Kane County COVID numbers up, vaccine equity still lagging
The Kane County Public Health Department's latest report on COVID-19 activity on Wednesday reflected a trio of concerns for health officials and the county board.
The positivity rate is trending up. Local Black and Hispanic residents are still showing hesitancy to get the vaccine. And schools, such as St. Charles Unit District 303, are dropping mandated mask policies for the return to school without knowing what the status of the pandemic will be by the time they open their doors.
Uche Onwuta, the county's director of health protection, showed charts indicating 11 straight days of slight increases in the percent of COVID-19 tests coming back positive. The overall number of cases is still near the lowest its been since the onset of the pandemic. But with the delta variant becoming the dominant strain and proving to be more transmittable, health officials are concerned the number of fully vaccinated county residents is still just below 50%.
"It's a problem in the community," Onwuta said. "From what the CDC says, the vaccine is still good against the delta variant. However, it's for those who have had two doses, not one dose. It's foolhardy for people to not follow proper precautions because we are still in this pandemic. It's not over yet."
County Board Chair Corinne Pierog said she's concerned the District 303 plan to not require masks means school will reopen before vaccines will be approved for children as young as 2 years old. She pointed to the virus spread being seen as athletes gather for the Olympic Games in Tokyo.
"Are there plans for a marketing outreach to our parents to shift from adults to children, and to young people, who will hopefully lead the way to vaccination?"
Health department staff said those efforts are underway on social media and at school-based vaccination clinics. The efforts are pairing with more advertising targeting Black and Hispanic county residents. About 22% of vaccine doses have gone to Hispanic residents, who comprise about one-third of the local population. That's an improvement over February numbers that showed 10% of shots went to local Hispanics. Fewer than 4% of the shots have gone to Black residents, a 1 percentage point improvement since February.
Officials hope a combination of myth-busting and star power encourages more people to get vaccinated.
"Talking about the myths is a big thing," said Michael Isaacson, the county's assistant director for community health. "People have these misconceptions in their minds about what may be wrong with the vaccine, and most of them are pretty easy to prove that they're not true. We do hear people who are worried about their DNA being altered. That's not something that happens when people get the vaccine. It doesn't give people the virus, and we don't have any evidence that there's any worry about infertility with these vaccines."
Pierog made a public call for local celebrities or people who know celebrities to help get out the message about vaccine safety. In the current culture, she said, getting facts from a celebrity may have more of an impact than hearing it from a medical expert.
"We could have a concert, or a soccer star or football star that somebody may know," Pierog said. "We would welcome that individual with open arms. Anything we can do to get young people together with their families to get vaccinated would be a great cause for celebration in Kane County."