Other Illinois Quad-Cities counties have not escaped COVID-19 woes
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Other Illinois Quad-Cities counties have not escaped COVID-19 woes

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Rock Island County’s neighbors have not escaped the effects of COVID-19, and officials in those counties say many of their fears and trials are the same.

Henry, Mercer and Whiteside counties all have confirmed cases, though Whiteside County is the only other besides Rock Island County with confirmed COVID-19 deaths.

“It’s pretty much throughout our county,” RaeAnn Tucker, the Henry County’s director of health promotion, said of where their cases have appeared.

As of Thursday, the count in Henry was 65 positive cases with no deaths reported, according to the county’s health department website and Tucker.

Some have come from Tyson facility in Joslin, Tucker said. She did not have a count of Tyson cases available Thursday.

Whiteside County had 113 confirmed cases and eight deaths as of Friday, according to a Whiteside County’s COVID-19 page.

Whiteside’s caseload also included cases from the Joslin plant as well as another food processing plant in Ogle County, said Cheryl Lee, public health administrator and CEO of the county’s health department. She could not give exact numbers Friday, but said they were not a majority of the county's cases.

Of the county’s eight fatalities, seven were older  -- 70 or above, Cory Law, the Whiteside County Health Department’s emergency response coordinator, said.

Mercer County had 13 cases reported and no deaths, Carla Ewing, the county’s health department administrator said Thursday. To her knowledge, none of those cases have required hospitalization.

“We feel very fortunate,” Ewing said.

Rock Island County had 627 positive cases and 20 deaths, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health as of Sunday.

Based on U.S. Census records for the four counties, each of their COVID-19 caseloads is less than 1 % of their population.

The health departments did, however, say it is likely there are undiagnosed cases present in their counties, and that is likely anywhere that the coronavirus is present.

Many of these may be mild or asymptomatic cases, Law and Tucker said. That is why social distancing, face masks and other requirements are in place.

“That’s what all the community mitigation’s been about,” Tucker said.

Law and Lee said that as testing becomes more available, many of these cases will likely be identified.

In Geneseo, in Henry County, city and chamber officials spoke about that community’s experience thus far.

The pandemic has been difficult for Geneseo’s businesses, Zachary Sullivan, executive director of the Geneseo chamber, said.

“I would say that retail business has been hit the worst,” Sullivan said.

The chamber has about 200 members, many of them small businesses often with 10 or fewer employees, he said. They are trying to figure out how they will make ends meet.

“I think for every city, that’s the biggest problem,” JoAnn Hollenkamp, Geneseo’s city administrator, said.

Many have reduced hours, or had to lay employees off or send them on furlough, he said.

As of Thursday, he only knew of one business that was expecting to close permanently, but there was concern more might shutter if coronavirus-related issues continue.

They are handling the social distancing and cleaning requirements, he said. They are doing business through curbside transactions and other similar transactions that limit interaction.

Where they have needed help is navigating the various state and federal programs that have been put in place to help businesses stay afloat, Sullivan said.

The chamber has also been working to direct more traffic to its members’ social media pages and websites to encourage online sales, he said.

The city is also trying to help where it can -- setting up payment plans for business utility bills, for instance, Hollenkamp said.

Hollenkamp and Sullivan said Geneseo is already preparing a plan for more open commerce within public health and state pandemic guidelines in anticipation of some of the restrictions being loosened soon.

Sterling, in Whiteside County, is feeling a similar crunch, Mayor Skip Lee said on Friday.

Shutting down has been catastrophic for Sterling’s small businesses, he said.

He and Hollenkamp said the residents of their cities have begun to chafe under the mitigation restrictions as the pandemic continues and fear the effects of continued restrictions.

“There’s just that general frustration as to where this ship is going,” Skip Lee said.

They are also still afraid of the virus, Hollenkamp said.

“As a whole, people are scared, they are worried, they are depressed,” Hollenkamp said.

The Geneseo officials and Skip Lee said their communities are not alone; these are issues all of Illinois’ communities face.

“Every community is going through the exact same hardships,” Hollenkamp said.

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