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UPDATED: McHenry County Board chairman asks IDPH to reconsider methodology for tracking COVID-19 positivity rate

Pritzker spokeswoman: Virus trends not moving in right direction despite approach

McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks speaks during a meeting Oct. 2, 2019, at the McHenry County Administration Building in Woodstock.
McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks speaks during a meeting Oct. 2, 2019, at the McHenry County Administration Building in Woodstock.

McHenry County Board Chairman Jack Franks is urging the Illinois Department of Public Health to change its methodology for tracking the number of positive COVID-19 tests in the region.

In a letter sent Friday to IDPH Director Ngozi Ezike, Franks warned that counting multiple positive test results for one person could inflate the region’s positivity rate. The IDPH’s methods also could prematurely usher in “one size fits all” mitigation measures that Franks said he fears would further harm local small businesses.

“According to the McHenry County Economic Development Corp., the county has already lost about 26% of its small businesses this year, and many others barely survived the previous lockdown,” Franks wrote.

Tracking the individual effects of COVID-19 on the county’s 8,000 businesses is complicated, MCEDC President Jim McConoughey said Friday.

Data does show that 26% of the bank accounts belonging to local businesses have been either idle or shown a decline in their overall balance, McConoughey said. Even that number doesn’t tell the whole story, however, since businesses could have more than one bank account, he said.

Still, Franks said he doesn’t want to see the area’s small businesses suffer any more than is necessary.

“Some of them, I am sorry to say, will not make it through the winter,” Franks wrote. “I do not wish to see any pushed over the edge through mass mitigation when education could net the same result, or because of the practice of counting positive tests rather than positive patients.”

The McHenry County Department of Health earlier this week chose to adopt the IDPH methodology in an attempt to resolve a discrepancy between numbers produced by the two public health agencies.

On Oct. 15, for example, the IDPH reported an average positivity rate of 8.4% for the past seven days. The McHenry County health department, however, reported 6.2% for the same metric. 

“The MCDH calculates the county positivity rate using a method previously employed by [the] IDPH,” Franks wrote. “The most notable difference is that our health department makes strenuous efforts to ensure that individuals who test positive for COVID-19 are only counted once, so that multiple test results for a single person do not inflate the positivity rate.”

The state calculates test positivity for its regional mitigation plan using the same metholodogy as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization, said Gov. JB Pritzker’s press secretary, Jordan Abudayyeh.

“The important thing to note here is that no matter what way you’re looking at the data, the trends are not moving in the right direction,” Abudayyeh said.

Based on the state’s numbers, McHenry County has reached the warning level for potential COVID-19 restrictions if the positivity rate does not improve.

“While our positivity rate is increasing, our hospital capacity metrics are in very good shape,” Franks said. “As measured by the MCDH, our medical bed availability is at 44%, our [intensive care unit] bed availability is at 58.6%, and our ventilator availability is at 96.9%.”

Franks also urged residents to cooperate with county contact tracers. The McHenry County health department has reported experiencing a high level of resistance with its COVID-19 case investigations, making the process more difficult and hampering efforts to slow the spread of the virus in the county.

“The best way we can fight COVID-19 is for everyone to wash and sanitize their hands, wear masks in public places, maintain 6 feet of physical distance and avoid ‘super-spreader’ events with crowds of unmasked people,” Franks wrote. “Those simple, commonsense measures will help the most, by far.”

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