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Editor's Note: This article has been corrected to say that Region 7 spent about three weeks under mitigations. We apologize for the error.
McHenry County could see reduced capacity at its businesses and the end of indoor dining as early as next week if the state’s metrics on local COVID-19 cases do not improve, the McHenry County Board chairman said Thursday.
The news that mitigation measures could be coming to McHenry County and possibly the region, which includes neighboring Lake County, came to county officials Wednesday, county Public Health Administrator Melissa Adamson told the County Board during a Committee of the Whole meeting Thursday morning.
“We found out yesterday that the state, based on their numbers, says we are reaching the warning level,” she said, adding that this potential mitigation may come as soon as this weekend.
McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks said that if the numbers don’t change, this mitigation could mean decreased capacity in public settings, from 50% to 25%, and only outdoor dining and takeout at restaurants.
Adamson also pointed to increased outreach and education, in particular clearing up misconceptions about when quarantining and isolation are recommended, Adamson said.
“Our trends are bad, so we need truth to win out now,” Franks said. “We need masking. We need distancing.”
Still, Franks said, the county has a day or two to try to avoid more restrictions. If the numbers don’t change, the state could order additional mitigation measures as early as Friday and they would take effect 48 hours later, he said.
“We’re looking into every possible way to keep our economy open and not go backward,” he said.
Three other regions – Region 1 in the northwest part of the state, Region 4 near St. Louis and Region 7 in Will and Kankakee counties – have been hit with what the governor’s office calls Tier 1 mitigations.
In all three cases, indoor dining and indoor bar services were closed and had their operating hours limited. Region 1 will reach two weeks under these mitigations as of Saturday, while Region 4 recently got out of it after spending almost two months under mitigations. Region 7 spent about three weeks under mitigations.
Adamson said the county is seeing increases in COVID-19 cases across the board, with a few age groups, such as 45- to 64-year-olds and 65- to-79-year-olds, showing more rapid increases.
“We are not moving in the direction that we want to be going,” she said. Adamson told the County Board that the county’s case investigations have not found one single thing to be driving these increases.
“We have similar numbers of mentions that people have been to restaurants, they’re in their offices, they’re in their workplaces, they’re going to retail, they might be going to school,” she said. “There’s nothing that’s jumping out that’s driving some of these increases.”
Adamson said the county health department is watching this data and the trends closely.
While case numbers are going up, Adamson said, it is the county’s positivity rate that is pushing it into potential mitigation.
On Thursday, Illinois had 4,015 new cases of COVID-19 with 67,086 tests conducted, meaning the state has a 5.98% positivity rate for the day. This is the most new cases the state has seen since May 12.
Region 9, which includes McHenry and Lake counties, has had six days of positivity increases out of the past 10 days, with a 6.3% positivity rate for the last day entered and six out of 10 days of hospitalization increases. If positivity and hospitilazation increases both hit seven out of 10 days, that is another designated fail-safe for the state to implement mitigations.
Although the Illinois Department of Public Health reported an average positivity rate of 8.4% for the past seven days Thursday, the McHenry County Department of Health has reported 6.2% for the same metric, which it is one of four metrics the health department publishes to be used for school districts in deciding whether to switch between learning models with more or less in-person instruction.
The Northwest Herald contacted the department Tuesday to inquire about the data discrepancy and was given an initial statement that it was because of “differences in data cleaning and methodology between the two agencies.”
Adamson said at the meeting that for a long time, the numbers were similar, although last week they noticed a difference between what the state was saying McHenry County’s positivity rate was and what the county was reporting.
She said they now are working with the state to better understand why the discrepancy in the data is happening.
“We feel pretty confident in our numbers, but we need to see whether or not the state is going to support us in that decision, because the methodology is a little different,” she said.
Melaney Arnold, spokeswoman for the IDPH, said the state agency counts every positive test even if they come from the same person.
Both the IDPH and the county said they use the county of residence to calculate the positivity rate, meaning a McHenry County resident who is tested in Lake County and is positive still would be counted in McHenry County.
The county does a case investigation to determine whether a person is a resident of McHenry County after they test positive, county health department spokeswoman Lindsey Salvatelli said. If they are not from McHenry County, their test result will be transferred out to the correct county.
Franks said at the meeting that the region is holding steady, but trending in the wrong direction.
“Lake County, which makes up half of our region, is now showing warnings, according to IDPH, of increased COVID-19 risk, as are we,” he said.
Franks also mentioned that neighboring Boone and DeKalb counties, part of Region 1, are under restricted rules for bars and restaurants.
“Letting up our guard because things could be worse is sort of like a parachutist cutting his cord while he’s still in the air because the chute did its job and slowed him down,” Franks said. “Our businesses and the jobs they create are counting on all of us.”