An Illinois summer camp has been linked to a COVID outbreak that led to more than 80 cases earlier this month, state health officials said.
According to the Illinois Department of Public Health, at least 85 teens and some adult staff of a summer youth camp held in mid-June in central Illinois have tested positive for the virus. One unvaccinated young adult was hospitalized, the health department said.
“The majority of the 85 COVID-19 cases associated with the youth camp are among teens,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “The perceived risk to children may seem small, but even a mild case of COVID-19 can cause long-term health issues. Additionally, infected youth who may not experience severe illness can still spread the virus to others, including those who are too young to be vaccinated or those who don’t build the strong expected immune response to the vaccine.”
The camp was not checking vaccination status and did not require masks indoors, according to IDPH.
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Some camp attendees who contracted the virus also attended a nearby conference, which resulted in 11 additional cases, 70% of which were among unvaccinated people, the health department reported.
"The vaccines currently authorized in the U.S. have been shown to be effective among individuals who are fully vaccinated, even against the more transmissible and serious variants," the department's statement read. "Schuyler and Adams counties, where the outbreaks occurred, are seeing approximately 40% of their population fully vaccinated."
The department said it was working to determine if any of the cases were caused by a particular variant, but warned of increased risk as the delta variant and other variants continue to spread across the state.
The delta coronavirus variant, which scientists believe may be the most aggressive and contagious strain of the COVID-19 virus seen so far, is expected to become the dominant strain for Illinois cases by the fall, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday.
Pritzker took a moment to address the ongoing pandemic during an unrelated press conference, stating "the delta variant that sent Israel back into mitigation is a growing presence in Illinois" as he continued to encourage residents to get vaccinated.
"We expect it to dominate our cases statewide by the fall," he said.
Pritzker, who wore a mask to the public event, said he was doing so out of an "abundance of caution" as concerns surrounding the delta variant rise.
"The lessons here at home and across the world are a harbinger of what could happen here, particularly in low vaccinated areas, if we don't see a higher uptake of the vaccine across Illinois," he said. "This is very real. I implore all residents, if you have friends and family on the fence, share with them the life-saving benefits of these free vaccines and encourage them to remain masked until they are fully vaccinated."
So far, the Illinois Department of Public Health has identified 84 cases of the variant in the state as of data reported Sunday.
That's compared to 6,505 cases of the variant first reported out of the U.K. known as the alpha variant, which is likely the most prolific-strain in the state of Illinois.
Cases of the delta variant are roughly doubling every two weeks, a trajectory that has some officials worried.
“We are seeing [the Delta variant] grow here in Chicago. We’ve had at least 70 cases detected here already,” Dr. Allison Arwady, commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, said last week.
The delta variant is now making up an estimated 20% of new COVID cases throughout the nation, according to officials.
“I think we definitely should be concerned about it,” Dr. Temitope Oyedele, infectious disease physician at Cook County Health, said. “It is a strain of the coronavirus that has shown to be more transmittable.”
Oyedele says that the only way to combat the delta variant is to vaccinate more residents, giving the virus fewer avenues of transmission.
Pritzker also encouraged residents to continue to "use your mask accordingly."
"I would say from my own perspective if you're going into a heavily crowded area, you don't know if somebody is not vaccinated and so you should just bring your mask with you and keep safe," he said.