More than half of Sycamore’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, while the more populous city of DeKalb’s inoculation rate is about 40%, according to the latest available state data.
Shaw Local News Network obtained ZIP code-level vaccination rates for the entire state of Illinois in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Such detailed information paints a more clarifying picture of who’s vaccinated where as local leaders continue their pandemic responses amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in parts of the country brought on by the delta variant.
“It’s definitely here,” Cindy Graves, a nurse practitioner with the DeKalb County Health Department, said this week of the delta variant.
The information also comes while school districts across Illinois debate their mask-wearing policies for when classes resume, and as officials assess the local rates of COVID-19 vaccinations, hospitalizations and virus cases to help inform their decisions.
Previously, vaccination rates at a hyper-local level, per ZIP code, were not readily available, according to state health officials, and state COVID-19 websites included breakdown by county as the smallest metric. But the new data, which the Daily Chronicle obtained this month from the Illinois Department of Public Health, shows how many people are vaccinated by ZIP code across the state.
Local health department response
According to the data, Clare – which has a population of fewer than 200 people – has the highest fully vaccinated rate in DeKalb County, nearly 70% of its residents. The least fully-vaccinated community in the county was the 60145 ZIP code, including Kingston, at nearly 34%.
|ZIP Code||Estimated Total Population as of 2019||Estimated Total Population Margin of Error||Patients Receiving First COVID-19 vaccine dose||Patients fully vaccinated from COVID-19||Percentage of Population Received 1st Dose||Percentage of Population Fully Vaccinated|
Lisa Gonzalez, public health administrator with the county health department, said she thinks “data really, from the beginning, has been our biggest challenge.”
“We’re still trying to get some additional granular data related to [the 12 to 17 year old] population from the state,” Gonzalez said. “And I hear that it is available, but you do have to request it specifically. And it does take some time.”
At any rate, Gonzalez said, county health officials continue to offer walk-in COVID-19 vaccine clinics Monday through Friday at the DeKalb health department campus. She said the health department recently got a mobile health unit to help set up vaccination events in harder to reach areas of the county and health officials also continue to set up shop to administer vaccines at community events, recent ones including Juneteenth and the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce Family Fun Fest.
“We are really trying to sort of take the show on the road a little bit and focusing on the different geographic areas of our county to be able to offer those convenience opportunities,” Gonzalez said.
The data provides a breakdown by ZIP code of residents 12 and older in Illinois who have received one dose, along with those who are fully vaccinated. Those who received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine are accounted for in both sets, officials said. Data received through the FOIA request is as of July 18, IDPH spokesperson Melaney Arnold said.
The IDPH data, however, lacks clarity in some instances. ZIP code data sets the IDPH provided in some cases show higher vaccinations administered than there are residents living in certain ZIP codes, according to 2019 Census data.
“We understand the importance of local health departments being able to identify and target communities with lower vaccination rates, and knowing the makeup of those communities, which is why we share ZIP code level, demographic vaccination data with our public health partners,” Arnold wrote in a Tuesday email. “However, including demographic data at the ZIP code level could lead to identification of individuals and therefore is not released publicly. IDPH is currently working to include vaccination rates by ZIP code on its website.”
Arnold wrote in an email that medical providers who administer the vaccine “directly input the data into the immunization registry, including the ZIP code.”
“IDPH continues to work to increase the number of people vaccinated, especially those in underserved and heavily impacted communities,” Arnold wrote. “Organizations can request a team to provide vaccinations at a local event or location, IDPH is working with community ambassadors to help provide factual information about vaccines to individuals who are skeptical, and pharmacies across the state are offering no-appointment vaccinations.”
Before IDPH released the data, which is reported as of July 18, however, vaccination rate data broken down by ZIP codes was not readily available to the public. It was not on the IDPH’s COVID-19 website, for example.
According to a May 28 letter from the IDPH to local health departments, which was obtained in response to a Northwest Herald FOIA request, state officials provided local health departments with a log in to a database which displays vaccination data by county and with Census tract numbers.
That data, state officials requested in the letter, was not to be shared outside the health department.
“Data contained within the EVA dashboard is for internal local health department and State use only for purposes of public health activities,” the letter states, citing the state’s Department of Public Health Act. “As this data is subject to change based on infection rates, vaccination rates and reporting, this information should be considered preliminary in nature and not final. This data shall not be disseminated or disclosed beyond authorized personnel at your local health department.”
