WOOD RIVER — As COVID-19 numbers continue to rise in Madison County, Amy Yeager strikes a balance between concern and optimism.
The previously high number for COVID cases in Madison County came in December 2020 when there were 6,421 new cases.
The second-highest total was in December 2021, when there were 6,289 new cases, most of which were new variants like Delta or Omicron.
However, in the first 13 days of January 2022, there were already 10,002 new cases of COVID.
“This shows that we have both variants (Delta and Omicron) and both are moving very quickly,” said Yeager, the public information officer for the Madison County Health Department.
The case rate for Madison County hit an all-time high Thursday at 2,235.78 new cases per 100,000 people.
“That’s extremely high considering we need to be at 50 cases per 100,000,” Yeager said. “For comparison: on October 23, 2021 we had 101 cases per 100,000 inhabitants.”
As of Jan. 5, the case rate was 708.84 per 100,000, meaning it has more than tripled in eight days through Thursday. As of December 30, the case rate was 511.47 per 100,000.
“From a public health perspective, I can’t overstate how rapid this growth is,” Yeager said. “We continue to emphasize to people the importance of doing everything in their power to slow this growth.
“If you are exposed or in a risky situation for potential exposure, please get tested. If they test positive, please quarantine and isolate them. If you develop symptoms, call your doctor and ask what to do.”
As the COVID surge continues, Yeager points to a decrease in case severity as a reason for optimism.
“We haven’t peaked yet and we’re definitely still in the high transmission phase,” Yeager said. “The good news is that hospital admissions, while high, appear to have declined slightly.
“The number of deaths was quite small compared to the extreme increase in the surge. This is another indicator that the vaccine is working.”
Yeager reminds people that the vaccine is designed to add a layer of protection against the virus and is not a cure for COVID.
“It’s designed to prevent you from experiencing the severity of illness and hospitalization or death from COVID. At this point, don’t let it stop you from getting it,” Yeager said.
“Since that time last year, therapeutics have also been used by doctors. So once you have COVID and meet certain criteria, there are ways to help you get treated. There are several other treatments in development, but this is a new virus and public health is working hard to find ways to prevent it and/or reduce its severity.
While the pandemic is far from over, Yeager sees some positive trends despite the surge in new cases and case rate.
“The fact that we are not getting as many deaths from COVID is a hopeful sign and reflects two factors, one of which is the vaccine. We are now 55% fully vaccinated in Madison County,” Yeager said.
“It also reflects the current variants and the fact that omicron is much more contagious and its effects are less severe for many people. But you still have to take it seriously.”
According to the latest data from the Illinois Department of Public Health, about 69% of the variants active in Illinois were still Delta, while about 31% were Omicron.
Yeager said that means the omicron surge hasn’t hit the state with full force yet.
“What’s even more concerning is how much is out there,” Yeager said. “Regardless of the severity, nobody wants to get sick and we still don’t know the long-term effects of the virus on your system. You still want to do everything you can to prevent catching the virus.
“There are certain things we need to offer in public health to add layers of protection and our most powerful tool is the vaccine. The first two vaccine doses were found to generally provide protection against COVID-19, but the booster dose adds an extra layer of protection, particularly against Omicron.”
Yeager again addressed the issue of vaccine hesitancy and encouraged people to get vaccinated.
“If you have not yet been vaccinated and have questions about the vaccine, please contact health officials for clarification,” said Yeager, who also stressed the continued importance of social distancing, hand washing and sanitizing. “Make sure you are using reliable sources and public health information should come from public health sources.
“We understand that not everyone wants the vaccine, but we want people to know it’s an option and why it’s important. If they decide not to get a vaccine, that’s entirely up to them, but it’s part of our job to offer it and educate people about the benefits.”
Yeager recommends that people wear masks in public regardless of their vaccination status.
“Transmission of these newer variants is slightly different than transmission of the original virus or previous variants,” Yeager said. “The virus is now more airborne than it was originally when it was attached to the surface to help it get around.
“It’s a growth point for the mutations that they developed a better mode of transport, but it made it more of a challenge for all of us. That’s why masking is more important than ever.”
While the COVID numbers on the Madison County Department’s website (https://www.co.madison.il.us/departments/health/index.php) may be concerning, Yeager notes that those numbers are far from complete are.
“The case counts on our website only include cases that we at the health department are aware of,” Yeager said. “If you do a home test, that’s not reflected in those numbers, and a lot of people are doing them because they’ve become difficult to find.
“If you do a home test and test positive and stay at home and isolate and quarantine, that’s a good step forward.”