Springfield living center outbreak showed value of COVID-19 shots
A recent outbreak of COVID-19 at a Springfield senior living complex demonstrates the need for more people to be vaccinated against coronavirus disease, Sangamon County’s public health director says.
The fact that no one has died or developed life-threatening complications among the 22 residents and six staff members at Springfield Supportive Living shows the vaccine is working, Gail O’Neill said this week.
“Overall, they have been recovering,” said O’Neill, director of the Sangamon County Department of Public Health. “A year ago, they might not have. The vaccine is doing what it’s supposed to do. … It’s supposed to keep you out of the hospital and keep you from dying.”
Rates of new cases of COVID-19 have remained relatively low in Sangamon County and the rest of Illinois but have begun to increase in recent weeks. Some of the spread has been attributed to more transmissible delta variant, making unvaccinated people even more at risk of being infected and developing severe complications from COVID-19.
Two deaths of Sangamon County residents with COVID-19 were reported this week involving a man in his 70s who died July 9 and a man in his 80s who died July 11. Both were the first deaths of county residents reported since early May, and both men were unvaccinated.
Most of the infected residents of Springfield Supportive Living, 2034 E. Clear Lake Ave., were fully vaccinated, so they experienced what is known as “breakthrough” cases, O’Neill said. But that shouldn’t dissuade people from being vaccinated, she said.
Ninety-nine percent of the 82 residents at the facility — which provides Medicaid-supported care similar to that available in an assisted-living center — have been fully vaccinated, she said.
Sixty-five percent of the staff was fully vaccinated, O’Neill said. It’s unclear whether the outbreak began with a staff member, but the situation shows more widespread vaccinations could help tamp down the spread of COVID-19 in the community, she said.
It’s also unknown when infected residents of the facility were vaccinated and whether the effectiveness of those vaccinations had waned over time, O’Neill said. Researchers have said booster shots of COVID-19 vaccine eventually may be needed.
“The sad part is, as tired of COVID as we are, it’s not gone away,” O’Neill said. “It’s not done yet.”
Delta variant confirmed
The Sangamon health department reported 15 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. Four county residents with COVID-19 remain hospitalized.
The outbreak and growth in local COVID-19 cases don’t yet warrant new precautions or a return to widespread mask-wearing indoors at events or in stores, O’Neill said. The main takeaway is the benefit of vaccinations, she said.
“At this point, we think these are kind of isolated incidents,” she said. “If we start seeing more, that is something we would have to consider.”
The “vast majority” of Springfield Supportive Living residents testing positive have no symptoms, according to a statement from the for-profit facility.
“We do have one resident in the hospital and a handful of residents with mild symptoms,” the statement said.
The statement didn’t mention the health status of the six infected staff members, and a facility spokeswoman declined to comment on the issue.
The delta variant was confirmed in at least one of the 26 cases, O’Neill said.
The statement said officials at the five-floor facility learned June 30 that one resident tested positive for COVID-19.
The statement continued: “In accordance with state and local health department directives, we paused many social and group activities and initiated facility-wide testing on July 1, with repeat testing on July 7. This testing resulted in additional positive cases. All mitigation protocols were immediately put in place, and we are actively monitoring for symptoms.”
The facility will test residents and staff again this week, the statement said.
Cases on the rise
It’s unknown, so far, how many of the COVID-19 cases diagnosed among Sangamon County residents in recent weeks resulted from the delta variant, and it’s unknown how many of those cases involved unvaccinated individuals, O’Neill said.
Even though research has shown current COVID-19 vaccines to be effective against the delta variant in preventing infection and severe illness, COVID-19 cases are on the rise in Sangamon County.
The 95 cases reported from July 7 through July 13 represented a 70% increase from the 56 cases reported during the previous seven-day period and a 111% increase from the seven-day period of June 23-29.
Scientists say the majority of new COVID-19 cases nationwide and almost all deaths related to COVID-19 involve people who are unvaccinated or haven’t received the recommended full course of vaccine.
But breakthrough cases and deaths do occur. The Illinois Department of Public Health doesn’t report on its website how many of the state’s 1.4 million positive COVID-19 cases diagnosed since the pandemic began in 2020 involved people who were previously vaccinated.
IDPH says 141 people who were fully vaccinated developed COVID-19 and died, but the total represents 2.08% of all COVID-19 deaths in the state since Jan. 1.
It can take weeks for people infected with COVID-19 to become sick enough to require hospitalization.
HSHS St. John’s Hospital in Springfield has seen a downward trend in COVID-19 inpatients over the past month, spokeswoman Jennifer Snopko said.
“We have consistently had less than 10 COVID-19-positive patients in the hospital at least once in the last month,” she said.
“The majority of patients we are seeing who are sick enough to become hospitalized are unvaccinated. … However, we are concerned that with the continued spread of the delta variant, we will start to see numbers go back up again,” Snopko said. “Therefore, we are continuing to encourage all eligible people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.”
The Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines all are known to make vaccinated people less likely from spreading COVID-19, but the main benefit of the vaccine is to reduce the likelihood of severe illness and death, O’Neill said.
Almost half of all Sangamon County residents are fully vaccinated, which is in line with the statewide average. Sangamon County has the highest vaccination rate of any county outside the Chicago area, according to IDPH.
Doctors have said “herd immunity” against COVID-19 will be reached when at least 70% of a population is fully vaccinated.
Elsewhere in the region, full vaccination rates include almost 43% of the population in Menard County, 34% in Christian County, 43% in Cass County, 41% in Logan County, 40.6% in Morgan County, 40% in Macoupin County, 38% in Montgomery County, 30.7% in Scott County, 29.5% in Greene County and 29% in Pike County.
In Sangamon County — where 19,315 residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and 236 residents have died — almost 52% of people 16 through 64 and 86% of people 65 and older have been fully vaccinated.
Children 12 through 15 became eligible for COVID-19 vaccine in May, but O’Neill said she doesn’t yet know how many Sangamon County residents in the age group have been vaccinated.
Statewide, 400,606 of the state’s 1.16 million children 12 through 15, or 34.5%, have been fully vaccinated, according to IDPH.
O’Neill said she wouldn’t consider the spread of COVID-19 under control in Sangamon County. She said she is “cautiously optimistic” about the future but frustrated that ideological resistance to COVID-19 remains in the community even though it may be less than in surrounding rural areas.
The mass vaccination site that the Sangamon health department operated since Feb. 17 in cooperation with the state and the Illinois National Guard at the Illinois State Fair was closed Saturday because of sluggish demand.
The site, which attracted vaccine seekers from across the state, served an average of up to 1,500 patients per day at its peak in April and early May. But in its final week, the site served an average of 45 patients each day, Sangamon County spokesman Jeff Wilhite said.
The Sangamon health department still offers vaccinations with or without an appointment from 8:30-11:30 a.m. seven days a week at its headquarters at 2833 South Grand Ave. E. in Springfield.
More information about COVID-19 vaccine locations is available at coronavirus.illinois.gov. The IDPH vaccine hotline can be reached at 833-621-1284
The state’s All In For The Win lottery for COVID-19 vaccine recipients apparently hasn’t boosted local demand for vaccine, at least not yet, O’Neill said.
“Having half the people in the community vaccinated is great,” she said. “It’s certainly much better than a year ago, or shortly after when we were having the serious outbreaks. But I don’t want us to go backwards. That’s the fear.
“We were masked and quarantined or isolated for over a year. Nobody wants to go back to seeing that happen.”
Contact Dean Olsen: [email protected]; (217) 836-1068; twitter.com/DeanOlsenSJR.