With pos­i­tiv­ity rates ris­ing, many south, SW sub­urbs on cusp of state in­ter­ven­tion


COVID-19 in­fil­trated Illi­nois in Jan­uary, rocked the state in March, barely let up in June and came roar­ing back in July.

It’s in­fected al­most a quar­ter­mil­lion res­i­dents, claimed more than 7,800 lives and is guaranteed to take more.

But as health of­fi­cials an­nounced an­other 2,208 new coro­n­avirus cases Fri­day, work­ers try­ing to con­tain the cri­sis say some res­i­dents’ at­ti­tude to­ward the pan­demic can be summed up in two words:

“So what?”

That’s the case in south­west sub­ur­ban Will County, where along with nearby Kanka­kee County, the re­gional test­ing pos­i­tiv­ity rate has soared to 7.9% — putting the re­gion on the brink of a state in­ter­ven­tion that could lead to busi­ness shut­downs.

“You of­ten hear the at­ti­tude of, ‘What’s in it for me?’ ” con­tact trac­ing pro­gram man­ager Susan O’Keefe said in a state­ment pro­vided by the Will County Health Depart­ment.

“In other words, if their fam­ily is OK, they feel they don’t have to worry. Or even within their own fam­ily, you might have four peo­ple test pos­i­tive af­ter go­ing to an event, and then the one per­son who tests neg­a­tive thinks he or she is home free. That’s not true,” O’Keefe said.

That dis­mis­sive at­ti­tude helped land Will County on the Illi­nois Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health’s coro­n­avirus “warn­ing level” list — which has now bal­looned to 20 coun­ties, al­most a fifth of the state map.

Coun­ties are stuck with the warn­ing la­bel from the state if they check two or more boxes on a list of “risk in­di­ca­tors,” in­clud­ing ris­ing num­bers of cases, deaths and hos­pi­tal­iza­tions.

Be­sides Will County, the coun­ties on the list are scat­tered across the state map: Bureau, Cass, Clay, Clin­ton, Franklin, Greene, Grundy, Han­cock, Hen­der­son, Jef­fer­son, Lo­gan, Madi­son, Mon­roe, Moul­trie, Ran­dolph, St. Clair, Union, White and Wil­liamson.

Out­breaks in the tar­geted coun­ties have been tied to wed­dings, busi­nesses and other gath­er­ing spots, while “cases con­nected to schools are also begin­ning to be re­ported,” ac­cord­ing to the state health depart­ment.

“Pub­lic health of­fi­cials are ob­serv­ing peo­ple not so­cial dis­tanc­ing or us­ing face cov­er­ings. Ad­di­tion­ally, there are re­ports of in­di­vid­u­als who are ill at­tribut­ing their symp­toms to al­ler­gies or other ill­nesses, or not be­ing forth­com­ing about their symp­toms or close con­tacts,” of­fi­cials said.

An­gela Maf­feo, an­other Will County

con­tact tracer, said the res­i­dents she calls are of­ten forth­com­ing at first, but clam up.

“They don’t want to tell on any­body, even though it is cru­cial that these close con­tacts be in­formed and told to quar­an­tine to avoid po­ten­tially spread­ing the virus to oth­ers,” Maf­feo said.

That’s what lo­cal health de­part­ments are up against as of­fi­cials scram­ble to rein in a statewide COVID-19 flareup.

Fri­day’s new cases marked the fifth time in the last two weeks that Illi­nois has amassed 2,000 or more cases in a sin­gle day. Illi­nois hadn’t seen such a clus­ter of high coro­n­avirus caseloads since its ini­tial peak month of May — and it fol­lows a 33-day stretch from June to July in which Illi­nois never sur­passed more than a thou­sand new di­ag­noses in a day.

More than 37,000 peo­ple have been di­ag­nosed with the virus over the first three weeks of Au­gust, com­pared to 22,925 in all of June. That’s as the state has av­er­aged more than 1,800 new cases per day over the last two weeks, al­most triple the state’s run­ning rate at the end of June.

Still, Illi­nois’ lat­est cases were con­firmed among 51,736 tests sub­mit­ted to the state, mark­ing a third straight day of record-high test­ing num­bers for the state and low­er­ing the statewide test­ing pos­i­tiv­ity rate over the last week to 4.3%.

But pos­i­tiv­ity rates have in­creased in seven of the state’s 11 re­gions over the last week, in­clud­ing the down­state Metro East re­gion which is now at 9.4% pos­i­tiv­ity — af­ter Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s health team forced of­fi­cials there to scale back ca­pac­i­ties and op­er­at­ing hours at bars and restau­rants.

The Will-Kanka­kee re­gion isn’t the only one flirt­ing with a state in­ter­ven­tion, which is trig­gered when a re­gion hits 8% pos­i­tiv­ity. South­ern Illi­nois is at 7.5%.

The state hasn’t sounded the alarm on Chicago or sub­ur­ban Cook County, but pos­i­tiv­ity rates still have inched slowly up this week. The city is at 5.2% and the sub­urbs at 6.5%.

The Illi­nois Depart­ment of Pub­lic Health also an­nounced the virus has killed 24 more res­i­dents, in­clud­ing a Cook County man in his 30s. COVID-19 has claimed 7,857 lives across the state since March.


Protesters at­tend the “Mil­lion Un­masked March” at the Illi­nois State Capi­tol in July to voice their op­po­si­tion to guide­lines that chil­dren be re­quired to wear masks when they re­turn to school.

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