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'The citizens are taking this very seriously' | St. Clair County increasing testing, preventative measures

St. Clair County is ramping up its testing while making changes to keep residents healthy
Credit: KSDK

ST. CLAIR COUNTY, Ill. — St. Clair County is ramping up testing and social distancing measures as numbers on the other side of the state spike, local leaders said in a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

St. Clair County confirmed three new cases Wednesday, bringing the county's total to 10. Each of the three cases are community spread, Samantha Bierman with the St. Clair County Health Department said.

The new patients were all men, one in his 40s, one in his 60s and another in his 90s. 

The three new cases came from a sizable increase in testing. There have now been 118 people tested in the county, more than double the total of 41 from Tuesday. Bierman said 65 people have tested negative, 10 have tested positive and 43 tests are pending.

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Memorial Hospital in cooperation with St. Clair County Health Department opened a drive-thru collection site on March 19.

It is located at 4000 N. Illinois Lane in Swansea. The collection site will be operational seven days a week from noon to 6 p.m.

Before going to the collection site, people must contact their primary care physician, who will work with the local health departments to pre-screen and validate if the patient needs to come to the specimen collection site.

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On Wednesday, Bierman said the health department is open, but the department is not accepting walk-ins. Residents who need to set up an appointment or need information about the health department are asked to call 618-233-7703.

In addition to increasing testing, St. Clair County is taking additional measures to keep a safe social distance. 

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern said a number of changes to the county's court system were effective immediately. 

St. Clair County's civil, criminal and traffic court cases have been put on hold for 60 days. The courthouse remains closed to the public and any jurors assigned to report in April or May should not come in for jury duty.

The probation department hours have changed to 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Family matters have been put on hold until at least May 25.

All orders of protection have been extended for 30 days. Parties can appeal the extensions and the appeals will be heard if the judge feels it is safe. The appeals may happen over the phone or by other means.

With delays in the court system, the sheriff's department is making changes to keep the community and inmates safe.

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Sheriff Rick Watson said his car theft, drug and investigative units are still operating, but his department is putting new safeguards in place to make sure employees and inmates at the St. Clair County Jail are safe and healthy.

Watson said they are limiting outside access to the jail, doing additional screening before putting people in jail and ensuring other departments do the same if they want to hold someone in the jail.

Watson said his department is also prepared to handle new problems that come along with the coronavirus pandemic.

The first, and what he said is the most important to him right now, is scam callers. Watson said residents should be extra cautious when it comes to calls from strangers during the pandemic.

“You’re gonna get certain calls, scam calls, wanting your information,” Watson said. ”Don’t give it to them. If you’re not very good with a computer and can’t look things up to check them out, to make sure that what they're telling you is the truth, this is a time to reach out to your grandkids, to reach out to your kids and say, ‘Hey, I received this call, could you check this out to see if this is real?’”

If you can't get in contact with someone to check it for you, St. Clair County residents can call the department's non-emergency line for help.

"There’s a lot of good, worthy charities that need help at this time because people need help," he said, "but I don’t want you to get scammed because you think you’re doing a good thing.”

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The second thing Watson said his department is ready to deal with is people not abiding by orders in place to limit the spread of coronavirus. He said he does not want to arrest business owners for breaking stay-at-home and social distancing orders, but when asked if someone refuses to comply, the situation may be different.

“Now, a refusal? Now they’re in trouble,” Watson said. “If it’s because they don’t understand the order, we’ll explain it to them and get them into compliance. Do we want to take anyone to jail over this? Absolutely not. But will we? Yes. If you force the issue, that’s exactly what we are going to do.”

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Emergency Management Agency Executive Director Herb Simmons said his department is creating a volunteer donation management division. The new division will give residents a place to donate any masks or protective equipment they may have and work with local hospitals and healthcare providers to make sure the equipment gets to the people who need it.

Simmons said they will have more information on drop-off locations in the coming days.

While talking about what his department was doing, Sheriff Watson shared a sentiment all the leaders seemed to agree with.

"I believe the citizens of St. Clair County are taking this very seriously," Watson said. "When I drive throughout the county, I see limited travel, and that's a good thing. At the end of the day, that is what we need to do be doing to stop this spread. Once we stop this spread, we can go back to our normal lives, and I want to thank all the citizens for that."

St. Clair County will be holding COVID-19 updates every day on the St. Clair County EMA Facebook page.

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