SIU Researcher Discusses New COVID Variant

Jan 26, 2021
A virus protein with spikes.
Daniel Roberts / Pixabay

SIU researchers have discovered a new variant of the coronavirus. I sat down with assistant professor of biochemistry, Keith Gagnon, whose RNA lab discovered the new strain.

Gagnon said the new variant appears to be unique and widespread.

“It has a set of mutations that are distinct and different from those that we've seen previously, including the UK variants,” Gagnon said. “So we're going to give it a different name. And it appears to have emerged in the US and spread to the US pretty widely and is now one of the most dominant forms”

Jackson County Offers Online Sign Up For COVID Vaccine

Jan 20, 2021

As demand continues for the COVID vaccine, there is also some confusion about how to make an appointment. 

Appointments for the COVID vaccine are scheduled online in Jackson County. For those without computer or internet, health department administrator Bart Hagston said a friend or relative can schedule an appointment for you.

“You’re able to sign up anybody you might care for or that needs some assistance in signing up,” Hagston explained.

Phase 1B Of COVID Vaccination Begins In Southern Illinois

Jan 15, 2021
OSF HealthCare

Some local health departments have has moved into phase 1B of CO VID-19 vaccine distribution.

Phase 1B includes frontline essential workers and people over the age of 65. Jackson County Health Department Administrator Bart Hagston said all COVID-19 vaccines for the county are currently being distributed through the health department.

“Right now in Jackson County, we are utilizing the doses that are being sent to us to vaccinate individuals at a mass vaccination clinic that we are holding at the Banterra center,” Hagston said.

New COVID Variant Discovered By SIU Lab

Jan 15, 2021

An SIU research project has identified a new variant of the novel coronavirus.

Keith Gagnon is an associate professor of biochemistry at SIU. His lab has been doing genomic sequencing of the novel coronavirus and has identified a new variant that is spreading in the US, known as 20C-US.

The variant is widespread in the US, Gagnon said, but had not been previously studied.

“It was completely unnoticed, uncharacterized, sort of right in our backyard, it just grew and basically took over the virus variant population and nobody even knew,” Gagnon said.

Several workers in masks pushing a dolly full of boxes.
Carle Richland Memorial Hospital

The COVID-19 vaccine holds promise for bringing an end to the pandemic. But some have questioned the rapid development of the vaccine — so I talked with some scientists about how pharmaceutical companies were able to work so quickly.

Michael Olson is an assistant professor of immunology with SIU School of Medicine. He saidthe first thing to understand how the body develops an immune response.

Some Illinois Counties Entering Next Phase of Vaccine Distribution

Jan 11, 2021
Jerry Nowicki of Capitol News Illinois

Some regions of the state could see loosened COVID-19 restrictions as early as Friday as some counties have already transitioned to the next phase of vaccine distribution, Gov. JB Pritzker announced Monday.

Although the state remains in Phase 1A of its vaccine distribution plan, some communities which have substantially completed Phase 1A have moved to the early stages of Phase 1B.

Southern Seven Launches COVID-19 Vaccine Survey

Jan 5, 2021
Southern Seven Health Department
Southern Seven Health Department / Southern Seven Health Department

While Illinois is still in phase one of COVID-19 vaccine distribution, which covers health care workers and long-term care residents, some health departments are starting to reach out to the public about the COVID-19 vaccine.

The Southern Seven Health Department is surveying residents to get a sense of who wants to take the vaccine and what concerns people might have.

Community outreach coordinator Shawnna Rhine said so far, the majority of respondents have said they plan to take the vaccine when it is available to them.

Kentucky News Connection

Workers and students who've lost jobs during the pandemic and want to continue their education might be able to receive college credit for previous life or work experience.

A tray of cookies with a hand adding sprinkles.
JillWellington / Pixabay

Navigating the holidays during a pandemic can be doubly stressful for families that include someone with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

While some things may have to be altered, holiday traditions provide a sense of normalcy that can be especially important for family members with Alzheimer’s.

Elizabeth Cook is the manager of media relations with the Illinois Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. She said families shouldn’t give up on their usual celebrations.

Area Hospitals Prepare For First Round Of COVID Vaccines

Dec 15, 2020
Pete_Linforth / Pixabay

Area hospitals are getting their first shipments of COVID-19 vaccines this week.

The amount of vaccine varies by location, and only portion of the staff will receive vaccines to start. Chester Memorial Hospital expects to receive enough to vaccinate around half their staff.

Franklin County Handing Out Free Face Masks

Dec 11, 2020
TinaDemianchuk / Pixabay

Franklin County is giving away 20,000 free face masks.

The Franklin County Emergency Management Agency is handing the cloth masks out to Franklin County residents to help combat the rising number of COVID-19 cases.

The masks will be provided in packs of five.

The following are distribution sites for the county:

Biden Transition
Caroline Amenabar | NPR

President-elect Joe Biden is formally announcing his pick for health secretary and other key health positions after releasing their names on Monday.

Watch their introductions live at 12:40 p.m. CST.

With Potential Vaccine Approval Looming, Pritzker Warns of Long Distribution Process

Dec 4, 2020
Jerry Nowicki of Capitol News Illinois

Health officials gave an update on the state’s COVID-19 vaccine plan Friday with potential federal approval anticipated as early as next week.

Gov. JB Pritzker said the state still expects to get 109,000 doses initially to be distributed in the 50 counties with the highest per capita death rates, but it will be several months until there is an adequate number of vaccinations available for the general population.

Health Systems Prepare For COVID Vaccine

Dec 2, 2020

As COVID cases continue to surge, local healthcare organizations are already looking ahead to vaccine distribution.

