A rise in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations landed Sangamon County on the list of counties at a warning level, according to Illinois Department of Public Health. Morgan, Cass, Pike and Greene are on the list as well.
Thirty Illinois counties are seeing change in at least two indicators, such as positivity rate of tests and new cases per hundred thousand people, that show increased risk of the virus.
The health department reports common reasons for rising numbers are spread at weddings, large gatherings, long-term care facilities and other congregate settings, travel to neighboring states, bars, and among members of the same household who are not isolating at home. IDPH uses data from the previous week to determine warning level.
Schools that have reopened to students are reporting new COVID-19 cases, according to IDPH, and general community spread of the virus is increasing.
The county-level metrics do not determine if more restrictions, such as banning indoor seating at restaurants, should be imposed by the state. For that, IDPH tracks positivity rate, hospital admission rate and ICU bed availability within 11 regions, according to a plan released by the governor’s office in July.
In Sangamon County, the health department reported Friday one additional death – a woman in her 80s who was a resident of a long-term care facility in Auburn, bringing the total number of deaths related to the virus to 40. Currently, 18 people are hospitalized.
Gail O’Neill, director of the Sangamon County Department of Public Health, said the warning level is not encouraging, but the department isn’t changing any policies. Just before it reached a warning level in July, the county instituted new penalties for bars and restaurants that weren’t following masking and social distancing rules.
“I’m a little disappointed because the numbers overall had been getting better,” she said. Sangamon County’s test positivity rate slowed to 4.8% last week, from a peak of 6.2% three weeks ago.
According to numbers from IDPH, the county had 84 new cases per 100,000 people, more than the target of 50 cases, and 19 hospitalizations for COVID-19-like illnesses last week.
O’Neill said the rise in the number of people hospitalized was in part because of an outbreak at a long-term care facility in Auburn. Four residents at Auburn Rehabilitation & Health Care Center have died since an outbreak started there August 3. Currently, four are in the hospital.
In a virtual event hosted by SIU Medicine, local physicians and public health experts continued to emphasize the three w’s – watching your distance, washing your hands, and wearing a mask. The video, where they common questions about the coronavirus, is on SIU Medicine’s Facebook page.
Dr. Vidhya Prakash – a professor of internal medicine at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine – said masks are crucial to preventing the spread of COVID-19, but they must be worn properly.
“When I see people gathered in meetings, they may be six feet apart but they will take off their masks when start speaking,” she said. “It defeats the whole purpose of wearing a mask. Keep the mask on.”
Prakash said the virus can be spread through droplets expelled when coughing, sneezing, talking or singing.
Children – particularly those over the age of 10 - can get and spread COVID-19 just as adults. Dr. Doug Carlson – chair of pediatrics at SIU School of Medicine – said that’s a shift from what was understood about the disease at the beginning of the pandemic.
Carlson said requiring all kids who are attending school in person to wear a mask is critical to making them safe.
“If the kids are not wearing a mask, particularly in congregations of older kids, school will become a super spreader event,” he said. “I believe that the wearing of masks and maintaining distances will make our schools safe. If everyone is not doing that, they will be dangerous places.”
Data collected by the Illinois State Board of Education show a majority of the 1.7 million public school students are beginning the year online.