The current level of COVID-19 cases is concerning health officials in the county and the state.
The case numbers are so high that hospital bed availability is at a critically low level and most of the local hospitals have experienced long wait times in their emergency rooms.
As of Dec. 19, Ogle County was at 14.18 percent COVID-19 positivity rate with 784 cases per 100,000 people.
“Right now, Illinois is one of several surging states,” said Kyle Auman, Ogle County Health Department public administrator. “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.”
The director of the Illinois Department of Public Health said in a recent virtual news conference that while COVID-19 cases are up in the region and state, no new mandates are currently being considered by the state.
Dr. Ngozi Ezike said that at this point, with the vaccine available for a year, the state thought it would be in a “different place” when it came to COVID-19 infections.
“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.”
Ezike said that with infection up, the threat of illness is high.
“This is setting up to be a very deadly COVID Christmas and New Year,” she said.
Health officials agree that vaccination is the key to saving lives.
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. 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.”
Health officials agree that the key is vaccines.
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.”