CENTRAL ILLINOIS (WCIA) — COVID-19 is spreading in Illinois at the lowest rate since April.
Every county was designated either a low or medium ‘COVID-19 Community Level’ Monday, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) online dashboard.
The map came in stark contrast to the largely yellow (medium) and orange (high level) map visible in late August when Champaign Urbana Public Health administrator Julie Pryde strongly recommended masks in public indoor spaces in Champaign County.
A month later, most counties, including Cook County, are considered at low risk for transmission. Champaign is back down to a medium-risk level.
“We know that a lot of people have gotten the bivalent vaccine, and it’s looking like that may actually slow infections, as well as just the serious illness so that that’s encouraging,” Pryde said as a possible explanation for the dip in cases.
The bivalent booster shot includes a component of the original coronavirus strain as well as a component of the omicron variant.
“I’m happy to see it’s a lower transmission rate, happy to see fewer people hospitalized and dying with COVID,” Vermilion County Public Health administrator Doug Toole reacted.
The spread was considered low Monday in Vermilion County, where vaccination rates have remained some of the lowest in the state. Unlike vaccines, Toole said testing, particularly the community SHIELD testing site at the public health building, has been popular.
The county recorded 24 positive cases over the weekend.
“There were times when things were bad we’d get 24 cases in the morning. Having 24 cases over an entire weekend is very welcome news,” Toole said.
As for explaining the dip in cases? “It’s hard to say,” Toole responded.
“But, you know, we can’t read a lot into this because it does ebb and flow,” Pryde added.
IDPH data showed hospitalizations and deaths were following a similar downward trend as of Monday.
“But in the US, there are still anywhere from 300 to 500 deaths a day from this,” Pryde said as a staunch reminder of the death toll.
A memorial made up of 307 hearts outside the Champaign Urbana Public Health District building was a present reminder of the cost the virus carries with it. Each one represents a life lost in Champaign County, five died in September.
“So, it’s just important that people pay attention to when it’s circulating a lot in the community,” Pryde added.
January brought the largest spike this year with the spread of the more contagious omicron variant, making the upcoming season a mile-marker for public health officials.
“I’d like to see us get through a winter without any more spikes when people are inside gathered around some more of those holiday-type events,” Toole said.
“That’d be a very welcome sign and maybe an indication that we’re getting through this.”
By all accounts, Pryde and Toole said the lower rate is good news. Both were hesitant to say we’re beyond the pandemic and into an endemic stage, as some public health officials have posited.
The data that Pryde pointed to which shows the bivalent vaccine prevents the spread of the virus and not just serious illness was still new, and she was hopeful that remains the case.
Until we reach a point where COVID-19 comes with seasons, like the flu, rather than constantly spreading, she said the pandemic remains.
The statewide case rate was 12.4% Monday. The lowest point this year was 8.4% on March 22.
It’s worth noting cases started spiking in Europe in the last week, and public health officials say that’s usually a sign of what’s to come a month or so later in the US.