Health department: ‘Concerning’ recent rise in COVID-19 cases

‘We need to get it under control’

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OGLE COUNTY — Ogle County Health Department Public Administrator Kyle Auman said Monday that he’s concerned about the county’s current level of COVID-19 cases. 

As of Monday, Ogle County was at 10.67 percent COVID-19 positivity with 702.96 cases per 100,000 people. Every county in the state is experiencing high transmission, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. Auman said “a lot” of COVID-19 activity is being seen in area hospitals with ICU beds at 11 percent availability Monday. All three Rockford hospitals are operating on peak census. Rochelle Community Hospital and KSB Hospital currently are not. 

“Right now, Illinois is one of several surging states,” Auman said. “Region 1, where we are, is one of the hotter spots in the state. I didn’t expect to see levels this high. We expected some cases, since they make sense in the winter months. But not to this level and the issues with hospitalizations. It has to do with people interacting with one another and making good choices. We need to get it under control.”

Despite the rise in cases, Auman said he hasn’t heard talk of more mitigations and does not expect the state to take action. Earlier in the pandemic when more mitigations were in place, eight percent positivity locally was one of the trigger points for adding or removing restrictions on public places. 

“Things like indoor masking are already in place and there are vaccination opportunities,” Auman said. “We need people to do those things. People have said they want mitigations managed locally and individually. That’s kind of what’s happening. And it doesn’t seem like it’s going very well.”

Auman believes there are additional undetected COVID-19 cases that are currently active in the community. He said as people come together for holiday gatherings, there’s a good chance that if more than 10 people are in attendance, at least one person will be exposed. The OCHD is trying to warn people of that and anticipates high numbers to continue into the new year, he said.

Last year at this time, the OCHD made a recommendation that all county school districts stop in-person learning around the holidays to prevent spread. That’s been talked about with school districts this year, Auman said, but the OCHD is leaving that decision up to school superintendents. Forreston High School is currently on an adaptive pause due to an outbreak of positive cases. 

Auman said anyone who is far enough out from their original vaccination and is age 16 and older should be eligible for a COVID-19 booster. The OCHD has administered 9,273 boosters as of Monday and Auman said for the most part, everyone that was originally vaccinated is trying to get one, especially older age groups.  

“That’s a tool that can help us with things like hospitalizations,” Auman said. “It can slow the spread and keep people out of the hospital. Now would be a crucial time to get it if you can. We’ve done a good job with boosters. But we’re still at just over 51 percent vaccinated in the county. Those numbers are just too low to address this spread and the issues we’re seeing.”

Auman said the vaccination rate has been “growing slowly” over the past few months. Vaccines are readily available in the county and all of the OCHD’s partners that give vaccinations are “on board,” but haven’t seen a full day of vaccinations scheduled recently, he said. 

To increase vaccination rates, the state has tried things like lotteries and giveaways. Auman doesn’t think there’s one magic solution to getting more people in the door. 

“There’s skepticism and politicization,” Auman said. “I think some people as time goes on may be convinced. We’ve seen quite a bit of that. People who have had family members get really sick or pass away due to COVID-19 have been convinced to get it. We hope more people decide to get it before things get to that point.”

The Omicron COVID-19 variant was recently identified in the state of Illinois for the first time. Auman said there’s still more research that needs to be done on that variant, but he is concerned by it. 

“I’m more concerned about what it means for future mutations of COVID-19,” Auman said. “The Omicron variant has 54 different mutations. It might not be as deadly or severe for some, but it’s more transmissible than the Delta variant. Each time it’s transmitted, there’s a possibility for a new, worse mutation. It’s the fear of the unknown that scares me.”

The OCHD is looking to put the pandemic in the past and meet a common goal, which is getting life back to normal and people to stop getting sick with COVID-19. 

“My department has been at this for 635 days,” Auman said. “It’s tiring, arguing with the community. And the opposition has been overwhelming and tiring and we're ready to get back to the other good work that we do and did more of before COVID-19.”