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'They should assume their neighbors have it,' officials say of COVID-19 pervasiveness

Local health officials talk of COVID-19 pervasiveness

Cars drive by the Del Webb Sun City entrance on Tuesdayin Huntley.
Cars drive by the Del Webb Sun City entrance on Tuesdayin Huntley.

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As more cases of COVID-19 are confirmed each day, people increasingly want to know: Which cities in particular are being affected?

The answer across the board from health officials throughout northern Illinois is: all of them.

While most counties in the region are hesitant to release too many details about each individual case, even those areas like Lake County, which tracks case number approximations by municipality, warn against a “false sense of security.”

In other words, local health departments only know what’s been tested and confirmed. Once factors including limited testing, asymptomatic patients and endless potential city-to-city contamination are accounted for, the reality is that cases of COVID-19 throughout Illinois likely are much higher than what’s being recorded.

“What we’re really trying to emphasize to Lake County citizens is that they should assume that coronavirus is everywhere in their communities,” said spokesman Christopher Covelli on behalf of the Lake County Joint Information Center. “They should assume their neighbors have it in their communities.”

To help track the spread of COVID-19 through Lake County, the health department created a dashboard and map on its website, pinpointing cases by city. The city of Lake Forest for example, was home to 35 to 39 cases Tuesday, while the village of Lake Villa was home to fewer than five cases. The Will County Health Department’s website features a map of its own, with a more general breakdown of cases throughout the state by gender and age.

“It’s a no-brainer,” Will County Health Department spokesman Steve Brandy said. “The more populous counties are where more cases occur.”

Even in areas like Lake and Will counties, privacy seems to rule all when it comes to disclosing information about exact ages and locations of COVID-19 patients.

Ogle County Public Health Administrator Kyle Auman said confidentiality is especially important in small towns, where it might be easier to identify someone based on seemingly vague details such as age and location.

“There have been instances in the country where people have been bullied harassed and ostracized,” Auman said.

Besides, if residents throughout the state are abiding by Gov. JB Pritzker’s shelter-in-place order, then the city in which a COVID-19 patient resides shouldn’t be of any relevance, the McHenry County Department of Health has said.

In a news release issued last week, McHenry County Public Health Administrator Melissa Adamson cautioned residents that they should consider the disease widespread.

“We understand the county has over 20 different cities and towns, but we really want everyone to understand that the virus is not specific to one town or geographical region,” Adamson said. “We don’t want anyone to put their guard down and carry a false sense of security because we don’t know how or when some of our cases were initially exposed.” 

There’s also a chance that some had the disease and either didn’t know it or couldn’t obtain testing, said Craig Beintema, health administrator for Stephenson and Carroll counties.

“You may not feel symptoms,” Beintema said. “As far as testing right now, you are testing only those who are ill and need to be hospitalized because the number of testing kits are hard to get.”

In Lee and Boone counties, where no confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been identified, health officials are urging residents not to get to become complacent, and reminding them to stay home whenever possible.

Boone County Public Health Administrator Amanda Mehl went on to emphasize that the number of laboratory-tested COVID-19 cases doesn’t reflect the number of total cases throughout the state.

“There are 54 counties in Illinois that are reporting cases,” Mehl said. “There are 102 counties across the state.”

As of Tuesday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 5,994 confirmed cases of COVID-19, 99 deaths, and 35,225 people tested.

Tracking patients’ recoveries isn’t an exact science, either, Brandy said. People are less likely to follow up with their doctors once symptoms have subsided.

“The good thing is we know most people will recover from this but it’s tragic that we’re losing anyone,” he said.

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