Nearly no one wears a mask when shopping in Lake County to avoid getting COVID-19 or the flu, and only about half of the people who are eligible for the latest vaccinations get them. This is because the area is moving from low risk to moderate risk of the coronavirus pandemic and flu spreading.
“People have given in to pandemic apathy,” said Mark Pfister, the head of the health department in Lake County, on Monday. “People are getting tired. It makes people and society less safe.”
Thursday, Lake County and most of its neighbors went from having a low risk of COVID-19 spreading to having a medium risk. This means that more people are likely to get one of the two respiratory diseases as they spend more time indoors for shopping and holiday events.
Early last year, people kept to themselves and got vaccinated to avoid the pandemic. At the time, Pfister said, the flu was almost non-existent because people wore masks, kept their distance from others, and washed their hands often to avoid COVID-19.
People rushed to get the COVID-19 shot as soon as they were able to do so last year. Now, they are less eager to get either the first or second boost. The second is aimed at the omicron strain that is there now.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 82.5% of county residents who were eligible for the first two doses of the vaccine got them. When it was first offered in the fall, only 55.8% of people got the first booster, and only 57.5% of people 55 and older got the second.
“People still wore masks a year ago,” Pfister said. “There were still more people working from home. They didn’t talk as much. This season, there is more flu. The good news is that the flu shot is very effective against the current strain.
Even though the same number of people got a boost in suburban Cook, McHenry, and Kenosha counties, the CDC says that more people in Lake County (82.2%) got the first two doses than their neighbors.
Even though there are no flu vaccination rates for all age groups, Pfister said that in Illinois, only 28.3% of people between 6 months and 17 years old got the flu shot.
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RSV, a respiratory disease, is now infecting people along with COVID-19 and the flu. Rachel Loberg, the chief nursing officer at Advocate Condell Medical Center in Libertyville, said in an email that all three diseases should be watched.
“As the rate of transmission keeps going up, we are keeping a close eye on the tripledemic,” Loberg said. “Stay home if you’re sick, even from family gatherings. Wash your hands often, and make sure you’re up to date on all your vaccines and booster shots.”
The CDC says that for the week ending on Thursday, there were an average of 126.2 new cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people living in Lake County, and an average of 10.2 people were hospitalized per 100,000 people. The county moved from low risk to medium risk because of these two numbers.
The CDC says that on Thursday, suburban Cook County (115.12 new cases per 100,000 residents and 10.2 per 100,000 hospitalized) and McHenry County (117.9 new cases per 100,000 residents and 10.2 per 100,000 hospitalized) also moved into the medium range. Even though there are 122.67 new cases per 100,000 people, only 6.6 people per 100,000 are hospitalized. This means that the risk is still low in Kenosha County.
Officials at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital say that there are about 10 patients with COVID-19 and about 5 patients with the flu. At Waukegan’s Vista Medical Center East, eight people have COVID-19 and four have the flu.
In an email, Dr. Michael Bauer, who is the medical director at Lake Forest hospital, said that the current surge is likely to continue, but that the same tools that kept people healthy in the early stages of the pandemic are still the best way to keep people and their loved ones healthy now.
Bauer said in the email that COVID and flu levels are still going up and are likely to keep going up for the next few weeks. “Getting the most recent vaccines is still the best way to avoid getting sick from one of these viruses.”
Dr. Ninad Dixit, Vista’s chief medical officer, said in an email that he thinks the number of infections will stay high as people stay inside during colder weather and the holiday approaches. People shouldn’t be afraid of getting their shots.
“We expect to see more viral infections over the holidays because more people will be traveling and not wearing masks inside,” Dixit wrote in an email. “The current flu vaccine is very good at stopping the flu strain that is going around in the United States.”