McLean County’s COVID-19 testing positivity rate shot up Sunday above statewide and national averages, as a surge of 98 new cases overwhelmed local contact-tracing capacity.
College students are driving the alarming spike.
Illinois State University and Illinois Wesleyan University leaders opted to bring students back to Bloomington-Normal this fall, hoping an aggressive education campaign, new precautions, and a surveillance testing program would contain COVID-19. But signs of trouble emerged quickly, with photos circulating on social media showing large, maskless crowds lining up at bars and attending off-campus parties.
Roughly 45% of McLean County’s total cases have been among those ages 18-29. Of the 98 new cases reported Sunday, 79 people were in their teens and 20s.
There are clusters of cases from gatherings, household contacts (roommates), and off-campus activities. Those who have been to a party or large gathering should get tested for COVID-19 five to seven days from the event or possible exposure.
“The next three to four weeks will be a pivotal time in our community’s response to the COVID pandemic,” said McLean County Health Department (MCHD) Administrator Jessica McKnight. “The MCHD continues to work with our universities, community leaders, and local businesses to make informed decisions that promote healthy behaviors while determining what additional mitigation actions and interventions might be necessary.”
The county’s testing positive rate (7-day average) has shot up to 6.2%; it was 2% less than a week ago. That 6.2% rate is higher than both the statewide (4.3%) and national (6.1%) averages, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
There are now 315 active cases in McLean County, easily a new record. That includes four people who are hospitalized and 311 others who are isolating at home.
McKnight said the rapid increase in cases has impacted her department’s capacity to investigate and provide “contact tracing in a timely manner.” The department is in the process of hiring more contact tracers.
“The McLean County Health Department will continue to work diligently to follow-up with those who test positive,” she said Sunday. “However, if you test positive for COVID-19 do not wait to hear from the Health Department to begin your isolation.”
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