McLean County Health Pushes COVID Vaccinations As Delta Variant Emerges
McLean County Health Department (MCHD) Administrator Jessica McKnight said Thursday the highly contagious COVID Delta variant is likely contributing to a recent surge in coronavirus cases in McLean County.
“What we know is the Delta variant is present here in central Illinois, in Illinois, and we know it to be more infectious than previously detected variants,” McKnight said. “That’s one of the reasons why we are seeing an increase in cases.”
New coronavirus cases in McLean County have tripled in the last two weeks and Bloomington-Normal hospitals are starting to fill up again with COVID patients.
Pekin-based Reditus Labs said Wednesday a random testing of coronavirus samples from early July showed an increase in the Delta variant and other variants in Bloomington-Normal.
MCHD public affairs coordinator Marianne Manko said it's especially important that unvaccinated people continue to mask up indoors, which she noted follows Illinois' Phase 5 mitigations.
“This is about awareness of risk and letting people know there are many different kinds of mitigations,” Manko said. “If you are unvaccinated, you should be masking (indoors). You should be social distancing with those who are outside of your immediate household.”
McLean County health officials said they are concerned COVID vaccinations rates will continue to slow as the Delta variant leads to a spike in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
Less than half of McLean County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Vaccination rates have increased slightly in recent weeks, but fall far short of March and April figures.
“It’s difficult to know what’s in the minds of people and what might change their mind. It’s even difficult to know among the people who are unvaccinated what the real reason is,” Manko said.
Some health departments across the country have gone door-to-door to encourage vaccinations. Manko said that's not something McLean County plans to do at this time.
“Anything is a possibility. It’s hard to predict what is going to happen in the future. We are always looking at possibilities for what we might need to do to control the spread of the virus,” Manko said.
About 48% of McLean County residents are fully vaccinated, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). The statewide rate is just over 50%.
Arena vaccines to stop
Grossinger Motors Arena will host its final two COVID vaccination clinics next week. MCHD announced in June it would close the vaccination site at the end of July.
The health department operated the sites with the Illinois National Guard. The guard ended its assistance last week. According to the city of Bloomington, the vaccination total at the arena will top 51,100.
The last two clinics at the arena will be July 27 and 29 from 3-6 p.m. both days.
Meanwhile, schools across McLean County are working on COVID guidance plans for the upcoming school year. Several school districts, including Olympia and Heyworth, and all schools in the Catholic Diocese of Peoria, are looking to make masks optional.
McKnight said the health department provides guidance on vaccinations, social distancing and other safety guidelines, but it's up to the school districts to set their own policy.
“We know the decision is with the school districts, the administrations and boards. They have the authority and discretion to develop their plans for in-person learning and we are here to support them in their decisions to keep the staff, students and ultimately our communities as safe as possible with these layered strategies,” McKnight said.
Masks will be required on all school buses this year.