Lake Forest, Lake Bluff Leaders Talk COVID-19 Reopening Plans

Jonah Meadows

LAKE FOREST, IL — Educational and governmental leaders in Lake Bluff and Lake Forest were joined by hospital officials for a remote community forum last week for an update on the community's response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lake Bluff Village President Kathy O'Hara and Lake Forest Mayor George Pandaleon were joined by their respective city managers and school chiefs from Lake Forest College, Lake Bluff School District 65 and Lake Forest School Districts 67 and 115. Both the president and chief medical officer of Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital also took part in the forum, which was held Tuesday via video conference and can be viewed below in its entirety.

The local governmental leaders discussed the financial impact of COVID-19 on their respective municipalities, as well as recent protests against racism and police violence. The school officials discussed their preparations for a potential return to in-person instruction in the fall.

Thomas McAfee, hospital president, said Lake Forest Hospital had discharged over 450 patients as of June 2. He said that is more than half the number of patients who have passed through Northwestern Memorial Hospital during the same period of time. The group's downtown Chicago hospital is more than seven times as large, he said.

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Lake Forest Hospital had sufficient ventilators and personal protective equipment to handle last month's surge in hospitalizations, McAfee said, with enough PPE left over to share some with nursing homes and explain how to properly use it.

"Never in any instance were we in a situation where we didn't have more than adequate supplies for our staff, which was obviously enormously valuable," he said.

The hospital's intensive care unit, which for a time was tripled to accommodate COVID-19 patients, had only five coronavirus patients as of June 2, he said. The 95 percent survival rate for people hospitalized with the virus is among the best in the world, he said. But health officials have expressed concern that the recent decline in the number of people with heart attacks and strokes suggests the ailments are going untreated as people avoid hospitals.

"We've worked through the surge of cases, volume has stepped down significantly, we have put in all the best of science to make sure that patients that present to this hospital and need their medical care come back and are treated safely," McAfee said. "We've instituted many of those assurances so that you could feel safe in coming back. "

Dr. Jeff Kopin, chief medical officer of Lake Forest Hospital, pointed out that Lake County was the seventh most prevalent county for COVID-19 cases outside the greater New York area.

"Not a distinction we want to have," Kopin said. "But here's the amazing news: No one knew it. There was no sense of emergency here. There was no sense of concern that we were going to run out of space. We had the capacity, and we worked very closely with Vista [Medical Center East in Waukegan] and [Advocate] Condell [Medical Center in Libertyville] to see to it that we can take care of our entire community — the community of Lake County."

Kopin said no physicians at Lake Forest Hospital developed a symptomatic case of COVID-19. Only two nurses became ill. They recovered at home and have returned to work, he said, crediting the hospital's safety protocols and PPE supply. He said that Lake Forest Hospital took part in a trial to look into the effectiveness of the antiviral drug remdesivir, but it is too early to know if can be proven to make a difference. Kopin said he did not expect a vaccine to be ready before the winter.

Over the past few months, Kopin said, scientists have learned much more about the new coronavirus and how it spreads — from exhaled human breath and most easily in enclosed spaces when people are unable to stay apart from one another. That means places where people live in close proximity are most susceptible to the spread of the virus. That includes prisons, group homes and nursing homes, which have accounted for more than 200 of the county's 331 deaths, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Read more: 192 Coronavirus Cases In Lake Forest, Lake Bluff ZIP Codes: IDPH

"The single most important thing I can tell our community is use common sense," he said. Kopin said by now everyone should know the three most important ways to avoid contracting COVID-19: physical distancing, wearing face coverings and frequent hand hygiene. "These things really work. And there's an underlying science to this. We now know that the way that the virus spreads is through the exhaled breath of an individual who's infected with the virus."

The less time spent exposed to an infected person, he said, and the less viral load an infected person exhales, the less likely a person is to catch the virus. The chief medical officer said going to the beach or a restaurant should not be a problem if it is not crowded and tables are adequately spaced. Precautions should be taken when attending church, Kopin said.

"No singing and no loud voices. Singing and loud voices propel the virus even further," he said. "If you're in a church, people aren't wearing masks, leave. God will forgive you, God will praise you, as will Dr. Kopin."

Kopin said it was not a problem for teens to get together with friends. But if they do, he said, they should be kept separated from anyone with a compromised immune system or other pre-existing conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus.

"You know what? It's probably OK. Because what we now know after three months is that is kids — 99 percent plus — do just fine, even if they're infected. The problem is they potentially can bring that to grandma, so just keep that in mind," Kopin said.

"Each one of us has to assess our own individual risk. This is the key part of all of this. Those of us who are older, those of us who have chronic medical issues, that's a totally separate set of risks than for somebody who's young and healthy. An 85-year-old resident of Lake Forest has a very different set of considerations than that person's 24-year-old healthy grandson," he said. "Again, common sense."

This article originally appeared on the Lake Forest-Lake Bluff Patch