Swimming in COVID-19 Stress? Illinois Will Connect You with a Counselor

New statewide totals: 19,180 cases, 677 deaths

Three weeks into a mandatory statewide order to stay at home, Illinois is offering two new programs to help people reeling from the coronavirus, whether physically fighting the disease or fighting off the mental demons it has unleashed.

“This moment is understandably grueling in just about every aspect possible for so many people,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said at his daily briefing Saturday, as officials announced another 1,293 Illinois residents had tested positive for the coronavirus and 81 other individuals died.

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That brings the state’s total of confirmed cases to 19,180 and 677 deaths across 86 counties, including the first cases in McDonough, Perry and Warren counties. Searing numbers, but “a lower rise in hospitalizations than was originally anticipated,” Pritzker said.

One of the state's new programs will offer free mental health counseling by phone; the other – debuting Monday in central and southern Illinois – will virtually link coronavirus patients remotely with physicians.

To participate in the just-launched “Call4Calm,” anyone can anonymously text the word “talk” or “hablar” (for Spanish services) to 5-5-2-0-2-0.

Within 24 hours, a counselor from a community mental health center will call back, free of charge.

“Although there are reasons to see hope and a lot of examples of people helping one another, all of which should lift us up, there are also circumstances that may cause you to feel despair, to find yourself swimming in the stress and uncertainty of it all,” Pritzker said. “First I want to say to all of you, feel all of it. We're living in a deeply unprecedented moment and holding the emotional ramifications of that inside will only be harder on you. It's okay to feel. And please know that you don't have to feel it all alone.”

The remote patient monitoring program is intended to help individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19 or who are experiencing symptoms, and who are able to recover at home. Those who are at a high risk for contracting the virus, are also eligible.

Patients will receive daily “virtual visits” from “Pandemic Health Workers” and will receive wellness kits that include things like thermometers, pulse oximeters, blood pressure cuffs and alcohol wipes, according to Pritzker.

“This program serves to reduce barriers to physical health and mental health services in all communities and income levels, especially underserved communities, and those most at risk during this pandemic,” he said. “And because patients are served in their home, this program will also help the spread of the virus and safeguard hospitals from being overwhelmed by keeping those who can recover at home, staying at home.”

OSF HealthCare has the contract to serve East Central and North Central Illinois (including Peoria/Bloomington, Champaign/Urbana, Evergreen Park, Danville, Galesburg, Kewanee, Monmouth, Ottawa, Mendota, Streator, Pontiac and Rockford); patients can call 833-673-5669 or www.osfhealthcare.org.

Southern Illinois University School of Medicine has the contract to serve West Central and Southern Illinois (including Springfield, Quincy, Decatur, Carbondale, and the Metro East). The SIU Hotline number is 217-545-5100 and its website is found at www.siumed.edu/phw.

Partnerships for Northern Illinois are expected to be finalized in the coming week.

Both of the new programs will be included in a state executive order requiring telehealth measures be covered by Medicaid and by private insurance.

Almost three weeks remain until the governor’s stay-at-home order expires on April 30, but Pritzker on Saturday did not close off the prospect of extending it further.

“I would suggest that this is not a time to loosen up the standards that you've set under this COVID-19 crisis that we are just beginning to bend the curve here. This is a good sign. But this is not an indication that we should be letting up on those standards,” Pritzker said. “We want to make sure that everybody is abiding by the stay at home rules that they're in fact continuing even more so strenuously to follow the advice that's been given by the CDC … (wearing) a mask for example, and not gathering in public places in in groups.”

That includes Sunday morning, traditionally when Christians gather for holy Easter services.

“This is a holiday where many are used to congregating together with friends and family and the church community, but this Easter is different,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said. “Easter 2020 will go down in history as a completely different type of Easter. And it's not one where we'll be able to commune together. Please enjoy your time at home, and keep your community safe. Let me be clear, if there are churches that are planning to convene tomorrow, please cancel now.”

Pritzker said he will hold an abbreviated Easter Day briefing, but Ngozi will not be in attendance – an appreciated day off.

The Easter Bunny, however, will still be working Sunday.

“The Easter Bunny is officially an essential worker,” the governor said. “So in case you were worried, the Easter Bunny will be there.”

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

Coronavirus Prevention Tips and Resources

Officials advise taking preventive measures to slow the spread of the virus, including: 

—Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water
—Using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol
—Sneezing or coughing into a tissue and then disposing of the tissue
—Limiting contact with people regardless of how you feel
—Staying home when you are sick

Symptoms of COVID-19 include, but are not limited to:

—New onset of fever, cough, shortness of breath
—Congestion in the nasal sinuses or lungs
—Sore throat, body aches or unusual fatigue

If you think you have COVID-19:

Call you doctor before showing up at their office. If you have a medical emergency and need to call 911, tell the operator that you think you have COVID-19. If possible, wear a mask before medical help arrives or presenting at a doctor’s office. More advice for those who think they have COVID-19.

Additional resources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Illinois’ COVID-19 website
Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) website
—IDPH COVID-19 hotline: 800-889-3931
—IPDH COVID-19 email link
City of Chicago COVID-19 website
—City of Chicago COVID-19 hotline: 312-746-4835
—City of Chicago COVID-19 email link

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