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The Knox Student

Student Read, Student Written, Student Led Since 1878

The Knox Student

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The Knox Student

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Other viruses spread amid winter COVID-19 surge

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As COVID-19 surged through the holiday season this year, so did other viruses like Influenza and RSV.

Winter is always the viral season, but medical professionals say the public has been so focused on reducing the spread of COVID-19 over the past few years that prevention of other viruses has fallen by the wayside.

Chief Nursing Officer for OSF Healthcare Sarah Overton said many people only isolate if they test positive for COVID-19, but continue to go out and about even if they’re experiencing symptoms for another virus. This contributes to the spread of other serious viruses like influenza and RSV.

“Some of us probably weren’t doing our due diligence to make sure that they’re taking all the precautions to stay at home, isolate if they can and avoid those elderly or young populations that are pretty vulnerable,” Overton said.

Influenza is the most prominent virus at the moment. Overton said flu activity has surged to pre-pandemic levels, and OSF St. Mary Medical Center in Galesburg has also seen an increase in RSV, which most commonly attacks the very young.

But the added factor of COVID-19 increases the strain on hospitals.

“It’s definitely coming into a manageable level, but any time you introduce increased volume, which we usually plan for during respiratory illness season, it definitely pulls at the strained resources,” Overton said.

She said her biggest recommendation to stop the spread of respiratory viruses is simply to stay home when you’re experiencing symptoms.

The most strained resource in the area right now is personnel. Overton said when there’s a surge of illness in the community, hospital employees fall ill in higher numbers as well. Because they work with vulnerable populations regularly, health care workers are required to stay home for 8-10 days when sick.

Overton said that’s why it’s important for those with milder sicknesses to stay home and avoid exposing more people, including health care workers.

“We really reserve those emergency rooms for true medical emergencies,” Overton said.

OSF has telehealth resources including MyChart where patients can ask their doctor questions by email or set up a virtual visit to receive medical advice without leaving the home.

Overton said that is a  great option for those experiencing sinus congestion, coughs, headaches, and other regular cold symptoms, but there are some cases where you should seek in person medical treatment.

“If you’ve got shortness of breath, high fevers that are uncontrolled, cannot catch your breath due to cough, those are some really important signs,” she said.

These more severe symptoms are more prevalent in children and those over 60, as well as those with other comorbidities like COPD or heart failure.

This most recent surge has sent greater numbers of those vulnerable populations to the hospital with COVID-19, Influenza or RSV.

Overton said as of last week, 8 people were hospitalized for COVID-19 at St. Mary’s. The nearby OSF St. Francis in Peoria is a transfer hospital, so patients with more complex cases are often sent there. There were 53 people hospitalized for COVID-19 there last week, including nine on ventilators and 15 in the ICU.

“Most of them have gotten into a situation where they have had fragile lungs or heart, and it kind of overwhelms the system,” Overton said.

Children especially are commonly hospitalized for RSV.

The situation seems to be improving in recent weeks.

Knox County decreased from a high level of COVID-19 hospitalizations at the beginning of the month, to moderate earlier this week, and has settled back into the low hospitalizations now. Hospitalizations for COVID-19, the flu, and RSV are trending down across the state as well.

“We’re not needing masking in our hospital environments in Knox [County] at this time,” Overton said. “So all signs point to hopefully a reduction as far as hospitalizations.”

As always, one of the best ways to limit the spread of respiratory illness is to wash your hands.

Overton also recommends receiving all vaccines you’re eligible for.

According to the CDC’s National Immunization Survey, only 26% of Illinois adults are up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations. The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months of age and older with rare exceptions, and the RSV vaccine is recommended for those over 60 and pregnant women.

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About the Contributor
Eleanor Lindenmayer, Editor-In-Chief
Eleanor Lindenmayer '25 (she/her) is a journalism major. She started working for TKS as a staff writer when she was in her first year. She has also worked as the discourse editor and is now the Editor-in-Chief. Eleanor has also been published at Tri States Public Radio, where she was an intern and a freelancer. Eleanor was born and raised in the pacific northwest and will argue that there is no better place on this earth. Awards Illinois College Press Association 2024
  • 1st Place In Depth Reporting
  • 1st Place News
  • 1st Place Feature
Illinois College Press Association 2023
  • 2nd Place Columns
  • Honorable Mention Columns
Knox College 2023 Ida M. Tarbell Memorial Prize For Investigative Reporting    

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