March madness is in the air this year, but it is definitely not basketballs on the court. It is a deadly virus the nation is trying to battle and in the process the steps being taken to combat it, have caused panic, fear, confusion and cause some people to hoard groceries, toilet paper and hand sanitizer.

Within a matter of weeks the deadly coronavirus, which originated in the WuHan province in China in December 2019, has now spread into all 50 states in America leading many governors to declare states of emergency and U.S. President Donald Trump to declare a national emergency on March 13.

Numerous large events have been canceled. The virus has affected everything from Broadway shows, the National Basketball Association and major league baseball to the halt of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s college tournament.

Also on March 13 Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker mandated schools be closed for at least two weeks, from March 17-31. At that time the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had recommended limiting contact to groups of 50 or less. On March 15, in a press conference Pritzker mandated all Illinois bars and restaurants to close, with some restaurants still offering drive thru or curbside delivery.

As of March 16, the CDC’s guidelines had been revised, encouraging people to avoid gathering of over 10 people for the next eight weeks.

With all of the talk about social distancing and limiting the number of crowds, many organizations, church groups and individuals are postponing and canceling special events and church services

By far one the biggest events is the annual Metropolis Superman Celebration. Karla Ogle, co-chairperson for the Superman Celebration says, “At this time, The Metropolis Superman Celebration (MSC) will take place as planned June 11-14. Organizers of MSC will continue to monitor all updates on the spread of the Coronavirus for the next few months and have been in contact with medical professionals for their opinion on the virus and what precautions can be taken to keep risk at a minimum for the attendees.”

“MSC is mostly held outdoors with a few indoor venues. MSC welcomes large numbers of fans during the four days, but is a smaller show in comparison to the major city events,” said Ogle, adding, “The safety and comfort of MSC attendees, guests and staff is of utmost importance to us. We are right at three months out from MSC and will continue to keep a close eye on any changes and make decisions as needed.”

Various local businesses have been taking precautions with respect to the coronavirus.

One week ago Sam Thompson, owner of Southgate Health Care Center in Metropolis, explained the facility was following the guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)

Southgate was taking steps, which include asking visitors not to visit if they are sick, have a cough or fever or have the regular flu. “We’re restricting access to only those who need to be in the building. The best thing, in all honesty is, if you’re sick, don’t come,” said Thompson.

In addition to that, he said the facility has held staff training on the importance of washing hands and the staff is wiping down surfaces with Lysol wipes.

Thompson points out the elderly, especially those with underlying conditions, are the most susceptible and they are trying to keep their residents from being exposed.

However, after the March 13 press conference by Trump, declaring a national emergency, nursing homes in Metropolis are not allowing visitors at this time.

In a press conference on March 17, Pritzker announced updated guidelines for nursing homes, which include:

• Restrict all visitation except for certain compassionate care situations, such as end of life residents

• Restrict all volunteers and non-essential health care personnel (e.g., barbers)

• Cancel all group activities and communal dining

• Implement active screening of residents and health care personnel for fever and respiratory symptoms

Metropolis resident Tricia Overall, whose mother is a resident at Southgate said it was a bit upsetting at first being told she could not go see her mother for awhile because the entire time she has been there she has visited her daily.

“But Southgate has gone above and beyond to make sure I can still communicate with her. Someone has helped arrange for us to video call over the phone so she can still see me and talk to me everyday. And that small gesture has helped tremendously,” said Overall.

Another Metropolis business, which sees a lot of visitors from the tri-state region and beyond is Harrah’s Metropolis Casino and Hotel. A week ago Advertising and Public Relations Supervisor Chad Lewis said the casino was taking precautions to safeguard the health and safety of their employees and guests. That was before action taken by the Illinois Gaming Board on March 13, which ordered Illinois’ 10 casinos, including Harrah’s Joliet and Harrah’s Metropolis, to suspend gambling operations for 14 days. The closure began on March 16 and was made out of concern for public health.

“Unfortunately, having to close down the property, due to flooding, is something the Harrah’s team has become familiar with. However, this time it’s not because of high water. As unfavorable as the situation is, having a closure plan already in place is a tremendous advantage to execute the transition flawlessly in such a short time frame,” said Lewis.

He says several on-going projects at the property will continue to move forward with the help of team

members and numerous departments. The closure will allow for these various projects to be completed without interruption to our customers and guests.

“During past flood-related closures, Harrah’s Metropolis employees have been highly encouraged to go out in to the community to volunteer. But, due to the nature of this closure, employees have been asked to be mindful and aware of the current situation of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lewis.

According to Lewis, Harrah’s Metropolis employees are still being paid during this 14 day period.

“The COVID-19 coronavirus is a new virus that has caused great concern for many in our community, but fortunately is one that can be managed as long as our community remains calm, uses good hand hygiene and minimizes large gatherings where viruses can spread quickly,” explains Massac Memorial Hospital Chief Executive Officer Rick Goins.

Those at risk of complications of COVID-19 Coronavirus are those 60 years and over, those who have multiple chronic or unmanaged chronic health conditions and those who are immunosuppressed.

“If you are someone in the high-risk group, consider self-isolating, avoid large gatherings and use good hand and surface hygiene practices. In healthcare we deal with viruses all of the time. We know how to keep ourselves safe and prevent spread as long as our community cooperates with visitor restrictions and personal isolation as necessary,” said Goins.

According to Goins, Massac Memorial Hospital is dedicated to being as prepared as possible for the possibility that the COVID-19 coronavirus will impact our community. The steps the hospital has taken include:

• Educated the organization on what the virus is and how we as providers can stay safe by using the protective protocols that we already have in place.

• Stocked up on masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment to ensure that we have enough to care for our community properly.

• Restricted visitors to the organization and cancelled all activities that are not considered patient care related in order to minimize any potential exposure to community members who are not sick.

• Canceled all elective procedures and preventative screenings to allow for more appointments for sick patients.

• Asking some screening questions at the time of registration to identify those who are at risk for having contracted the COVID-19 Coronavirus based upon the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines.

• Processes in place to immediately isolate and treat any patient who comes in who does meet our criteria for being high risk to minimize others being exposed and potentially contracting the virus.

• Reviewed and discussed our high volume emergency management plans to ensure that we are as prepared as we can be in the event that many people need care at the same time.

“In addition to all of this we are in constant contact with our local health department and are working together to identify patients that need to be tested and isolated. We are also working with LabCorp to develop additional pathways for testing patients. We do have test kits available and if our providers and the health department agree that a patient is a high risk we will test them,” said Goins.

According to Goins, MMH has already had patients meet these criteria in the community and have tested, but as of the morning of March 16, Massac County did not have a confirmed case of COVID-19 coronavirus in the community.

“This does not mean we will not have one in our community in the future, so continue to be vigilant about hygiene and protecting those at risk. This is our best defense at this time. By working together as a community we will get through this as we have other virus outbreaks in the past. Information about the COVID-19 coronavirus is available on the hospitals website www.massachealth.org and if you have any questions or needs please feel free to contact the hospital or your primary care provider and we will do our best to be of help,” said Goins.

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