Hinsdale not immune from Omicron surge

Hospital seeing more patients, schools seeing more absences in latest wave of pandemic

The recent surge in COVID-19 cases is evident everywhere you look in town, from the hospital to the schools to the central business district.

Saying Amita Adventist Hinsdale Hospital is stressed is an understatement, said Dr. Bela Nand, chief medical officer of Amita Adventist Medical Centers Hinsdale and La Grange.

"Our numbers are steadily increasing and what's even worse, they are occupying ICU and are getting ventilators," Nand said.

While patient counts are rising, the number of staff available to care for them is falling.

"The ones that were supposed to retire five years from now retired today. The young ones moved on, because this is too hard of a job for them to do. The middle ones are burned out and need a break," she said, adding that they are doing a beautiful job of caring for patients.

Another challenge is caring for patients whose family members are no longer allowed in the hospital due to visitor restrictions that went into effect in December.

"This is a very hard decision for us to make and for all clinical teams, because we like it when family members are there next to loved ones," Nand said. "It's so much easier to take care of the patients when the family is around."

Exceptions are made for pediatric patients, women who are delivering a baby, end of life situations and other circumstances, she noted.

Nand, who noted that 90 percent of associates and 99 percent of the medical staff are fully vaccinated, said she hopes reports that Omicron will fade away by the end of January are true. She remains skeptical.

"Our numbers are not moving in that direction. They are still climbing. I haven't seen a plateau number yet," she said.

What's next?

In addition to patients feeling the impact of the staffing shortage, Nand said more variants will arise.

"We hope this is going to die off on its own and the variants will become less and less lethal to humans," she said.

In the meantime, people should continue to get regular medical care, such as mammograms and colonoscopies, and come to the ER in the event of an emergency.

"It is safe. We are keeping social distance," she said. "We are having everybody masked. Don't ignore your signs and symptoms."

Students, staff absent in D181

In Community Consolidated Elementary District 181, the number of positive cases reported by students and staff totaled 167 from the start of school to the start of winter break.

Then, over winter break, the district recorded 170 positive cases, involving 123 students and 47 staff members. Another 141 cases have been reported since schools reopened Jan. 3 after winter break.

Administrators began planning for staff absences due to positive cases, quarantine or the need to care for a sick family member over winter break.

"We started working on our staffing for that first and second week on Dec. 27 so we could ensure our coverage," said Gina Herrmann, assistant superintendent of human resources. "We still had challenges. We're just so fortunate that all of our staff members, in each staff category, really stepped up. They've been covering and helping out in different positions. We've been able to run our schools seamlessly."

On the worst day, 107 of 571 staff members were out, Herrmann said. So everyone hit the phones - administrative assistants, principals, even herself - calling substitute teachers.

"It's challenging when we call subs," Herrmann said. "Substitutes are aware of the virus, aware of the spread and don't always want to expose themselves.

"Many school districts are increasing their sub pay, the daily rate," she added. "We're looking at that and comparing ourselves to other districts and considering the possibility."

Many staff members pivoted to make sure classrooms were covered.

"Any of these districts who can keep their schools running during this time have really had to put creative solutions into place and really worked hard," Herrmann said. "You see administrators stepping in. We have teaching assistants who have a substitute license or may have their teaching license stepping up and shifting and going into a classroom. It's getting better."

Teachers who can't come in but are well enough to teach have been doing so via Zoom, she said.

"We do have a sub in that classroom to monitor the students in the class," she said.

With a new recommendation from the CDC for a shorter, five-day quarantine, which has been adopted by the Illinois Department of Public Health, the district might shift to that protocol.

"We want to be prepared to press that button and go if we do make that decision," she said. "Each day is a new challenge."

D86 attendance improving

Staff absences due to COVID-19 began increasing in December and peaked in the days following winter break, said Cheryl Moore, assistant superintendent of human resources in Hinsdale High School District 86.

"Today is the first day I think I only had two employees contact me with COVID symptoms," Moore said Tuesday. "Hopefully we will start going back the correct way, but only time will tell."

On its worst day, the district had less than 10 percent of its staff absent.

Finding subs has not been too much of a challenge, she said, noting teachers can serve as subs for absent colleagues during their free or planning periods.

Teachers who are home are not expected to teach.

"We are not doing any work from home or Zooming options at all," Moore said. "We're just getting the sub and having in-person learning continue.

"We are trying at all costs to avoid that," she added of remote teaching. "It was hard on students. It was hard on teachers. It was a very hard model that maybe somebody can perfect, but not right now."

Moore said teachers have pulled together to make sure student learning continued, including critical preparation for this week's final exams.

"Our staff has just done a fabulous job," she said. "Everybody is just making do and doing the best they can."

No tables available

Vistro Prime announced Dec. 28 on Facebook that they were closing for the rest of that week and would not re-open until Jan. 11, after the restaurant's annual winter break.

"It is with a heavy heart that due to the recent spike in COVID-19 cases, we have decided to close our dine-in and takeout services for the remainder of the week," the post read. "The safety of our guests and staff is always our biggest concern."

A day later, Toni Patisserie and Cafe posted one of its team members had tested positive and said it would offer curbside pickup for guests who already had placed orders.

"We are working to get all our team members tested and hope to be back to regular operations by Friday, Dec. 31."

COVID tops rain, snow, sleet

Even with the holiday rush over, some Hinsdale residents have reported they are not receiving their mail on time - or for several days at a time.

That comes as no surprise to the U.S. Postal Service.

"Local management is aware of delivery issues in Hinsdale and is taking steps to address the concerns," Tim Norman, who handles communications for Chicago/Illinois 1 District for the postal service, wrote in an email. "We appreciate the patience of our customers and the efforts of employees during challenging times.

"Our workforce, like others, is not immune to the human impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic," he continued. "We will continue flexing our available resources to match the workload and we are proud of the efforts of postal employees in Hinsdale, and the nation, as they define essential public service every day."

He suggested customers with delivery issues should send an email using the link at https://usps.force.com/emailus/s/ or a Tweet to @USPSHelp.

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Pamela Lannom is editor of The Hinsdalean