Public health officials urge caution around respiratory illnesses

Public health officials urge caution around respiratory illnesses

By ANDREW ADAMS
Capitol News Illinois
aadams@capitolnewsillinois.com

The Illinois Department of Public Health is advising Illinoisans to take precautions to avoid spreading respiratory illnesses as cases around the state and country are on the rise.

IDPH issued a health alert last week to hospitals, long-term care facilities and local health departments advising the use of masks and using screening techniques to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses, particularly in areas of the state with elevated levels of COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Hospitalizations for COVID-19 were up 22 percent statewide last week compared to the week before.

Eight west-central Illinois counties are now at “high” levels of COVID-19 hospitalizations according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This means that there were more than 20 hospitalizations per 100,000 people in those counties during the most recent week for which data is available.  Iroquois and Kankakee counties in northern Illinois also face high hospitalizations.

Hospital admissions related to COVID-19 have made up around 3 to 4 percent of all admissions in the past month, according to data on respiratory illnesses from IDPH, the highest they have been since this time last year. Hospitalizations for other respiratory illnesses have also spiked in recent weeks.

These figures are still far below the peaks seen in late 2020 and early 2022, when COVID-19 accounted for roughly 18 percent and 25 percent of hospital admissions respectively.

 

While statewide hospitalization rates remain at “low” levels according to the CDC, neighboring states Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and Iowa all face elevated levels, which has caused some concern for officials at IDPH.

“With the alarming rise in respiratory viruses we are seeing across the state and the country, IDPH is recommending healthcare facilities take precautions to reduce the spread of these viruses and protect their patients, staffs and visitors,” IDPH Director Dr. Sameer Vohra said in a statement last week.

In addition to the coronavirus, IDPH also tracks hospital admissions stemming from influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, a common respiratory virus often referred to as RSV that can be dangerous for certain high-risk individuals, like those with asthma or COPD.

For all Illinoisans, IDPH recommended taking precautions for holiday gatherings, particularly for those at high risk of complications from a respiratory infection like older or very young individuals.

This includes practicing good hand hygiene and proper indoor ventilation for any gatherings. For someone experiencing symptoms of a respiratory illness, like coughing, sneezing, sore throat, runny nose or a fever, IDPH encourages testing and staying home if possible.

Vaccinations for COVID-19 and the flu are available at most pharmacies. A vaccination for RSV is available for those age 60 and older and for some pregnant people.

In some state-run facilities, COVID-19 infections have already interrupted daily life. Earlier this month, the state Department of Human Services announced that several COVID-19 outbreaks had occurred at state-operated developmental centers in Waukegan, Park Forest, Centralia, Anna and Kankakee. 

In response, IDHS reduced communal dining, group activities and some planned outings, and introduced social distancing and quarantine measures for those served at the centers.

The number of people testing positive for COVID-19 in these state-run centers has fallen since the beginning of the month, with 12 residents and 22 staff members testing positive as of Dec. 18, down from 58 residents and 35 staff members on Dec. 6.

“IDPH has been working closely with our counterparts at IDHS facilities to monitor conditions, to offer strategies to contain any outbreaks, and to provide resources, direct consultations and assessments,” Hilary Spencer, head of the IDPH infection prevention team, said in an early December news release.

 

Capitol News Illinois is a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government. It is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

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