Illinois health officials on Wednesday said they are "closely monitoring" coronavirus data in the state's Region 6, now presenting its metrics both with and without the major testing hub of Champaign County, where the University of Illinois is potentially skewing the metrics with its robust testing program.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has been performing repeated saliva testing of staff and students since the school developed the test in August. That test enables the school, and thus, Champaign County, to report thousands of tests each day.
Illinois health officials said Wednesday that the tests performed at that U of I campus can average up to 20% of all tests done in the state in some weeks.
"Because of this high volume, the positivity rate for Region 6 could be overshadowed by what is happening at UIUC," officials said, announcing that it would present data for Region 6 with and without Champaign County included.
Region 6 includes: Champaign, Clark, Clay, Coles, Crawford, Cumberland, De Witt, Douglas, Edgar, Effingham, Fayette, Ford, Iroquois, Jasper, Lawrence, Macon, Moultrie, Piatt, Richland, Shelby and Vermillion counties.
It's one of 11 regions the state is divided into the allow for a more focused response to the coronavirus pandemic, with regions automatically triggering enhanced mitigations based on certain metrics, like a sustained increase in testing positivity rate as well as a reduction in hospital capacity or three days of positivity rates above 8%.
Regions 1 and 4 - in northwest Illinois and the Metro East, respectively - are both under enhanced restrictions after seeing an 8% positivity rate for several consecutive days.
If Region 6 does trigger enhanced mitigations - which include restrictions to higher risk settings like indoor bars and restaurants as well as changes in retail, fitness, salon, personal care settings and more - with or without Champaign County, the entire region will see those guidelines go into place, including Champaign County, health officials said Wednesday.
State health officials have found that Region 6 with Champaign County included was seeing a 7-day rolling positivity rate of 2% as of Wednesday, officials said. When calculated excluding Champaign County, that figure increases to 7.2% - putting the region much closer to automatically triggering additional restrictions.
"IDPH is encouraging local leaders and communities in Region 6 to begin taking action now to reduce the test positivity rate, which includes making sure people are wearing masks in public, maintaining social distance, and not gathering in large groups," health officials said.
Illinois on Wednesday reported 2,273 new cases of coronavirus in the previous 24 hours, along with 35 additional deaths. Those figures bring the state’s total number of coronavirus cases to 293,274 cases and the total number of fatalities to 8,672.
Health officials reported higher testing numbers Wednesday, with 58,546 specimens processed by labs throughout the state. In all, 5,624,822 tests have been performed in the state since the pandemic began, officials said.
Since declining below 3.5% last week, the state’s seven-day positivity rate has been trending upward, standing at 3.6% Wednesday.
Hospitalization numbers also ticked up Wednesday. As of midnight, 1,632 individuals were hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Illinois, with 378 patients in intensive care unit beds. A total of 152 patients were on ventilators in the state, officials said.