Lake County COVID-19 cases surging and few appear to care; ‘People just want to get on with their pre-pandemic lives’ – Chicago Tribune
As people remove their masks, gather in large groups both indoors and out, and pay less attention to social distancing, new cases of COVID-19 continue to mount in Lake County, in part because the latest omicron subvariant is smarter than earlier iterations of the disease.
Mark Pfister, the executive director of the Lake County health department, said he sees people shopping without masks or social distancing, and workers there helping them do not have face coverings either.
“I was in a grocery store (in Lake County), and I was the only person wearing a mask,” Pfister said. “I saw someone in an aisle of a hardware store without a mask coughing and sneezing and not covering his nose. He could have had COVID. At least I was six feet away.”
Cases of COVID-19 are surging again with more hospitalizations and, in eight of the last nine weeks, Lake County was considered at a high community level of transmission based on the number of hospitalizations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Pfister said a major reason for the increasing number of cases is the nature of the latest omicron subvariant, BA. 5, which accounts for approximately 78% of the COVID-19 variants. Vaccination helps, but does not prevent getting sick.
“We know this omicron subvariant is really good at evading immunity, both from vaccination and prior infection,” he said. “People who become infected, and are vaccinated and boosted, are still very well protected against serious illness requiring hospitalization and causing death.”
Lake County went from a medium to high community level on May 26, and has remained there except when it dropped to medium the week ending on June 16. It returned to high the week starting June 23 and was still there for another week as of Thursday , according to the CDC.
As long as more than 10 people per 100,000 residents are hospitalized with the virus, the community rate will be high. As of Thursday, there were 226.26 new cases per 100,000 people in the county, and 12.7 residents per 100,000 hospitalized. Pfister said new cases do not include people who self-test and do not report.
Neighboring counties remain at high community level as well, with suburban Cook County reporting 212.23 new cases per 100,000 people, McHenry County 218.99 and Kenosha County in Wisconsin 205.83.
Suburban Cook County also has 12.7 people per 100,000 hospitalized with the disease, while McHenry County is at 12.6 cases and Kenosha at 12.9. Pfister said not all people hospitalized with COVID-19 arrived infected.
“The hospital presidents are telling me a person will come to the hospital for some other reason, like a cardiac condition, they’re tested for COVID and test positive,” he said.
As of Wednesday, there were 11 people hospitalized with the virus at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital, two at Vista Medical Center East in Waukegan, 32 at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville and 18 at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, according to officials there .
dr Michael Bauer, the medical director at Lake Forest, said in an email he is concerned about the current surge, but the extremes experienced before vaccinations were available are generally not there. Attitudes have changed, he said.
“While many are ‘done with COVID and over it,’ the virus is not done with us,” Bauer said in the email. “There is a large public perception that it is now a mild illness and people just want to get on with their pre-pandemic lives and routines.”
Pfister said when the Spanish flu created a pandemic just over 100 years ago, initially people were following public health guidelines of the time. It helped. Within two years, the disease was still present, but many people stopped listening to the medical experts.
Rachel Loberg, the chief nursing officer at Condell, said in an email with summer travel and holiday celebrations, the increased number of cases is not surprising. People can still take steps to avoid the harshest outcomes.
“It’s important for us to remember what works — staying home if you are feeling ill and making sure you are up to date on your vaccines and booster shots are the best ways to prevent severe illness and death,” Loberg said in the email.
Pfister continues to urge people to get vaccinated and boosted, as well as wear masks, keep their distance from strangers and frequently wash their hands. Despite the surge of the past eight weeks, Pfister said the number of deaths in Lake County from COVID-19 are substantially less than they were two years ago when vaccines were not available.
In the last three weeks, he said there were 11 deaths attributed to the virus. Between April 12 and May 3, 2020, there were 132 deaths. Another reason to avoid the disease is the unknown consequences of getting it once or multiples times.
“Some people feel it is low risk if they get it now,” Pfister said. “We tell people we don’t know the long-term impact, especially with the long haulers.”