CARBONDALE — After seeing a positive trend of declining cases of COVID-19, Jackson County and other local counties are having a spike after going into Phase 4 of the state’s reopening plan.
“I think in June we saw a significant decrease in the number of cases. That actually surprised me given that things were opening up a little bit more,” Jackson County Health Department Administrator Bart Hagston said Monday.
All non-essential businesses were ordered to shut down in March by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker to try to contain the spread of the deadly COVID-19 respiratory virus. Restrictions began easing in May with a five-stage reopening plan announced.
Hagston said the positive trend was reversed when the state went into its next phase of reopening the economy by allowing dine-in service at restaurants and bars, though with a limited capacity.
“Over 40% of our cases in July in Jackson County have been from individuals in their late teens and early 20s,” Hagston said, noting that this demographic can be particularly hard to corral because they tend to be more social.
But he said some of it comes down to mentality — seeing themselves as young and healthy, Hagston said people in this group may not see COVID safety as a top priority.
“Unfortunately what happens, young people are then helping to drive the transmission, the continued transmission, of the virus in the community,” he said.
Hagston said this can lead the increased COVID cases in vulnerable populations like the elderly or immunocompromised.
Carrie Eldridge, spokesperson for Bi-County Health Department, which covers Williamson and Franklin counties, said their numbers were from a broader range of age demographics. She said an uptick was to be expected after Illinois began moving through its reopening phases.
“With the state opening up at the end of June, it's a given that you’re going to have that increase in cases with people getting out more,” Eldridge said.
However, she was quick to add that it was not time to rest on any laurels.
“But you definitely want to keep taking those preventative measures … because COVID is still here,” she said.
COVID-19 numbers in Southern Illinois
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It is very much still in the region. The Jackson County Health Department announced 23 new COVID-19 cases Monday. Bi-County’s COVID-19 release Monday announced 18 new cases.
This comes as Quatro’s Deep Pan Pizza in Carbondale announced through Facebook on Sunday that it would be temporarily closing for at least 10 days because one of its employees had tested positive for the virus. The statement said management learned late Saturday that one of its employees had tested positive — management was notified by JCHD.
“We will follow a course of action intended to assist Jackson County Health Department in its work to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 through contact tracing,” the post read.
It went on to say that employees of the popular pizza place will be tested for COVID-19 and should these all come back negative, the business will reopen in ten days. If more are found to be positive it could be closed nearly a month.
“None of what we do in this COVID-conscious environment will be perfect, but each step we take will be a step in the right direction, trying to keep this business afloat while mitigating risk to our employees and customers,” the statement concluded.
Hagston declined to speak about communications with specific businesses, but did broadly say that there could be mechanisms for temporarily revoking a business’ license to operate after an employee tests positive COVID.
“We are currently looking at those options,” Hagston said. “I believe that the food code gives us some latitude there as well as the Illinois Communicable Disease Code.”
He said internal discussions as well as discussions with the local state’s attorney were weighing the viability of those options.
Hagston said “there isn’t a playbook really on all of this.” He added that the county is doing its best to help businesses navigate these uncharted waters.
Hagston said he sees that people are “through with this” and are ready to get back to normal. He even said he gets it. But, like Eldridge, he said now’s not the time to let anyone’s guard down.
“We need to keep up the fight,” he said. He said this means to wear a mask in public, stay home if you are sick, stay socially distant and reduce social gatherings as much as possible.
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