The recent surge of COVID-19 cases, particularly in the delta variant, have been found in areas of lower vaccination rates, according to Illinois' top doctor.
"There is a very clear connection between where those case rates are growing the fastest and how well that area is vaccinated," Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. "I.e. the more highly vaccinated areas are having lower case rates."
She noted that the delta variant has a higher transmissibility that impacts more people at a time than previous variants. Within weeks, Ezike said Illinois has seen COVID cases double statewide.
Studies have shown that the delta variant spreads approximately 225% faster than the original strain of the virus. Studies have also shown that once a person catches the delta variant, they likely become infectious sooner, and that the virus grows more rapidly inside a person’s respiratory tract.
Areas of western and southern Illinois are seeing increases in positivity rates and coronavirus-related hospitalizations in recent weeks, continuing a recent trend that’s seeing COVID metrics slowly on the rise in many areas.
In Region 4, located near St. Louis in southwestern Illinois, the positivity rate has more than quadrupled in the last month, rising from 1.8% on June 11 to 7.5% on July 10, according to metrics from IDPH.
A recent trend of increases in COVID hospitalizations has eased in recent days, with the number of hospitalizations remaining steady or decreasing on four of the previous five days, and ICU bed availability has also steadied after a decline earlier this month, with 31% of the region’s ICU beds currently available.
Region 3, located in western Illinois and comprised of an area that includes Springfield, is also seeing elevated positivity rates, with that number now at 5%. Hospitalizations have increased on eight of the last 10 days in the region, with ICU bed availability at 29%.
Region 5, located in southern Illinois, is also dealing with increases in COVID cases, with a 5.4% positivity rate over the last week. ICU bed availability has decreased to 22%, and hospitalizations due to COVID have increased on each of the last 10 days.
Areas of northeastern Illinois have seen small increases in positivity rates, but none of the five health care regions that comprise the NBC 5 viewing area have a positivity rate of higher than 1.5%. Hospitalizations are mostly decreasing in those regions, although Region 8, comprised of Kane and DuPage counties, and Region 11, the city of Chicago, have seen hospitalizations due to COVID increase on six of the preceding 10 days.
Those dramatic increases come as Missouri sees some of the highest COVID case rates in the nation. According to the state’s latest numbers, published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, less than 40% of Missouri residents have been fully vaccinated, and in some rural counties, that number is less than 20%.
This week, the state's health department predicted three Lake of the Ozarks-area counties could be the next to get hit hard with the delta variant because of spread from the southwest Missouri region. Outbreaks have been reported in several states, mostly in areas with low vaccination rates.
As the delta variant continues to spread, experts are continuing to push for more Americans to get the COVID vaccine. All three of the vaccines currently authorized for emergency use by the FDA, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, have shown to be largely effective against preventing serious illness and death due to COVID, and all three companies say that their vaccines are showing promise in preventing those outcomes with the delta variant as well.