MCHENRY AND LAKE COUNTIES, IL — A spike in coronavirus cases and hospital admissions could mean Lake and McHenry counties could see an end to indoor dining or restrictions placed on sports activities as early as this week, health officials said Friday. Region 9, which includes Lake and McHenry counties, is teetering on the edge of the state’s threshold for triggering additional mitigations — all set up as a way to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.
McHenry County, in particular, has seen a steep spike in cases with the coronavirus positivity rate jumping nearly two percentage points in just one week. As of Oct. 14, the 7-day rolling average for COVID-19 positivity rate is 8.9 percent in McHenry County and 5.9 percent in Lake County, according to Illinois Department of Public Health stats.
Region 9 is currently at a 6.6 percent positivity rate — up from 5.9 percent a week ago. And last week, Lake County was removed from the list of counties at a warning level, but McHenry County was added to it.
Also on Friday, the state set a record for new coronavirus cases for a second day in a row totaling 4,554 new cases. Meanwhile, hospitalizations jumped more than 14 percent since the beginning of the week.
Similar health trends are cropping across the Chicago area and state health officials are urging mayors, police, state’s attorney’s office and other community leaders to take swift action to slow the spread of the virus as people, they say, are not abiding by rules set up to keep everyone safe and healthy.
"Public health officials are observing businesses blatantly disregarding mitigation measures, people not social distancing, gathering in large groups, and not using face coverings," according to a news release from the state health department Friday.
Meanwhile, at least one school district in Region 9, Woodstock Community District 200, has decided to delay its move to hybrid learning due to COVID-19 trends. The school district only planned switch from remote learning to its hybrid model if McHenry County was on track on four of its COVID-19 metrics.
“According to the COVID-19 metrics provided by the McHenry County Department of Health, the county does not meet the metric for weekly count or new case increase. This number has increased for the previous two weeks and in fact has increased 51% for all of McHenry County residents and increased 42% for school age children in the last week,” District 200 Superintendent Mike Moan wrote in a letter posted on the school district’s website. “These significant increases caused the metric to fall short of the goal to move to hybrid instruction.”
In addition, area business owners are starting to worry what another shutdown could mean for their bottom line.
Melissa Blach, owner of Smoothology Smoothie Cafe in Crystal Lake, says her business has been destroyed by the pandemic, according to the Northwest Herald. Another shutdown for her cafe at 67 E. Woodstock Street if more restrictions are put in place for businesses in the county.
“I will absolutely have to close my store if things get more restricted than it is,” she told the Northwest Herald.
Local health officials said Region 9 has seen “troubling increases” in the 7-day rolling average test positivity rate and new hospital admissions for COVID-like illness over the past two weeks. As of Oct. 14, the region’s positivity rate was at 6.9 percent and there had been five days of increases in hospital admission.
If increases are sustained for 7 of the past 10 days for both measures, the region will be required by the state to adopt new mitigation measures, such as limiting bar and restaurant service, sports activities and the sizes of social gatherings.
Also on Friday, McHenry County received an “orange” designation for the first time on the Illinois Department of Public Health’s county-level COVID-19 risk metrics map. An increase in case rates and test positivity between Oct. 4 and 10 has led to the orange “warning” designation — a designation given by the state as a way to urge residents to re-consider attending gatherings as well as participating in other potentially higher-risk activities.
In particular, McHenry County is seeing an increase in cases in two age groups: 45 to 64 years old and 65 to 79 years old. Local health officials say more social gatherings are happening, which may be a cause, but, unlike in March and April, long-term care facilities are not seeing the bulk of cases.
“We have a similar number of mentions of people who have been in restaurants, they are in their offices, they are going to retail, they may be in school," said Adamson during a McHenry County Board meeting this past week. “People are out more. People are meeting. We are hearing groups are getting together more.”
The “signs of substantial community spread” come after a period of relatively stable metrics, said Mark Pfister, executive director of the Lake County Health Department.
“For the sake of our vulnerable residents, for our schools and our businesses, we must double down and all take personal responsibility to minimize the spread of this virus,” Pfister said.
And with with the holidays nearing, health officials are urging residents to reconsider how they celebrate.
“Every interaction you have with people from other households carries risk. Carefully consider your plans for social gatherings, holiday get-togethers, and travel. Please do your part to protect yourself and others,” said Melissa Adamson, Public Health Administrator for the McHenry County Department of Health.