Southern Illinois Healthcare’s weekly briefing included updates on treatments, vaccines and COVID surges. While SIH has ICU bed available, Chief Nursing Officer Jennifer Harre said they are at capacity due to staffing constraints.

“As far as the number of staff, that number of staff that’s out continues to be pretty consistent, and that ranges from 40 to 50 nurses that are out with illness or COVID positive,” she said.

InFocus Host Julie Staley

2020 has proven to be altogether different. Journey across the region to learn how local government, charitable organizations, and community groups are responding to the changing needs of their communities. In this episode, InFocus talks with members of the business community to learn what the public can do to support the local economy; follow episode host Julie Staley to the Illinois State Museum to learn about their plans for taking history virtual.

COVID Admissions Increase At Local Hospitals

Nov 17, 2020

As COVID-19 cases rise in our region, hospitals are filling up.

Governor JB Pritzker has warned that it will be difficult for hospitals to meet the needs of patients if COVID continues to spread at the current rate.

Locally, Southern Illinois Healthcare hit a record with 54 patients currently admitted due to COVID, up from 45 last week. Since March, SIH has had more than 380 patients hospitalized with COVID. While beds are filling up with the increase in patients, as of now, SIH leaders say they’re able to meet the demand.

Judge finds Pritzker acted lawfully to mandate health guidance for schools

Nov 17, 2020
Capitol News Illinois file photo

A Sangamon County judge on Monday ruled Gov. JB Pritzker’s administration has power under state law and the state constitution to issue executive orders that mandate public health measures at schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision, issued by Sangamon County Judge Raylene Grischow after a roughly two-hour hearing, relates to two lawsuits — Mainer v. Illinois Department of Public Health and Pritzker v. Board of Education of Hutsonville — that arose from Pritzker’s June executive orders regarding schools.

Pritzker Extends Eviction Moratorium, Secretary of State to Close Driver Facilities

Nov 13, 2020
Jerry Nowicki of Capitol News Illinois

As the state once again reported a one-day high for COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Gov. JB Pritzker announced he would extend a temporary ban on evictions and Secretary of State Jesse White announced he would be closing driver services facilities.

At his COVID-19 briefing in Chicago Friday, Pritzker said this iteration of the eviction ban will aim at excluding “tenants who may have been taking advantage of the eviction moratorium but who are in fact able to make their monthly rent payments.”

The White House
Annette Elizabeth / NPR

President Trump is giving an update on the coronavirus pandemic, speaking for the first time since Joe Biden became president-elect. Trump has been falsely claiming on Twitter that he won, and his campaign launched a slew of lawsuits challenging the legitimacy of the results and baselessly alleging widespread voter fraud. Watch his remarks live.

SIU Salukis

The SIU men's basketball team has paused its activities due to positive COVID-19 test results.

Head coach Bryan Mullins spoke at a previously scheduled news conference Thursday and said the news means the Salukis will not compete at the Louisville tip-off tournament over Thanksgiving weekend.

Illinois' governor stresses dealing with the spread of COVID-19 while trying to prevent more devastation to the state's economy is a challenge, but linked together.

In his briefing Monday, Governor J-B Pritzker said the most important thing to do for the economy is to fight the virus.

Pfizer says an early peek at its vaccine data suggests the shots may be 90% effective at preventing COVID-19.

At a Monday briefing, Illinois Department of Public Health director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said she knows a lot of people are concerned about the speed at which the vaccine is being developed, but this process is different.

COVID -19 Leads to Uptick for Some Surgeries

Nov 9, 2020
OSF HealthCare

In the early stages of COVID-19, as state restrictions took hold, a segment of health care saw a significant decrease in patient volume, including cosmetic and reconstructive surgery. But as the pandemic continues, patients are now using this time to have a necessary surgery or schedule an elective procedure that they may have been putting off.

Capitol News Illinois

Backers of a graduated income tax constitutional amendment conceded defeat Wednesday, Nov. 4, for Gov. JB Pritzker’s marquee policy proposal which was projected to bring in more than $3 billion annually to state coffers.

A kindergarten student has tested positive for COVID-19 in Harrisburg.

The number of quarantined students at Mt. Vernon Township High School continues to increase.

School officials say the amount of positive cases isn't high, but the number of students quarantined as close contacts continues to rise.

Due to a COVID outbreak, a polling place is changing location in Du Quoin.

COVID-19 Hospitalizations Continue to Reach New Second-Wave Highs

Nov 2, 2020
Jerry Nowicki of Capitol News Illinois

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 continue to climb as the entire state is either subject to increased mitigation measures or will be starting Wednesday.

A Capitol News Illinois analysis of weekly hospitalization averages shows the average number of hospital beds in use by COVID-19 patients for the week ending Nov. 1 increased by 603, or 24 percent, from the week prior. There were 3,091 hospital beds in use on average last week, an increase of 55 percent from two weeks prior and 94 percent from the week ending Oct. 4.

A southern Illinois school administrator says the vote by the Illinois High School Association's Board of Directors to allow basketball to proceed against the recommendation of the State Public Health Department and Governor J-B Pritzker has put districts between a rock and a hard place.

State Expands Pro Bono Program Addressing Backlog of Criminal Appeals

Oct 29, 2020

The Illinois Supreme Court is expanding a program that allows attorneys to volunteer on criminal appeals cases currently making up an extensive backlog.

The Volunteer Pro Bono Program for Criminal Appeals will include the 3rd, 4th and 5th Appellate Districts, located in central and southern Illinois, starting Dec. 1. A six-month pilot version of the program was launched in February, but only for the 1st and 2nd Appellate Districts, which are made up of Cook County and the rest of northern Illinois, respectively.