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Evanston officials are fighting against time right now, putting measures in place to limit exposure to the Coronavirus virus while waiting for large-scale testing to arrive.
Mayor Stephen Hagerty and the City’s Health & Human Services Director Ike Ogbo presented an overview of City efforts, fielding questions from residents on a wide range of questions during a nearly hour-long Facebook Live session broadcast by the City on March 13. (https://www.facebook.com/CityofEvanston/videos/1879265582217674/
Mayor Hagerty announced last week Evanston was following a “flatten the curve” strategy in its approach to the issue, postponing large scale public gatherings and putting other steps in place to slow the spread of the virus and prevent it from overwhelming the health care system.
On Sunday, March 15, the mayor announced a local State of Emergency for the City, after two residents tested positive for the virus. The residents are self-isolating and are being monitored by the Health and Human Services Department, the mayor said.
In addition, with all restaurants and bars set to close Monday, March 16, under Governor J.B. Pritzker’s order the City also announced that elected officials and staff will be considering ways to soften the economic impact of the announcement, sending out information about assistance to small businesses financially impacted from the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.
“You and your employees are the lifeblood of our economy,” the message from officials said.
In a Facebook Live interview Friday, Mayor Hagerty and Mr. Ogbo discussed moves the City was taking to limit exposure so as not to overwhelm the local health care system before large-scale testing arrives.
“Time is critically important right now,” said Mayor Hagerty, “not just for the health care system itself so they don’t have this huge surge and can’t handle it, but also because — and everybody knows this and has read the papers — we have not done as a country a good job getting the test kits that we need. So part of this biding our time and slowing this down is also to allow the supply chain — the medical supply chain I’m talking about — to sort of catch up to where we need it to be to treat people. It also is to elongate that [curve] as long as possible, so that we can hopefully 12 months from now have a vaccine and start to vaccinate people in this country.”
In a conference call with the Governor’s office shortly before the Facebook session Mr. Hagerty said that State officials reported that 80% of the people diagnosed as having COVID-19 “are making a full recovery with not too many complications.”
Conversely, “Twenty percent are having much more severe complications.”
“And so again, slowing the spread, ‘flattening the curve’ is so we have enough health care resources to help those 20% that get it,” he stressed.
For now, Mr. Ogbo said the department is advising residents who are experiencing symptoms to contact their physician, who would then make a determination whether a test is warranted. For those exhibiting severe symptoms, it is also recommended they talk to their physician for a test to be taken on site.
“The test will be sent to the lab and of course eventually we’ll get the results of that test,” Mr. Ogbo said. “So these are the criteria we pretty much will have to meet in order to qualify for testing.”
Testing, in this case, is crucial to future success against the virus, “because that would give us actually a better picture of how many people have this virus and not really showing any symptoms,” Mr. Ogbo said.
Asked if officials had any idea how many residents have been tested so far, and whether there was any projection on when large-scale testing would begin, Mr. Ogbo said he didn’t have those numbers at this time. “I can’t really tell you when there will be large-scale testing for individuals. I’m hoping that will happen soon.”
Mayor Hagerty, who runs a professional emergency management consulting firm, Hagerty Consulting, said, “Just so everybody understands, yes, we need more testing kits. We also have so much testing capacity at these (State) labs. We need to bring more labs on line.”
The mayor said work on the issue is ongoing at both the State and Federal levels. “So there’s a lot of moving parts here, but it’s a really important question and people that are focused on testing, that’s the right place to be focused on” he said, urging community members to write their State and Federal representatives to call for action on the issue.
At the Facebook session, Mayor Hagerty said that the City adopted its “flatten the curve” strategy over two other possible courses of action – letting the virus play out until it ran its course, or going into a full community lockdown, essentially confining people to their homes until the virus became dormant.
Officials chose the middle option, to flatten the curve, stressing hygiene practices and social distancing in an effort to block its spread, they said.
With “no vaccines nor antiviral drugs that one can take to combat the virus,” Mr. Ogbo said, “we have to figure out ways in which to convey messages to our community of how they can protect themselves and prevent any type of transmission.
“And when we talk about methods one can use we talk about non-pharmaceutical interventions — things like washing your hands constantly, or [after] you visit the toilet, or when you handle something that is contaminated or dirty. Using sanitizers, coughing into a tissue and disposing it, and, importantly, staying home when you are not feeling well.”
Officials also covered other ground at the sessions, responding to questions from the community at the Facebook session, including one about the psychological stress people are under.
“With this virus in this situation,” Mr. Ogbo said, “there’s a lot of anxiety, fear, apprehension in the community and it definitely affects people’s mental health and we understand that. My message would be, if you are experiencing issues with depression, seek help. This is one of those situations where even uncertainty can cause stress, can cause mental health issues, because you don’t know if there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
Along with the non-pharmaceutical actions, such as hand washing people can do for more assurance, “another thing that we are encouraging people to do is reach out to loved ones, talk to people over the phone.”
Expanding on that point, Mayor Hagerty put in a plug “for neighbors helping neighbors. There are many people who live in the community that don’t have family,” he said. “If you have an elderly neighbor, check in with them. Maybe you can say, ‘hey, I’m going to the grocery story, let me run and pick up some things for you?”