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Kids under 20 make up 37% of active COVID-19 cases in Peoria County. But schools aren't at fault

210930 Monica Hendrickson.jpg
Joe Deacon
Peoria City/County Health Department Administrator Monica Hendrickson speaks Thursday during the weekly Tri-County COVID-19 briefing at the Noble Center.

Children under age 9 now account for 1 out of every 5 active COVID-19 cases in Peoria County, while another 17% are between ages 10-19.

Peoria City/County Health Department Administrator Monica Hendrickson stressed that since kids under 12 cannot get COVID-19 vaccines yet, it is more critical than ever for people to follow mitigation guidelines.

“While we wait for that age range to be eligible for the vaccine, we have to do our part,” Hendrickson said Thursday during the weekly Tri-County health briefing. “The community around them has to protect them by, one, getting vaccinated, but also wearing masks, staying home when they're ill, getting tested. Those are still key to help protect that smaller age range.”

About 41% of the Tri-County’s 859 active COVID-19 cases come from Peoria County, with 333 county residents isolating at home and another 18 in the hospital. Hendrickson said one of the hospitalized individuals was under age 17.

She said kids being in school isn’t the reason for their higher incidence of COVID-19.

“That's because our schools have done a lot of mitigation and control methods in the classroom setting, such as universal masking. A lot of our schools have a ‘test-to-stay’ policy, as well as exclusion principles related to whether or not students are symptomatic, and making sure people are getting tested before returning back into the classroom,” said Hendrickson, adding that contact tracing points to many cases spreading through household transmission.

“It's not necessarily, again, child-to-child in a classroom setting. It is a sibling, a parent, or someplace from the outside coming in. Then usually it's a parent or an unvaccinated adult in that child's life that gets ill, and then the student gets ill or the child gets ill.”

Dr. Denise Francisco, an infectious disease physician at OSF Saint Francis Medical Center and an assistant professor at the University of Illinois College of Medicine-Peoria, said she’s optimistic vaccines will be approved for kids under 12 soon.

“As the data comes in and as the CDC and the FDA go through the data that Pfizer has, we’ll hopefully have some news in the near future,” said Francisco, adding the climbing infection rates among children are a motivating factor. “Hopefully that would push them to figure out if it's definitely safe. But it is promising at this time.”

The Tri-County’s daily average for new cases over the past week dipped to 81. The region’s cumulative case count since the start of the pandemic is up to 52,081 and the death toll stands at 814, with one new fatality in the last seven days.

Updated figures from the Illinois Department of Public Health show the region at 50.6% of residents are fully vaccinated. Peoria County is at 51.1%, followed by Tazewell at 50.7%, and Woodford at 48.3%.

Hendrickson said unvaccinated individuals represent a majority of the current active cases, including more than 90% of hospitalizations.

“We are going to have people that are vaccinated that get ill, but the severity of the illness is going to be significantly less because they are vaccinated versus if they are unvaccinated,” she said. “Just because you have an individual that is vaccinated and gets COVID, it does not mean that the vaccine failed. In fact, it protected them because of the severity of the virus they had was a lot less: they were not hospitalized, they were not put into the ICU, and they were not ventilated. Those are key distinctions to remember about the importance of getting vaccinated.”

Hendrickson also stressed the importance of people getting flu shots in addition to COVID vaccinations.

“We're heading into a season where ICU capacity — taking COVID out of the mix — was always an issue this time of year,” she said. “It's the same type of resources, the same type of needs that our hospitals have to work through. So if you want to help us out, again, make sure you get your flu vaccine. It protects yourself, it protects your neighbors, your community, those that are not eligible for COVID (vaccines), and also it keeps our hospitals running safely.”

Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.