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:
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.