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With hospital data gap, the complete scope of Tri-County's COVID-19 surge is unclear

Joe Deacon
The Tazewell County Health Department has been unable to provide hospitalization and home isolation figures since last Thursday. The department is only offering limited COVID data “until further notice” due to high volume.


Amid one of the worst surges in the pandemic, public health officials are unable to say precisely how many Tri-County residents are hospitalized with COVID-19.

The Tazewell County Health Department (TCHD) has been unable to provide hospitalization and home isolation figures since last Thursday. Posts on the TCHD’s Facebook page said they would only be reporting total cases, new cases and deaths each day, and the active case information would not be available “until further notice” due to high volume.

The department's communications manager, Sara Sparkman, said Tuesday they hope to begin reporting home isolation totals soon, but the data on hospitalized Tazewell County residents is no longer provided to them.

The Peoria City/County and Woodford County health departments have continued to report hospitalizations daily, and PCCHD administrator Monica Hendrickson has provided full Tri-County statistics during her weekly COVID-19 media briefings.

PCCHD communications manager Diana Scott said the agency's epidemiology staff counts COVID-19 hospital numbers daily, but other health departments may not have enough staff to do so on a daily basis.

OSF HealthCare media relations coordinator Libby Allison said they have relied on the health departments to serve as the source for information on hospitalized COVID-19 patients and bed capacity. Erin Hill, a communications specialist for UnityPoint Health-Central Illinois, said they cannot access daily hospitalization numbers.

Last week, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) said it is working to centralize some contact tracing to help ease the burden on local health departments. But Sparkman said that won’t start until Jan. 13.

In a recent interview with ABC News, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, said hospitalization numbers are critical.

“As you get further on and the infections become less severe, it is much more relevant to focus on the hospitalizations as opposed to the total number of cases,” Fauci said.

On Tuesday, TCHD reported 261 new COVID-19 cases in the past day, along with one new fatality. According to IDPH data, Tazewell County’s seven-day rolling test positivity rate was up to 21.8% as of New Year’s Day; Peoria County was at 25.1%; and Woodford at 15.7%.

PCCHD reported 323 new cases and Woodford County had 77, bringing the region’s total case count since the start of the pandemic to 71,866 with a death toll of 934. Peoria County’s active caseload climbed to 3,037, including 106 residents currently hospitalized with COVID-19. Woodford County has eight hospitalized residents and 488 people isolating at home.

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Contact Joe at jdeacon@ilstu.edu.