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

Positivity Rate Hits Double Digits; ISU Adds 187 COVID Cases

On-campus testing at ISU
Illinois State University
Illinois State University has done nearly 4,300 tests on campus since the fall semester began Aug. 17.

McLean County health officials on Sunday urged the public to stop “placing blame” for a recent surge in COVID-19 that has now driven the local testing positivity rate into the double digits.

The county’s testing positivity rate has risen to 10.1%, continuing a steady march upward since Aug. 17—the first day of classes at Illinois State and Illinois Wesleyan universities. College leaders chose to bring students back to campus, hoping a combination of online class offerings, mask use and social distancing, and de-densification would contain COVID-19. But about 1,000 college students (mostly ISU) already have contracted it, just two weeks into the semester.

The big question now is whether the college surge will stay relatively contained near campus or spread out into the wider community, where students have part-time jobs, go shopping, and eat out. Of the 577 new cases in McLean County in the past week, more than 85% have been among college-aged young people. That still leaves around 75 new infections outside of that age group.

“It is important to remember that these numbers are people and members of our community, not just a ‘case,’” McLean County Health Department Administrator Jessica McKnight said Sunday. “Diseases like COVID-19 can make anyone sick, regardless of their age or other underlying health conditions.

"You can fight stigma by sharing facts, not rumors, and treating people around you with respect and understanding. Rather than being reactive and placing blame on any one person or group of people, it is past the time for us to collaborate as a community. We can choose now to look ahead at how we can be proactive, each of us doing our part to fight COVID-19.”

Coronavirus - Testing Positivity Rate
Confusing the picture is the lag between when ISU reports its new cases and when they show up later in the county’s totals.

The county, for example, reported 219 new cases on Sunday—more than double the previous single-day record. But the public was likely already aware of those cases as part of ISU’s previous daily case tallies. Of the 219 new cases, 198 of them were college-aged people between the ages of 18 and 29, MCHD reported.

There is a lot of confusion about why the number of new cases reported by ISU does not always align or match with the number of new cases reported in McLean County. To explain: ISU’s COVID-positive students will be included in the county’s case totals.

ISU also reported 187 new cases on Sunday, bringing its total number of students testing positive to 933. That’s about 4.5% of the student body. ISU’s testing positivity rate at its on-campus testing locations is 23.5% for the past week.

There are now four people hospitalized in McLean County—up from three on Saturday—including one person in intensive care. There are 702 others who are isolating at home.

The 10.1% testing positivity rate, combined with our “new cases per 100,000” score, will likely soon push McLean County into the state’s warning-level status. That won’t automatically trigger new state-required mitigations, but it is intended “help local leaders, businesses, health departments, and the public make informed decisions and promote healthy behaviors.”

The Town of Normal did not wait and chose Friday to prohibit large gatherings near ISU’s campus and require bar and restaurant patrons to remain seated with few exceptions. Those are short-term emergency orders, but could be extended at a special meeting this week.

MCHD said it’s “capacity to investigate active cases and provide contact tracing in a timely manner is limited” due to the rapid increase in active cases. If you test positive for COVID-19, do not wait to hear from the health department to begin your isolation.


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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.