Boone, Ogle counties also rank in top 20 of cases per capita

ROCKFORD — Three counties in the Rockford region rank among the top 20 in the state for confirmed COVID-19 cases per capita.

Regional coronavirus infection rates will get closer attention now that Gov. JB Pritzker has laid out a phased approach to reopening the state’s economy that divides Illinois into four regions.

Five of the 27 counties in the North Central region, where Rockford is located, are among the top 20 in cases per capita. Although per capita cases aren’t among the criteria used in the state’s reopening plan, they do provide a glimpse into which regions have the highest rates of infection.

Cook County, home to Chicago, had the highest per capita infection rate at 737 cases per 100,000 residents as of Tuesday, according to data from the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Many of the collar counties also rank high in number of cases per capita. But population alone doesn’t determine rank. Factors such as population density, number of congregate living settings, number of tests conducted, and neighborhood economies and access to health care play a role, too.

Winnebago County, the seventh most populous in the state, ranks 19th in cases per capita. It’s 24th in tests conducted per capita. Ogle County, 28th in population, ranks 16th in cases per capita and Boone County, 26th in population, comes in at 15th in cases per capita. Ogle County ranks fifth in testing and Boone County 55th.

COVID-19 per capita
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In small Warren County, home to roughly 17,000 people and also in the North Central region, 518 of every 100,000 people tested positive for the coronavirus, the fourth-highest per capita rate of the state’s 102 counties.

Warren County is home to Monmouth College and to Smithfield Foods, a pork-processing plant that temporarily shut down late last month after several employees tested positive for COVID-19. Employees from a six-county region work at Smithfield. Similarly, Rochelle Foods in Ogle County, a regional employer, shut down temporarily after dozens of employees tested positive for the coronavirus. The plant reopened on Monday.

A week ago, Pritzker described the Rockford region as a “hot spot” for COVID-19 when asked whether he would consider allowing local authorities to modify the stay-at-home order to make it less restrictive.

“It’s something we’re watching very closely, and it’s why people who live in that area and the surrounding counties need to be extraordinarily careful,” Pritzker said April 30.

His comments came during a week in which Winnebago County experienced a 111% increase from the previous week in confirmed coronavirus cases.

Public health officials here said last week that they weren’t surprised by the governor’s description. Winnebago County Health Department Administrator Sandra Martell noted that the county recently had received poor marks for its social distancing efforts. Unacast, an analytics company that gathers and analyzes location data from cellphones, on Wednesday gave Winnebago County a D- for social distancing.

Nearly 16% of the people tested in Winnebago County were confirmed to have COVID-19. A total of 7,554 tests had been conducted as of Tuesday, but results were still pending from 3,422 tests.

People ages 20 to 29 accounted for 130 of the county’s 643 confirmed cases as of Tuesday. That age range has the largest number of cases in the county, according to the health department.

“I know this is the group that’s getting out more and wants to get out more,” Martell said at a news conference earlier this week. “But understand that this is also the group with the highest rate of infection and also works in our essential workforce, and therefore both expose and can be exposed in that scenario.”

Martell said the agency recognizes the county is a community of concern, “but we are working very hard to mitigate that.”

“We really have to continue to be mindful of that socially distancing piece, and only coming out for essential services,” Martell said last week.

Over the weekend, a team of volunteers and public health workers canvassed neighborhoods with the highest rates of infection in the ZIP codes 61102, 61104, 61108, 61109 and 61016. Those neighborhoods also have higher rates of chronic illnesses and lack access to healthy foods. Their residents also tend to be members of the essential workforce, Martell said.

″These are populations who need a great deal of support and attention from all of us,” she said Monday.

All of Illinois is currently in Phase 2 of Pritzker’s five-phase reopening plan. In order for our region to move into Phase 3 — which is when manufacturing, offices, retail outlets, barbershops and salons can reopen — there has to be a COVID-19 positivity rate under 20% and the rate must not increase more than 10 percentage points for 14 days. There also must be no overall increase in hospital admissions for 28 days, and at least 14% of intensive care unit beds, medical and surgical beds and ventilators must be available to handle a surge. Testing must also be available for all patients, health care workers, first reponders, people with underlying conditions and employees of congregate living centers.

Kevin Haas: khaas@rrstar.com; @KevinMHaas