While no cases of omicron had been reported in the metro-east as of Wednesday afternoon, St. Clair County health officials still have the newest COVID-19 variant very much on their radar.
During Wednesday’s weekly briefly, Health Department Director Myla Blandford encouraged vaccination to combat omicron.
“So we know omicron has been identified in Chicago here in Illinois,” she said. “While there’s still a lot of studies undergoing to find out the efficacy of our current vaccines against that variant, we know that the best tool that we have in our tool belt is still to be fully vaccinated and receive a booster dose when that’s available.”
County Board Chairman Mark Kern, meanwhile, stressed trying to remain one step ahead of the variant.
“With this new omicron variant out there, we need to get ahead of that so we can avoid the problems that are going to occur by this new variant, which, by all appearances, is very very infectious and is going to really spread rapidly,” he said.
Overall, St. Clair County continued to see a rise in COVID-19 cases for the week of Dec. 2-8, while hospitalizations and deaths also increased.
Health officials announced 1,012 new COVID-19 cases the past week during Wednesday’s briefing. That number is up sharply from 611 cases reported the week of Nov. 25-Dec. 1; 547 the week of Nov. 18-24; and 472 the week of Nov. 11-17.
Additionally, the county announced nine new deaths — two men in their 60s; two men in their 70s; one woman in her 70s; one man in his 70s; one woman in her 70s; and two women in their 90s, all with known and unknown health conditions — after reporting one new death from Nov. 25-Dec. 1.
Hospitalization numbers in St. Clair County increased as well, from 49 last week to 53 this week, health officials reported during the weekly briefing. The number of patients on ventilators also increased slightly, from one last week to two this week.
Overall, the county now has 43,663 cases — including 2,642 the past four weeks — and 579 deaths since the pandemic began. Meanwhile, 26 of the county’s 27 ZIP codes reported case increases from last week.
St. Clair County health officials also continue to see higher case numbers among the younger population, with increases from last week noted:
63% of current positive cases are under 40, up from 58% last week.
30% of current positive cases are under 20, up from 28% last week.
15% of current positive cases are under 10, the same as last week.
COVID still hitting unvaccinated people hardest
The latest data from local medical facilities continues to show unvaccinated people stand a higher chance of being hospitalized than vaccinated people, if they catch the COVID-19 virus.
Blandford presented a graphic from Touchette Regional Hospital, Memorial Hospital and HSHS St. Elizabeth’s hospital breaking down overall hospitalizations, ICU patients and those on ventilators among vaccinated and unvaccinated people.
Here are the results:
Hospitalizations: 53 people total hospitalized, with 39 of them unvaccinated. Last week, 49 people were hospitalized, with 32 of them unvaccinated.
ICU: 12 individuals total in the ICU, with 11 of them unvaccinated. Last week, nine people were in the ICU, with eight of them unvaccinated.
Ventilators: Two individuals total on a ventilator, with one of them unvaccinated. Last week, one patient was on a ventilator, and that person was unvaccinated.
“The number of people in the hospital, it’s pretty clear that if you’re vaccinated, you’re less likely to be in the hospital. So vaccinations are still key,” Kern said.
Added St. Clair County Emergency Management Agency Director Herb Simmons during the weekly briefing, “The short end of it: Get vaccinated if you’re not. Get the booster if you haven’t got it yet.”
Madison County, Region 4 hospital figures
On Monday, nearby Madison County reported 1,057 new cases and eight new deaths for the period of Nov. 30-Dec. 6. Overall, as of Wednesday, Madison County had reported 42,922 cases and 625 deaths since the pandemic began.
Also, the Madison County Health Department on Monday reported 55 patients hospitalized and three people on ventilators. The hospitalization numbers rose from 32 to 55 since Madison County’s report on Nov. 29, while the number of people on ventilators dropped from six to three.
Of note, the health department recently announced on its Facebook page that it will provide data updates Mondays and Thursdays only moving forward.
Regionally, the number of patients hospitalized again increased from 103 last week to 136 this week, county officials reported Wednesday, with the number of people on a ventilator rising from six last week to 10 this week.
Where to get vaccinated in St. Clair County
The St. Clair County Health Department’s location at 330 W. Main St. remains open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays for vaccinations.
All three vaccines — Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Moderna — are offered every day there for anyone 12 and older. Appointments are recommended but not required. People can schedule an appointment at www.co.st-clair.il.us/departments/health-department or by phone at 618-233-7703.
Blandford noted staff members at that location can assist people with any questions.
“You can discuss your health history with our medical professionals at 330 W. Main and they can help you with that guidance,” Blandford said. “CDC’s information is out there on their website. If you feel more comfortable talking to your provider, you can certainly do that before coming to 330 W. Main. But we do have medical professionals on staff there that can address your questions and concerns.”
Additionally, the health department is now offering Pfizer vaccine clinics for children age 5-11 at the department headquarters, 19 Public Square, Belleville.
The clinics take place from 4-7 p.m. Monday-Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. People should call 618-825-4447 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday to make an appointment or visit https://www.co.st-clair.il.us/departments/health-department to register. Appointments are required.
Various pediatric physician offices, Walgreens and CVS are offering the shots for young people, health officials said recently.