Gonzalez said she received the information on the state dashboard on July 21 from another public health administrator. Gonzalez said she accessed the system on that same date.
“We have not received additional clarification as to why the decision was made, but have been told that the data was released for [local health department] planning purposes only,” Gonzalez wrote in an email. “You would need to reach out to IDPH to determine if other reasons may exist.”
School mask guidance
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, new K-12 school guidance asked districts to base masks on a person’s vaccination status. If they were fully vaccinated, masks were not necessary. If they weren’t, guidance included a strong recommendation to continue wearing masks.
Local districts throughout the state, faced with mounting pressure from parent groups to not require face coverings unless necessary, have in recent weeks largely opted for optional mask-wearing policies. However, as of Tuesday afternoon, the CDC changed its guidance to strongly encourage universal mask-wearing in schools regardless of vaccination status, considering the recent rise in delta variant cases.
Several DeKalb County school districts – including Sycamore School District 427 and Genoa-Kingston School District 424 – recently adopted optional masking policies. The decisions came amid outcry from parents in those districts urging educators to drop masks, saying they’re not necessary or they believe mental and physical health risks of wearing masks outweigh the risk of children getting severely ill from the virus.
Sycamore and Genoa-Kingston superintendents said Tuesday they aren’t yet sure if the new CDC guidance will lead to a reversal in their optional mask policies as school begins in a few weeks.
The 60178 ZIP code, which includes Sycamore, has a listed population of 22,374, according to 2019 unofficial U.S. Census data. IDPH data shows about 52% of the ZIP code’s population is fully vaccinated.
The population for the 60135 ZIP code, including Genoa, is listed at 7,058, per the unofficial census data. IDPH data shows about 45% of the population is fully vaccinated.
While Sycamore and Genoa-Kingston school districts have opted for optional mask-wearing, the county’s largest district, DeKalb District 428, has not made a final decision.
DeKalb district officials have stated they’re leaning towards masks remaining required, though the school board won’t take vote until Aug. 3. In a recent school board meeting, district parents spoke in favor of students wearing masks until more children are vaccinated from COVID-19. New DeKalb Superintendent Minerva Garcia-Sanchez said she supports students wearing masks in the fall.
“Only until people are 100% vaccinated and we’re not worried about variants would I say that masks should be 100% optional,” Garcia-Sanchez said in a recent interview.
The 60115 ZIP code, including DeKalb, has the largest recorded population in DeKalb County at 45,268 residents, according to 2019 unofficial U.S. Census data. About 39% of that population is fully vaccinated from COVID-19, according to the IDPH data.
Out of the 4,422 population of the 60112 ZIP code, including Cortland, about 46% are fully vaccinated, according to the IDPH and unofficial census data. The 60150 ZIP code, including Malta, has a population of 1,934 and about 38% of that population is fully vaccinated.
The population of 2,855 in the 60520 ZIP code, including Hinckley, is about 42% vaccinated. The 60550 ZIP code, including Shabbona, and the 60556 ZIP code, including Waterman, have less than 40% of its populations fully vaccinated, according to the IDPH and unofficial census data.
Sandwich School District 430 officials also announced in a Friday email they will not require students or staff to wear masks while in school for the 2021-22 school year.
The 60548 ZIP code, including Sandwich, has a listed population of 12,054 residents, according to unofficial census data. About 44% of that population is fully vaccinated, per IDPH data.
Herd immunity, or a large portion of the population becoming immune to a disease and making disease spread unlikely, is harder to achieve the more contagious a disease is, according to Mayo Clinic. For example, 94% of the population must be immune to measles in order to stop the spread of the highly contagious disease.
It is still unclear how much of the population must be immune to COVID-19 in order to achieve herd immunity from the virus or its variants, according to federal and international health officials.
Weeks before the upcoming school year begins, Gonzalez said the county health department continues to urge residents 12 years old and older who are eligible for the vaccine to get it.
“We are still concerned about the possibility of a resurgence locally and statewide,” Gonzalez said. “And so we encourage those who are eligible to do their research and consider getting vaccinated. There are opportunities every day of the week for someone to come in and get the vaccine and we’re always available to answer any questions folks may have as well.”
• Northwest Herald reporter Sam Lounsberry contributed to this report.