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Hendrickson 'Begging' People To Use Basic Health Precautions As COVID-19 Cases Surge To New High

Tim Shelley / Peoria Public Radio

Peoria City/County Health Department Administrator Monica Hendrickson warns COVID-19 cases are surging to new highs as colder temperatures settle in and drive more people indoors.

Region 2, which includes the Tri-County area, currently sits at a 7.9 percent positivity rate, just shy of the 8 percent that triggers new restrictions after three consecutive days.

Peoria County recorded a record 100 new cases on Thursday, and the 91 people in Peoria, Tazewell, and Woodford counties currently hospitalized with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 also sets a new high-water mark. The area is now averaging two COVID-19 related deaths per day.

As Region 2 teeters dangerously close to renewed restrictions on restaurants, bars, and gatherings, Hendrickson is pleading with residents to follow basic health guidelines that she and other public health officials have stressed for months.

"If you want to make sure this doesn't happen, then we're asking...at this point, maybe begging, to say, follow that guidance. They work," she said.

That includes handwashing, wearing face coverings, and socially distancing whenever around someone who's not a member of your immediate household. Small gatherings are now the leading cause of localized COVID-19 spread.

"Your household are the people that live at the same address as you. This is not your aunt that lives in Morton. It's not your grandmother that lives in Adams County. It is everyone within the four walls of your house," she said. "That's your household."

Hendrickson said 15% of the region's ICU capacity is now being used for COVID-19 patients, who often stay for an average of 7 to 10 days. Hospital surge capacity to handle an large influx of patients also has fallen below 40% for the first time.

Hendrickson noted that even if you don't believe you or your loved ones are at high-risk for COVID-19 complications personally, you're likely only a couple degrees of separation away from someone who is, such as a long-term care facility resident.

Region 2 and Region 6, which includes Champaign and Decatur, are currently the only two regions of 11 statewide not to be under some form of renewed COVID-19 restrictions. But Hendrickson said central Illinois should be prepared for it.

"Make no mistake. That is an eventuality for us," she said.

Region 3, which includes Springfield and Quincy, is the latest Illinois region to be placed under more restrictions as COVID-19 cases surge across the state and country.

Hendrickson explained the 8% positivity rate for three days is a warning beacon for a community that may be losing control over the virus' spread. That sparks those additional restrictions.

"We don't want to get to a point where it's really uncontrolled for us," Hendrickson said. "That's not a picture we want to see happen. The measures that we have are these milestones so our corrective actions can work. And that's why, make no mistake, sometime in the next few weeks, we'll be looking at those mitigations very closely in our community."

Peoria County's 7-day positivity average currently averages between 5.5% and 7%. She said contact tracers are currently keeping up with the pace of 100 new cases a day, but if that were to spike to, say, 500 new cases a day, they risk falling behind.

"When you get to that uncontrolled community, you're going to see much stricter mitigation levels, similar to what you saw in the spring, but also, stand-up hospital systems," she said. "All of our hospital and health care systems have plans to address surge issues. And they have those plans. They're ready to activate it. We just don't want to."

Hendrickson said its ultimately on members of the public to take basic health precautions to avoid situations where hospitals again cancel non-essential procedures, or begin to employ triage care.

Peoria County averages 800 to 900 COVID-19 tests a day. Hendrickson said there also are plans for more pop-up testing sites around the county soon.

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Copyright 2021 WCBU. To see more, visit WCBU.

Tim Shelley is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.