OCHD’s Auman on COVID-19 uptick: ‘We’re trending in the wrong direction’

Schools without masks could be ‘a perfect storm for a bad situation'


ROCHELLE ⏤ Ogle County had eight new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday, July 27, the most it's seen in a single day over the last “several months,” Ogle County Health Department Public Administrator Kyle Auman said. 

The county was recently placed in the category of substantial community transmission by the CDC. More than half of the state is in substantial or high transmission. Ogle County saw a small increase in COVID-19 activity last week and Auman said another increase was seen this week.  

“We’re trending in the wrong direction,” Auman said. “Locally and in the state. The CDC suggests masks for all individuals when out in public when you’re in that substantial transmission category. It’s a little concerning. Especially with as well as we were doing. We’re trying to communicate that all preventative measures should be taken to curb this.”

The county sent out a press release Thursday “strongly recommending” everyone, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask while indoors of areas of substantial or high COVID-19 transmission and recommended public places and employers require universal indoor masking. 

The recommendation was based on increasing cases of 51 per 100,000, and an increasing positivity rate of 4.26 percent and declining ICU availability in the region. 

“The pandemic is not over and we must continue to be vigilant in our individual behaviors and our collective behaviors as a community,” the press release said. 

Ogle County residents as a whole are just over 40 percent fully-vaccinated. Auman said other than vaccinations, the county has to use all the mitigations at its disposal to curb spread. That includes masking, which he called a “challenging and contentious” issue. 

The OCHD is “certainly concerned” about the Delta variant locally, Auman said. He said while it may not be prevalent in the county, things “aren’t looking good” in other states with the variant that is said to spread quicker. 

“Demographics are changing to a younger population being hospitalized,” Auman said. “It’s unvaccinated people. The strength of that variant is causing hospitalizations. There’s also been a lot of hospital activity locally recently.”

Auman said the vaccination percentage in Ogle County is changing “ever so slowly.” Appointments are still being offered three days a week at the OCHD and people can get vaccinated at Rochelle Community Hospital, KSB Hospital in Dixon, at Walmart and at pharmacies. 

The OCHD is doing about 10-20 vaccinations three days a week, Auman said. The health department is still endeavoring to get vaccination messaging out. 

“We’re not seeing a large turnout currently,” Auman said. “We need this to slow things down.”

Auman believes there are still Ogle County residents on the fence about getting the COVID-19 vaccine. For the most part, he believes everyone who wants the vaccine has already received it. 

Ogle County does have one of the highest youth vaccine rates in the state and is in the top 20 of all Illinois counties.  

“We’re making plans to go back into schools and do more vaccine clinics,” Auman said. “That will help with the upcoming school year. We’re waiting for vaccines to be approved for ages six and up and we hope that happens sometime this winter.”

The OCHD is working with county schools to understand CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health COVID-19 guidance and providing its own. He said the three are “very closely aligned” and are recommending the same measures like masking, social distancing and staying home if sick. 

Auman expressed concern about schools like Rochelle opting for optional or recommended masking for the upcoming school year. 

“We understand that view, but schools doing that aren't necessarily following guidance,” Auman said. “I think we’ll see large rates of transmission if those things aren’t followed. If masks are optional, there could be repercussions. High numbers of cases, potential hospitalizations and severe illness.”

The uptick in county cases has Auman concerned with a return to school looming. He said the uptick was “earlier than expected.”

Schools were the number one source of transmission of COVID-19 locally and statewide last year, Auman said. 

“And that was with mitigations in place and not all of the kids in school,” Auman said. “If we put them all back in without mitigations, it’s a perfect storm for a bad situation.”

School district superintendents have the “ultimate authority” when it comes to masking and mitigations in schools, Auman said. The OCHD can only make recommendations. If there were to be an outbreak, the OCHD would step in and work with the schools. 

As far as a maskless return to school this fall, Auman said “we’ll see what happens.”

“I think they’re in a tough spot,” Auman said. “I don’t know if I’d say they’re flat out going against guidance, but they’re trying to balance the thoughts of parents, kids and guidance. We only have one chance to get this right.”

Auman said for the county as a whole, he doesn’t want to see masks required in public again by the governor’s office. That isn’t the direction he wants the county and state trending in. But, he said it could be a possibility. It depends on how residents react to recent COVID-19 upticks and developments. 

He has some concern about whether another mask mandate would be adhered to by the public. 

“I think everyone is kind of burnt out by COVID-19, our health department included,” Auman said. “We’re worked around the clock for the last 18 months. We understand people are frustrated. 

“Unfortunately, those people that don’t want to do anything to prevent the spread will be the ones that drive the outcome of the pandemic.”