Health departments across Southern Illinois are seeing an upswing in COVID-19 cases.
The number of new cases was so high in Jackson County, it prompted the health department to issue a public health alert on Sunday.
“We have had a definite upswing in the number of cases,” Bart Hagston, administrator of Jackson County Health Department, said. “The number of cases eclipsed the previous record number three times in the past week, and that’s not the way we want the data to trend.”
On Sunday, Jackson County added 38 new cases of the virus, the highest one-day total to date. On Monday, the health department reported 13 new cases.
The public health alert, dated July 26, read, in part: “Immediate actions are needed by young adults in Jackson County to stem the tide of new COVID-19 infections.”
Hagston said the health alert focused on residents in their teens and 20s because those age groups represent 70% of the new cases in the county during July. Of 212 new cases in the county in July, 148 are from people in their teens and 20s.
Just a week earlier, Saline County also saw its highest number of positive cases in one day, with many of those cases in teens and young adults.
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Hagston said a few issues play into the number of young adult cases.
“Youth tend to hang out with friends and are very social in nature. They like to throw parties and share beverages. Unfortunately, all these things offer an ideal environment for spreading COVID-19,” Hagston said.
He also said young adults think they are invincible. Even if they do get the virus, they suffer generally mild symptoms or even no symptoms.
“This is not something I desire to do, picking on one demographic, but the numbers are certainly staggering,” he said. “We have young people who are symptomatic, yet they continue to go out in the community.”
Hagston and the health department are asking teens and young adults to consider their grandparents or, for example, a cousin with chronic heart disease who are likely to get very ill if infected with COVID-19. He also asked them to practice social distancing, wear a mask, wash hands frequently for 20 seconds and not to share drinks or vaping equipment.
Carrie Eldridge, director of health education for Franklin-Williamson Bi-County Health Department, said both counties are seeing rising numbers of cases, but they are spread across all age groups. On Monday, Franklin County had five new cases and Williamson had six.
“Our cases are just typical community spread,” Eldridge said. “As more and more people are migrating out of their homes, some just aren’t protecting themselves.”
Like Hagston, Eldridge said the key to reversing the numbers is to practice social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands.
“We encourage people to practice those safety measures because COVID-19 is in the area,” Eldridge said.
Britt Peyton, a 21-year-old SIU senior majoring in physiology, is disappointed to see young people who are not taking the virus seriously.
Peyton, who hopes to go to medical school, worked at a Carbondale nursing home that had an outbreak of the virus earlier this year. For a time, she worked with residents who had tested positive for COVID-19 and saw firsthand how devastating the virus can be for those at higher risk.
Peyton asks her peers to step up and do something great for their community.
“I urge everybody to take the virus seriously, follow Illinois Department of Public Health guidelines and hopefully save lives,” she said.
COVID-19 numbers in Southern Illinois
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