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

McLean County Sees Near-Record Hospitalizations; ISU Adds 87 Student Cases

Move-in helper
Illinois State University
A move-in helper directs traffic last month near Illinois State University. De-densification means less than 4,000 students are living in ISU's dorms this fall, down about 37% from this time a year ago.

UPDATED 5:55 p.m. | There are now nine people hospitalized with COVID-19 in McLean County—including three in intensive care—as Illinois State University reported 87 new cases among its students.

Those nine hospitalizations are the most in McLean County since mid-May, when dozens of residents at a Bloomington nursing home contracted COVID-19 in a deadly outbreak. The uptick (from six to nine hospitalizations) comes amid a record number of new COVID-19 cases—760 in the past week—mostly affecting students at ISU. The six new hospitalizations are people ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s.

“As we see an increase in hospitalizations, it is important to remember that even young healthy individuals can have complications from the virus, and some may even need to be hospitalized,” McLean County Health Department Administrator Jessica McKnight said Wednesday. “Hospitalizations are a lagging indicator, often behind new infections by about a week.”

ISU reported 87 new cases on Wednesday, bringing its total for COVID-positive students to 1,110. That’s about 5% of the student body. (Those may not all be active cases. Some of those 1,110 already have likely recovered by now.) ISU’s testing positivity rate for the past week is 24%, meaning about 1 in 4 tests is coming back positive.

Less than 10% of ISU classes are in-person or hybrid this fall, with the rest online. Yet, thousands of ISU students are still living just a few blocks away in off-campus apartments, with many signing leases long before COVID-19 arrived. ISU also did not shift toward a nearly all-online fall semester until about two weeks before the first day of classes.

Campus buildings, such as the Bone Student Center, remain open. The dorms are open too. De-densification means less than 4,000 students are living in the dorms, down about 37% from this time a year ago. About 2% of those students (around 91) living on-campus are in COVID-related isolation. More than 80% of COVID-positive students live off-campus.

“While not trivial, the overall impact on the spread of infections at this time will not be curtailed significantly by the closing of residence halls,” Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Aondover Tarhule said Tuesday.

Illinois Wesleyan University on Wednesday reported two additional cases among its students, bringing its total to 77.

Coronavirus - Testing Positivity Rate
Other county metrics

Meanwhile, the countywide testing positive rate (7-day average) fell Wednesday after two straight weeks of increases. The rate is now 10.1%, down from the 10.7% a day before.

McKnight said the "minimal positivity rate decrease is likely related to the overall amount of testing being resulted" Tuesday, when over 1,000 results came back.

That’s still high enough to bump McLean County into the state’s “warning” level. That would not automatically trigger new state mitigations—those are done regionally—but is intended to get the attention of local leaders who may consider their own new precautionary measures.

There are 837 active cases in McLean County. That includes the nine hospitalizations, as well as 828 other people who are isolating at home.

McLean County is one of 20 counties in Illinois’ Region 2 that does not appear in imminent danger of backtracking into state mitigations. The region’s ICU bed availability (3-day average) is at 45%, well above the 20% warning threshold.


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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.
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