McHenry County health officials have identified five cases of the more contagious delta variant of the coronavirus, Public Health Nursing Director Susan Karras said at a Board of Health meeting Monday.
“It is here in our county,” Karras said.
The McHenry County Department of Health doesn’t have specifics on where in the county the people who tested positive for the variant live or when they tested positive, but the ages range from age nine to 46, she said.
“My understanding is (they haven’t been vaccinated),” Karras said. “The investigation is ongoing for those.”
As of Monday, 403 cases of the delta variant had been identified across Illinois. The delta variant is the most contagious form of the novel coronavirus to date.
The infectious variant is causing cases to rise throughout the county, particularly among the unvaccinated. On Tuesday, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Rochelle Walensky told a U.S. Senate committee the delta variant is now 83% of all the novel coronavirus samples sequenced in the nation.
Illinois sequences – meaning looks at the DNA to see what version of the novel coronavirus it is – about 1,000 samples of the virus each week, and each laboratory is asked to send about 10 samples for sequencing, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health.
Last week, Illinois saw 4,449 new cases of COVID-19, which means about 22% of positive test results were sequenced.
“The Delta variant has been found in counties throughout Illinois,” IDPH spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said in an email. “(V)ariant strains have been found across Illinois. The variants spread in the same manner as SARS-CoV-2 and the precautions people should take to prevention infection are the same – vaccination, masking, distancing.”
McHenry County’s positivity rate has risen quickly in recent weeks. As of Saturday, the county’s positivity rate as measured by a seven-day rolling average was 3.7%, up from a low of 0.8% June 29, according to IDPH.
Karras said she is unsure exactly how many cases of new cases of COVID-19 are people who were not vaccinated.
Across the county, 49% of McHenry County’s vaccine eligible population is fully vaccinated, according to Karras’ data. This includes 54% of those between ages 16 and 64 and 85% of those over age 65.
“We are seeing a plateau in the 12- to to 15-year-olds,” Karras said. “We saw a big spike, but we’re a little concerned we’re not seeing a gradual increase. We’re hoping it’s just because it’s summertime and nobody is thinking about it right now, but we’re hoping to see that go up.”
“The older, the 15- to 19-year-olds, we’re still seeing an increase and we’re attributing to that probably to the universities,” Karras said.
With schools set to return to in-person learning in about a month, some McHenry County Board of Health members said they are concerned about a possible increase in cases among students, particularly those who have so far chosen not to be vaccinated, are too young to be vaccinated, or aren’t wearing masks in the classroom despite being unvaccinated.
Karras said how schools handle COVID-19 policies this year is really up to local school boards.
“We provide guidance, but it’s really up to the boards of education to set policy. They’re encouraged to consult with the Board of Health to get recommendations, but it’s really ultimately up to their decisions,” Karras said.
The Board of Health is able to step in with policy if approved by the full County Board, but something likely will need to go wrong first for that to happen.
“It’s going to take an outbreak in a school,” board Treasurer Kyle Marcussen said.
The health department is working to reach out to the unvaccinated population, but the number of vaccines given in the county each day continues to decline. According to IDPH, the county is vaccinating on average about 500 people a day, compared to numbers as high as 4,000 a few months ago.
“It’s been a bit of a struggle,” Karras said. “We’ve got a lot of events that happened up in Harvard, which was one of our target areas. Marengo, we’re still struggling a little bit.”
Board Secretary Juliana Morawski raised concerns about how the health department plans to reach people who have been unvaccinated and said she would be concerned about a door-to-door plan, which was recently suggested by President Joe Biden, because the safety of health care workers could be put at risk by people who do not want the vaccine.
The department is not planning to distribute vaccines door-to-door, Karras said, adding that communities know how to reach their unvaccinated populations best.