COVID-19 transmission highest among school-age children, McHenry County nursing director says

Testing of students is keeping the positivity rate down, however

Elementary and middle school-age children, particularly those too young to get a COVID-19 vaccine, are seeing the highest transmission rates of the COVID-19 virus, Public Health Nursing Director Susan Karras said.

At the McHenry County Board of Health meeting, Karras said children between the ages of 4 and 14 are seeing the highest transmission rate among all age groups in McHenry County. At times, the rate has been as high as 200 cases per 100,000 residents, well above the rate of 147.54 per 100,000 residents across the entire county as of last Thursday.

“It is the kids we’re seeing a large increase in, and it’s probably because they are in school and we’re identifying them with the testing programs that are in place,” Karras said.

“All the age groups have high transmission, but those are the ones we’re seeing the most,” she said.

Children younger than 12 currently are too young to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Karras pointed out the age group with the lowest transmission rate in the past week was those older than 80, which is the most vaccinated age group.

The county is preparing to administer vaccines to children younger than 12 toward the end of October if the vaccine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the age group, Karras said. On Monday, Pfizer said a lower dose of its vaccine than the amount given to adults was effective at creating an immune response to the virus and it now will seek FDA approval for the age group, the Associated Press reported.

While transmission rates remain high among school-age children, they’re also helping to keep the county’s positivity rate down, which was at 3.7% as of Saturday.

“This is directly related to school and the fact that we are testing more individuals and that dominator goes up and there’s a lot more negatives,” Karras said.

School children have the option in some situations to take a negative COVID-19 test to stay in school and not quarantine if they are a close contact of someone who tested positive. School staff members are also required to test weekly if they are unvaccinated.

While McHenry County has remained under a statewide mask mandate since Aug. 30, the county has been enforcing the mandate only through educational methods.

“The reason is that the current executive order, unlike previous orders, does not give the local health department any specific authority or responsibility to enforce the order. Additionally, there is no clear mechanism for enforcement of an executive order by a local health department,” health department spokeswoman Lindsey Salvatelli said in an email.

During the last executive order requiring masks for all individuals that lasted from May 2020 to May 2021, health departments enforced the mandate with fines for non-compliant businesses or individuals. Nine McHenry County businesses were assessed $75 fines during the last mask mandate, according to the McHenry County State’s Attorney’s Office.

While the county’s positivity rate remains low, Karras said the virus is still spreading at a high rate and vaccination rates have slowed to a crawl.

Overall, 55% of those over age 12 in McHenry County are fully vaccinated, which includes 48% of those between the ages of 12 and 17, 62% of those between the ages of 18 and 64 and 62% of those older than 65, Karras said. The lowest vaccination rates remain in the western and northern parts of the county and vaccinations are generally plateauing across all age groups and races, she said.

The county also has been made aware of 166 breakthrough cases of vaccinated people getting the virus, Karras said.

This includes 41 people who were fully vaccinated and were hospitalized, along with two who were admitted to an intensive care unit. Last month, Karras said she could not give the full count of people who had been hospitalized regardless of vaccination status because patients are sometimes readmitted to the hospital and can result in double counting a single hospital admission.

However, new hospital admissions have stabilized in the past week after a period of increases, Karras said.

Ben Szalinski

Ben Szalinski

Ben reports on local news in Harvard, Marengo, Huntley and Lake in the Hills along with the McHenry County Board. He graduated from the University of Illinois Springfield Public Affairs Reporting program in 2021. Ben is originally from Mundelein and enjoys outdoor activities and spending time with friends and family.