With Will County among 14 Illinois counties at a "warning level" for coronavirus, area contact tracers are reporting a "disturbing mixed bag of attitudes" when it comes to the virus.
The warning means the county has seen increases in two or more COVID-19 "risk indicators," Illinois' public health department said. In Will County, those two troubling metrics were an increased case rate and a two-week increase in hospitalizations for coronavirus-like illnesses, according to the county's health department.
Counties that reach the warning level are urged to "implement measures for increased testing and contact tracing," the Will County Health Department said, noting that while it has been actively doing both, its contact tracing program is "still in its infancy."
Still, newly hired contact tracers are reporting "too much of a 'so what' attitude out there," according to WCHD Contact Tracers Program Managers Angela Maffeo.
“At first, they are often willing to talk, but then they stop when our contact tracers ask about who they were with at the location where they may have picked up the virus," Maffeo said in a statement. "They don’t want to tell on anybody, even though it is crucial that these close contacts be informed and told to quarantine to avoid potentially spreading the virus to others.”
“You often hear the attitude of, ‘what’s in it for me?’ In other words, if their family is okay, they feel they don’t have to worry," fellow manager Susan O'Keefe said. "Or even within their own family, you might have four people test positive after going to an event, and then the one person who tests negative thinks he or she is home free. That’s not true. They could still become symptomatic later, or still pass it on to someone else. They need to stay isolated for 14 days, starting with the last day they may have been exposed to the person who is in the infectious period.”
Concerns about contact tracing have been reported not just in Will County but across the state.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker late last month urged residents to "please answer your phone."
"The problem is a contact tracer can't leave much information for you on a voicemail, because it's particularized to you," he said. "And so we need you to answer the phone. We need people to just pick up your phone, you know, it's extraordinarily important to all of us that you get contacted."
So far, Will County has reported a total of 10,013 cases since the pandemic began, passing the 10,000 mark for the first time on Monday. The county reported a 6.8% positivity rate as of Aug. 8 and state data shows the area is reporting 93 new cases per 100,000 residents each week.
The county joined 13 others in reaching the "warning level" Friday.
The counties each "saw cases or outbreaks associated with weddings, businesses, birthday parties, long-term care facilities and other congregate settings, bars, sports camps, and spread among members of the same household," according to IDPH.
"Public health officials are seeing people in some communities are not wearing masks, or if they are, they are being worn incorrectly," IDPH said in a release. "Local health departments are finding it challenging to obtain the information necessary to halt local transmission, by quickly identifying exposures from contacts of cases and businesses. Inconsistent messaging from local elected leaders are contributing to on-going transmission in some communities where there is little public concern for consequences or enforcement of social distancing, banning large gatherings, or quarantine/isolation orders."
On Tuesday, one Illinois region will become the first to see restrictions from the state due to increasing numbers for coronavirus.