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As COVID-19 numbers spiral, there is greater likelihood it will impact someone you love

My friend’s voice was low, a whisper on the phone from another state. The Chicagoan and her husband had picked her mother up from a nursing home to protect her from a COVID outbreak. Within days, all three were sick.

Doctors and nurses tend to a 56-year-old woman suffering from COVID-19 who prompted a rapid response, meaning respiratory or cardiac arrest, at Roseland Community Hospital on the Far South Side, Tuesday afternoon, April 28, 2020.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

My friend’s voice was low, a whisper on the phone, as she called from another state.

The Chicagoan and her husband had gone to pick up her mother from a nursing home to protect her from a COVID-19 outbreak, the facility saying it was discharging all its elderly residents who tested negative.

They got her mother settled in in her own home and were arranging in-home care, etc., when the call came from the nursing home that it had made a mistake. Her mother’s secondary test was actually positive. Within days, the husband fell sick, then my friend.

The mother was last to show symptoms, rushed by ambulance to the hospital as breathing became difficult. She remains hospitalized.

The dilemma for my friend: How to get home?

The couple needed to be near their doctors, their support system. If they flew, others could be exposed. If they drove, their weakened state invited trouble on the road.

As the nation Wednesday reached the frightening milestone of more than 100,000 new infections in a single day — which the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, predicted in June we’d reach, absent immediate stricter measures — we have to face the greater likelihood for all of us that the virus could soon impact someone we love.

In Illinois, state health officials Thursday reported 9,935 new COVID-19 cases, dwarfing the previous single-day record of 7,899 on Oct. 31 — with a seven-day statewide positivity rate of 9.1%. That’s the figure showing how rapidly the virus is spreading; in Chicago, it’s at 10.9%, doubling every 12 days.

Nationwide, coronavirus-related deaths jumped 21 percent in the last two weeks.

And the pandemic of course loomed over Tuesday’s election — voters who considered President Donald Trump’s handling of the outbreak a top issue choosing former Vice President Joe Biden. It’s time we face reality. It’s time for a return to stricter measures.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Thursday warned of a return to lockdown, should this mind-boggling multiplication of new cases and hospitalizations continue.

Traveling this journey with a dear friend and her family has thrown into high relief so many previously distant issues surrounding this highly infectious virus that’s killed 231,434 nationwide to date — 10,030 Illinoisans.

How many other folks have loved ones in long-term care facilities, where according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, infections are on the rise? Such facilities bore the brunt during the initial outbreak of winter/spring, their residents accounting for 40 percent of the nation’s deaths, though only eight percent of the nation’s cases.

According to Johns Hopkins University, new coronavirus infections in the general population rose 61 percent between September and October. And as infections rose in more than 35 states, long-term care facilities saw a correlating spike, after nearly two months of declining cases in those facilities.

Phlebotomist Crystal Bovan, with Simple Laboratories, collects a nasopharyngeal swab sample to test for the coronavirus for a woman at the lab’s drive-thru testing site in the parking lot of St. Rosalie Catholic Parish in Harwood Heights, Friday, May 1, 2020.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file photo

In the end, my friend and her husband got home, now on a recovery journey of a day at a time. Her husband’s weathering the infection far better than my friend, who is wracked by fever and cough. I stay on the phone, aware of and worried about her shortness of breath.

But how many folks like my friend have gotten sick out of state and knew they had to immediately get home where resources were available to hunker down and fight?

And of those folks, how many chose to get on a plane — knowing though heavily garbed in personal protective equipment, they still could potentially expose others? What does knowing this dilemma add to the fear of the risk of flying?

For those who drive home, there are stops for gas and to grab food along the way, whether they would like to or not, potentially exposing others.

And just what good is Chicago’s Emergency Travel Order requiring travelers entering or returning to Chicago from states with COVID-19 surges to quarantine 14 days from the time of last contact within those states — when there is absolutely no way to enforce it?

The 97 COVID-19 deaths reported Thursday in Illinois represent the second highest record — there were 115 deaths on June 4. Thursday also marked the ninth consecutive day Illinois has reported more than 6,000 new infections — the entire state now operating under tighter restrictions, including the much-debated ban on indoor bar and restaurant service.

As this alarming second wave of the virus sweeps the globe, European countries are re-imposing those stricter lock-downs of the initial outbreak. It’s time that we do so as well.

“There is not a single person in Chicago who is not at some risk,” says Chicago Department of Public Health Commissioner Allison Arwady, noting 646 people are currently in Chicago hospitals with COVID — 179 in intensive care units, 91 on ventilators.

I pray daily for my friend and her family, and check in daily, knowing firsthand that in the grips of this second wave, there is a greater likelihood of coronavirus touching someone we love.