As McHenry County sees the numbers of people visiting emergency rooms and being admitted to hospitals because of COVID-19 inching back up, officials are encouraging people to get the new booster shot and to take advantage of another round of free at-home tests from the federal government.
County health officials also are taking lessons from the pandemic and how it relates to preparedness and its stockpile of personal protective equipment.
Similar to trends seen during the height of the pandemic – although at a much smaller scale so far – the fall season has shown evidence of a rise in COVID-19.
McHenry County’s COVID-19 dashboard is not currently reporting the number of individual cases. However, the hospitalization rate it’s reporting for COVID-19 is 3.9 per 100,000 residents as of Sept. 18, and COVID-19 emergency room visits are 2% of all emergency room visits as of the same day.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is using hospitalization rates as a metric of the severity of COVID-19. Both of those numbers fell to below 1 during the summer but starting rising again in August.
Hospitalizations increased from Sept. 10 to 14, but decreased from Sept. 14 to 18, the latest date for which information was available. However, wastewater samples collected from sites in Woodstock and Crystal Lake show a general increase in the presence of COVID-19 over the course of September, according to the Illinois Wastewater Surveillance System website.
The increasing numbers emerge as local drugstores and doctors’ offices have begun to offer the latest COVID-19 booster shots, and as the federal government is offering free at-home COVID-19 tests, which can be accessed at COVIDtests.gov.
At the same time, McHenry County also is planning a new home for its PPE stockpile. Currently, the PPE stockpile is located in Wauconda, in Lake County, after moving from the former McHenry County Housing Authority Building in Woodstock following that building’s sale last month, according to county documents.
Susan Karras, McHenry County Department of Health’s director of public health nursing, said much of the stockpile consists of surgical and N95 masks, but it also features other equipment such as face shields, gloves, gowns and goggles.
The PPE stockpile has been moved a few times since it was created during the COVID-19 pandemic. County documents indicate the health department is required to have the stockpile and store it in a climate-controlled environment.
McHenty County Department of Health community information coordinator Nick Kubiak wrote in an email that the stockpile was stored at 5390 Fieldstone Way in Johnsburg starting in October 2020, then stored at the former Housing Authority building from December 2022 to last month.
The county is planning to relocate the COVID-19 stockpile to the Archives Building at 15611 Nelson Road in Woodstock. According to county documents, the lease for the place in Wauconda runs for 12 months, and getting the Nelson Road location open for the stockpile will not happen until February.
Kubiak wrote in an email that “the stockpile is remaining in Wauconda until the renovations are completed at the Nelson Road location.” He did not have a concrete timeline on when the renovations will be complete or when they will start.
More immediately, the CDC is recommending the new vaccine for all people ages 6 months and older, according to its website.
The McHenry County health department generally follows CDC guidelines on vaccines, Kubiak said.
Kubiak also wrote in the email that the COVID-19 vaccine “is not readily available to all individuals at this time.”
The rollout of the new vaccine has been bumpy in parts of the nation. The Associated Press reported last week that some who were seeking COVID-19 vaccines had appointments canceled.
The rate of COVID-19 vaccination has decreased over time. About 67% of McHenry County residents completed the first series of vaccines, but less than 20% of residents took the bivalent vaccine that was unveiled last year, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health dashboard.
IDPH Public Information Officer Mike Claffey said the agency will be unveiling a public engagement campaign that touches on the vaccine in coming weeks.
President Joe Biden’s administration announced Wednesday that it would reopen the COVID-19 test website that would allow Americans to order free at-home COVID-19 tests starting Monday.
“People should seek those out,” Claffey said of the new COVID-19 tests.
The state of Illinois previously had a program to get residents free COVID-19 tests, but it was discontinued in June, Claffey said.
According to a news release sent Sept. 13, the agency is encouraging residents to get the updated vaccine. Claffey also encouraged people to cover their cough and wash their hands, among other hygienic habits.
“Good hand hygiene is important,” Claffey said.