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WGLT's reporting on the coronavirus pandemic, which began in McLean County in March 2020.

County Health Leader Pleads For Personal Responsibility Amid COVID Spike

McLean County Health Department sign
Emily Bollinger
McLean County Health Department Administrator Jessica McKnight says the department's contract tracing staff is overwhelmed as they try to manage an active coronavirus caseload that has topped 500.

McLean County Health Department Administrator Jessica McKnight said Friday it’s too soon to say whether the county will see restrictions or other mitigation actions stemming from the recent surge in coronavirus cases, but that it's up to everyone to take precautions to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We are continuing to speak to the urgency and the importance of where we are now, and if we do not have things in place where we could be,” McKnight said. “This is our chance right now to make some changes, put things in place as a community.”

In response to the spike, the Town of Normal issued two executive orders on Friday intended to limit crowds on and around the Illinois State University campus. McKnight said recent large gatherings have been the biggest COVID-19 spreaders in the community.

ISU reports 512 COVID-19 cases; they make up more than one-third of all cases in McLean County since the start of the pandemic.

The McLean County Health Department (MCHD) announced 80 new coronavirus cases on Friday. The county’s caseload has nearly doubled in the last two weeks.

Also, the county’s positivity rate has topped 8% for three consecutive days. It reached 8.6% on Friday.

McKnight said that could soon put the county in a warning designation if the trend continues. Such a warning could trigger additional mitigation efforts to curb the virus' spread.

Currently, 30 Illinois counties have been given the warning designation, which happens when a county has two metrics that fall within the warning range.

McLean County’s count of new COVID-19 cases, 179, per 100,000 residents, is well above the state’s target of 50 cases. That’s based on the most recent state data from Aug. 16-22 and will certainly increase as the data catches up next week.

The region that includes McLean and 19 other central and western Illinois counties currently has a testing positivity rate of 6.4%. If that reaches and stays above 8%, it would trigger the state to enact restrictions.

“It’s time now for us as a community to step up and take personal responsibility for our community and what the future holds,” McKnight said.

Contract tracers ‘overwhelmed’

Meanwhile, McKnight said the department has hired nine new contact tracers in the last week, but the agency is still behind schedule as it tries to manage a caseload that has nearly tripled in the timeframe.

“You can see our numbers of over 500 active cases, that’s a lot,” she said. “If each of those has just 5 to 10 close contacts, we are definitely overwhelmed as most of our public health partners across the nation are as well. We are all feeling that.”

McKnight said anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus should isolate immediately, since contract tracers could be delayed in calling.

She added the department also has trained nearly a dozen staffers to handle contact tracing and plans to hire several more in the coming weeks. The new hires are paid for by a state grant.

Rural cases

While the bulk of McLean County's coronavirus cases are in Bloomington-Normal, based on population density, the highest rate of infection in the county is in the small village of Bellflower. The community in far southeastern McLean County has seven cases among its population of about 350 residents. That puts its ratio of cases at 13.8 per 1,000 residents.

Residents in the Hudson zip code rank third in cases per 1,000 population at 8.2. Normal is second at 10.6.

McKnight said cases in rural communities have generally been from known exposures.

“It can be work exposure or household clusters. Some are related to travel. It’s not overwhelmingly one thing or the other, it’s fairly representative of what we are seeing across the board without cases and exposures,” said McKnight, adding that proves that no community is immune from a coronavirus outbreak.

“The virus is here, so every interaction with someone outside your household, whether it be in an urban area, a rural area, we are seeing COVID-19 everywhere,” McKnight said.

Two Bloomington zip codes (61701 and 61704) rank fourth and fifth in the county.

We’re living in unprecedented times when information changes by the minute. WGLT will continue to be here for you, keeping you up-to-date with the live, local and trusted news you need. Help ensure WGLT can continue with its in-depth and comprehensive COVID-19 coverage as the situation evolves by making a contribution.

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