Health department reports 84 confirmed cases of the respiratory disease

ROCKFORD — Eight more people in Winnebago County have tested positive for COVID-19 and two more have died from the disease, bringing the county's total number of cases to 84 and total deaths to five, Health Department Director Sandra Martell said Thursday.

However, it's not entirely clear how many cases of COVID-19 there are in Winnebago County, in Illinois or across the U.S. because of a lack of widespread testing. Illinois has an estimated population of 12.7 million people. As of Thursday, the state reported conducting 80,857 tests.

COVID-19 cases in Winnebago County may peak between April 29 and May 6, according to predictive modeling used by Martell's department. The modeling shows that even during that peak period, the number of individuals sick with COVID-19 who need hospitalization would not exceed the bed capacity of the county's four hospitals. Even so, those predictions rely on several assumptions, including that only about 20% of Winnebago County residents become sick with COVID-19 and that residents strictly adhere to social distancing guidelines. 

In simple terms, the modeling indicates that for every 100 people in Winnebago County who become sick with COVID-19, 81 would need no hospitalization. Of the 19 who would require a hospital bed, six would need a critical care or ICU bed. Three of those six would require a ventilator.

Martell said her department is working closely with administrators at two Rockford nursing homes — Anam Care and Alden Alma Nelson Manor — after residents there tested positive for COVID-19. One of the two deaths reported Thursday was an Anam Care resident.

Bernie Marinelli, CEO of Anam Care said she is not certain how the novel coronavirus spread to the long-term care facility at 8104 Sayer Road. The home has been on a full lockdown — meaning no visitors allowed — since March 5.

Staff "maintained extremely good distancing," she said. Additionally, staff members and residents undergo temperature checks multiple times each day.

Nevertheless, a resident was discovered to have an abnormal temperature on April 1, Marinelli said.

Within 24 hours, "that person was seen by our physician and was taken immediately to the hospital," she said. "Very shortly after that, our second person, after being monitored, was discovered to have a temperature and was also having respiratory distress and was also sent to the hospital and received immediate care."

Assisted living centers everywhere are struggling to provide safe and compassionate care to residents while safeguarding against COVID-19, Marinelli said. The challenge is particularly problematic for memory care facilities.

"Our residents wander and touch each other as part of their social interaction on a day-to-day basis," Marinelli said. "That provides them love, support, care and is quite natural to their living circumstances at Anam Care. On top of that, they do not possess the ability to understand social distancing. They are accustomed to holding a hand. They are accustomed to being caressed. Our logo is arms caressing a patient, which is what we do."

“...We are a dementia specialty program,” Marinelli said. “I am not prepared to handle a pandemic. That's why I depend on our partners at the health department and from Illinois Department of Public Health to give us that guidance."

The health department arranged for Anam Care to obtain additional personal protection equipment for its staff and residents, Marinelli said. Anam Care staff has been trained and retrained on heath and safety guidelines for congregant living homes.

Isaac Guerrero: iguerrero@rrstar.com; @isaac_rrs