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McLean County sets a new high mark with 63 COVID hospitalizations

WGLT file photo
OSF St. Joseph Medical Center and Carle BroMenn Medical Center are treating a record 63 coronavirus patients.

Bloomington-Normal hospitals are treating 63 patients for COVID-19 as of Thursday. That’s a new record for the pandemic that has entered its third year.

The McLean County Health Department (MCHD) reported in its daily media release that 98% of hospital beds at Carle BroMenn Medical Center in Normal and OSF St. Joseph Medical Center in Bloomington are occupied, and 85% of intensive care beds are full. Forty-six McLean County residents are hospitalized with COVID-19.

MCHD administrator Jessica McKnight said the hospitalizations come at a time of year when health care staff already is dealing with a rise in flu cases and other upper-respiratory infections, but she said COVID patients generally place greater strain on the health care system.

Jessica McKnight portrait
McLean County
Jessica McKnight

“Individuals being treated in the hospital for COVID, it’s often a long stay,” McKnight said. “It’s occupying beds, it’s a lot of care needed from the health care workers. It’s definitely a concern for us.”

McKnight said unvaccinated people remain at high risk of health complications, even if the now-dominant omicron variant is generally less severe than previous variants.

 McLean County Health Department COVID-19 data
McLean County Health Department
The McLean County Health Department reported 584 new daily coronavirus cases on Thursday.

MCHD announced 584 new daily coronavirus cases, bringing the county’s count of active cases to 4,169 — with a record 4,123 people isolating at home.

The county has reported 313 COVID-related deaths since the start of the pandemic.

McLean County’s seven-day testing positivity rate fell from its record 22.9% to 20.1% since Wednesday as testing demand continues to surge.

COVID testing

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) recently expanded testing at the Interstate Center in Bloomington from four to six days per week, but lines have still been long. Wait times have been close to an hour during some mornings, according to a spokesperson for Reditus Laboratories that runs the site.

McKnight said the county is exploring ways to increase access to testing to alleviate long wait times.

“We are looking into the possibility of being able to stand up and provide testing ... the planning is in the works because we know the demand is high right now,” said McKnight, stressing testing is just “one piece” of the county’s strategy to reduce COVID spread.

“Testing is detecting, it’s not prevention,” she said, adding that anyone who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 and has shown COVID symptoms, should isolate if they are unable to get a COVID test.

Free COVID testing also is available at Heartland Community College in Normal via SHIELD Illinois; go to heartland.edu/coronavirus/testing.html for more information.

Home tests

Some people who don’t want to wait in line are buying home COVID tests. McKnight said those tests are fast and convenient, but as antigen tests, they are less reliable than PCR tests, especially for people who are asymptomatic or who have been infected for several days.

“It’s still recommended you follow up with a PCR (test), or with your medical provider because there’s that high probability that you could still be positive,” McKnight said.

COVID vaccines

Nearly 101,000 McLean County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s 58.4% of the population. The state vaccination rate is 60.8%.

Among children ages 5 to 11 in McLean County, 17.4% are fully vaccinated.

MCHD has vaccination clinics planned next Monday through Thursday at Grossinger Motors Arena in downtown Bloomington and is promoting clinics scheduled for Friday the Lexington Community Center and on Jan. 13 at the ARC (Activity and Recreation Center) in Normal. More information is s available on the MCHD website.

McKnight said the county’s website does not include all vaccination clinics in the county. She said clinics the department is not directly involved in are shared on social media. That includes a first-dose pediatric vaccination clinic scheduled for 12-3 p.m. Saturday at the Heyworth Public Library.

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