only complicates the issue.”

To help protect the Illinois Valley, St. Margaret’s is asking the following:

  • Get vaccinated. The vast majority of St. Margaret’s hospitalized COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated.  If fully vaccinated, get the booster shot.
  • Mask up when in public and indoors regardless of vaccination status, but especially if unvaccinated.
  • Get tested if displaying symptoms, and do so as soon as possible.  If positive, ask a medical provider if there are any other underlying conditions that would qualify you for outpatient treatment.
  • Use convenient care or a physician’s office. Do not come to the Emergency Department unless it is an emergency. Ask you provider about virtual visits or use a walk-in clinic, unless experiencing breathing restriction or other life-threatening symptoms like chest pain.
  • Stay home if test results are positive to avoid affecting others who might find themselves in the hospital. Quarantine within one’s home to avoid infecting other family members.

Vaccination remains the key defense for COVID-19, but Emergency Medical Services (EMS) also bear a large responsibility for keeping exposures to a minimum. EMS staff have always had to make split-second decisions to keep their patients safe, but this ongoing pandemic has added other difficult decisions to their slate as well. While COVID-19 can be an emergent situation for some patients with comorbidities, most will experience mild to moderate symptoms that may not require hospital medical care. Utilization of the traditional destination to the Emergency Department may not be appropriate.

A “shelter-in-place” (quarantine-type) attitude may take place if the patient’s symptoms do not warrant an Emergency Department visit and their symptoms can be maintained with a virtual visit with their provider and over the counter medications. This reduces the exposure of a possible COVID infection to the EMS provider, hospital frontline staff, and to the patient themselves. It also frees up additional and necessary resources for patients in more critical conditions. Unfortunately, critically ill patients - both COVID-19 and otherwise - are stuck waiting in the Emergency Department for far too long to be admitted or transferred.

It is also crucial to recognize that an ambulance trip to the Emergency Department does not guarantee a faster COVID-19 test result. St. Margaret’s Health, health departments, IDPH, and local retail pharmacies all offer convenient testing options. Please refer to these institutions to inquire about testing opportunities.

Dr. Sampat cannot stress enough the importance of testing and treatment options to keep patients free of a hospital stay. “If you have symptoms or are exposed, please get tested. Even one symptom for one day warrants testing.”

“There are treatments available if you test positive and have risk factors for progressing to severe disease.  The treatment helps to reduce your need to be hospitalized, and even more importantly, reduces your risk of death. The treatment is available to vaccinated individuals and is highly recommended for unvaccinated individuals. It is an excellent course of action to take strain off the hospital system.  Please call you Provider for more information,” says Dr. Sampat.

St. Margaret’s Health is experiencing the same difficulties as most businesses throughout the area and country regarding staffing and supply shortages. Please note that healthcare staff is dedicated and working hard, but is also short-staffed and overwhelmed, and this affects every employee.

“Our staff is mentally and physically exhausted, and quite frankly hanging on by a thread at times. Our ability to care for our community is in jeopardy,” states Dr. Morrow. “We are on the precipice of disaster.”

Adds Dr. Eric Santos, Pathologist and St. Margaret’s Medical Staff President, “If the public could only see a glimpse of the dedication, strain, depression, helplessness of our staff and employees; and the look, desperation, worry, and helplessness of the patients and families right now.”

Every step the public takes to help protect one another allows St. Margaret’s Health staff to provide quality healthcare to those who critically need it at this time. We ask for your patience, your diligence, your understanding, and your compassion. Only together, with everyone’s help, can we end this.