As Labor Day approached, Lake County Health Department Executive Director Mark Pfister worried northeastern Illinois could see some restrictions used to combat the coronavirus pandemic reimposed if this weekend is anything like the days surrounding the July 4 holiday.
The county’s risk level was changed from blue to orange Friday on the Illinois Department of Public Health County Level Risk Metrics Map indicating an increased risk of the disease, according to a press release from the Lake County Department of Public Health.
With Lake County’s positivity rate sitting at 5.9 percent Wednesday because people are gathering in larger groups without wearing masks or socially distancing, Pfister fears a lack of thoughtful behavior over the Labor Day weekend could bring restrictions not seen since May.
“We were doing well in June, but we had an increase of cases over the Fourth of July weekend,” he said. “With Labor Day coming, people really need to follow three Ws so we don’t have to roll back what we’ve opened up.”
Wearing a mask or face covering, washing hands and watching the distance between others are the “three Ws” Pfister said he continually suggests to people as the universal response to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Should there be a significant increase in the positivity rate, the number of deaths, the number of cases per 100,000 persons or some combination of those metrics, he said Lake County could be placed on alert. Grundy, Will and suburban Cook counties already are.
“We’re getting to the point where we could be on alert status,” Pfister said. “If it doesn’t improve, there could be mitigation,” like an increase in restrictions at places like restaurants and bars.
Pfister said changes could include elimination of indoor dining, a reduction in hours a bar can operate or both.
“Our goal is not to go backwards,” he said.
Beyond wearing masks, maintaining social distance and washing hands, Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham said residents can let the city or the Lake County Health Department know when they see people failing to take those actions in public places like bars or restaurants.
When Cunningham learns about misbehavior at a business establishment, he said he will intercede. Most of the time a conversation or suggested action modifies the behavior of the business. Waukegan officials recently interceded with two bar owners.
“We gave them a warning that we’d take away their license for a week or a weekend,” Cunningham said. “They got the message, and changed their ways. They can’t make people wear masks, but they can refuse service. We all have to work together. We’re open, but it’s not over.”
Lake County’s positivity rate — the percentage of tests for the virus which are positive — was 5.1 percent Aug. 9, and 5.9 percent Wednesday. Pfister said there are a variety of reasons for the climb which is one of the metrics used to determine if an area is placed on alert.
Another important measurement is the increase in new cases per 100,000 persons. Pfister said the goal is keeping the number below 50. With Lake County recently hitting 82 per 100,000, there is reason for concern.
There are a variety of reasons for the bump.
“Larger groups are gathering in congregant settings,” Pfister said. “These include groups where people are not (socially) distancing or wearing masks. These are gatherings of students, and gatherings like weddings and parties.”
While initially the biggest outbreaks in the county were in nursing homes, Pfister said that has subsided.
“The nursing homes have done an awesome job,” Pfister said. “They’re (testing and) catching cases in people who are asymptomatic.”
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As recruits arrive at Naval Station Great Lakes, he said they are tested. Positive results at the base do impact the positivity rate in Lake County, but those who test positive there are quarantined. The general public is not impacted.
“The Navy quarantines them, and isolates them like we recommend,” Pfister said.
Along with the current permanent test station in Waukegan, Pfister said there will be a temporary test site from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday at North Chicago High School.
As of Wednesday, Pfister said Lake County had recorded 14,686 cases of COVID-19 with 448 deaths.
This content was originally published here.