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McLean County Health Department chief concerned the public has stopped paying attention to COVID-19

McLean County Health Department sign
Emily Bollinger
McLean County Health Department Administrator Jessica McKnight says she's concerned much of the public has tuned out all the talk about COVID-19.

Ever since the coronavirus pandemic started over 1 1/2 years ago, the McLean County Health Department (MCHD) has been sending out COVID statistics almost daily; new cases, deaths, hospitalizations, testing positivity, and more.

The daily drumbeat of data can be essential to understanding the current state of the pandemic, but it can all be too much, especially when the way health experts interpret that data changes over time.

MCHD administrator Jessica McKnight said he's concerned it's getting harder for people to take the pandemic seriously, even when people are still dying of COVID-19.

“Toward the mid to end of summer, we were seeing not many cases and then we saw something like the Delta variant,” McKnight said. “We hope the public is still paying attention.”

Jessica McKnight
McLean County
Jessica McKnight

The county’s seven-day testing positivity rate of 2.4% is much lower than it was a year ago, but McKnight said that can be misleading because a lot more people are getting tested now compared with last fall.

“We are seeing about the same number of daily cases that we were seeing a year ago, so while the test positivity (rate) might be 2% versus 12% or 13% like we saw last year, the community transmission, the cases-per-100,000 right now is still high,” McKnight said.

The county’s rate of COVID transmission is 144 new cases per 100,000 residents as of Friday, according to the CDC data tracker. McKnight noted positivity rate is just one data point she looks at when assessing the current state of the pandemic.

She said hospitalizations are a lagging indicator, but still significant, adding it’s likely COVID hospitalizations will begin to drop soon since new cases have steadily declined over the last month.“If they (don’t), that might be something that we are looking at. Are people getting sicker now versus previous infections,” McKnight said.

COVID hospitalizations among McLean County residents have declined in the last two weeks, from 31 on Oct. 1 to 17 on Friday.

Deaths also are a lagging indicator. McLean County has recorded 10 COVID-related deaths in October.

McKnight said it will take more study on immunity from infection to determine when herd immunity can be achieved. “As we get more data, I think we’ll know more about where do we actually need to be as a population for this,” she said.

McKnight said she doesn't think COVID-19 will ever be eradicated, but she hopes the ease of transmission will be greatly reduced over time.

Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.