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How Coronavirus Is Affecting Local Public Health Workers

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UPDATE: As the case count continues to rise, information on this story is moving quickly and may be out-of-date. We recommend checking theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention for ways to stay safe and this John Hopkins tool for the most recent data.

As the number of coronavirus cases continues to tick up nationwide, local public health workers are faced with the challenging task of ensuring those at risk take proper precautions. 

Public Health Administrators Julie Pryde and Monica Hendrickson joined Illinois Public Media’s statewide talk show, “The 21st,” to discuss the impact on local public health departments -- and concerns about "inadequate" testing.

Year-round, public health nurses monitor people in isolation or quarantine for all kinds of communicable diseases, says Pryde, administrator of Champaign-Urbana’s Public Health District. 

The recent surge in possible coronavirus cases has simply increased the workload for those nurses.

“We’ve been working on this since the middle of January. It has been very, very time-consuming,” Pryde says. “Keeping up with the guidance that’s coming out [from the CDC] is pretty much like drinking from a firehose.”

Hendrickson says so far, the Peoria County Public Health Department has handled fewer than 10 people in some form of quarantine for possible coronavirus exposure. Pryde’s district has had a few dozen.

But even though the coronavirus is spreading in countries like Italy, South Korea and Japan, only travelers from China and Iran are currently required by the federal government to quarantine for 14 days.

Pryde says anyone who may have been exposed to coronavirus through travel to both high-risk and medium-risk countries should take quarantine seriously, 

“The problem is there are so many travelers that are taking cruises, that are flying all over the place, going to conferences, doing all kinds of activities, [and] we have no idea whatsoever where they have been, because they’re not being screened for at the airports,” Pryde says. “That’s why we’re pretty sure there has been community transmission here, but the testing has been so inadequate.”

The CDC offers guidance on their website how to safely quarantine after travel.

Pryde says coronavirus testing is expected to ramp up soon, which will likely result in more confirmed cases and a better idea of how the coronavirus is spreading in local communities.

As Side Effects provides coronavirus news from the Midwest, we also want to help sort fact from fiction. Email health@wfyi.org or text “health” to 73224 with your questions about the virus, and we will search for the answers.

This is a rapidly evolving story, and we are working hard to bring you the most up-to-date information. However, we recommend checking the websites of theCenters for Disease Control and Prevention for the most recent numbers of COVID-19 cases.

This conversation was produced by Side Effects reporter Christine Herman. Follow her on Twitter:@CTHerman

Copyright 2021 Side Effects Public Media. To see more, visit Side Effects Public Media.

Christine Herman spent nine years studying chemistry before she left the bench to report on issues at the intersection of science and society. She started in radio in 2014 as a journalism graduate student at the University of Illinois and a broadcast intern at Radio Health Journal. Christine has been working at WILL since 2015.
Christine Herman