MCLEAN COUNTY, Ill. (WMBD) — In McLean County, COVID-19 cases continue to drop as the rolling seven-day positivity rate dropped from 11% last Monday to 7.5% today.

Healthcare leaders are hoping the drop in COVID-19 cases leads to a freeing up of the county’s hospitals. Both OSF and Carle have seen a record number of COVID-19 patients come through their doors in the entire two-year pandemic.

Despite a decrease, COVID-19 cases continue to be substantially higher in the county on a daily basis than at other times throughout the pandemic.

Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH)

“When you have three times as many people getting COVID than you have at any of your previous spikes, you’ll see hospitalizations go up,” said public affairs coordinator with the McLean County Health Department Marianne Manko.

This comes after the Omicron variant’s peak, a couple of weeks ago. According to Manko, during the first couple of weeks in January, the county averaged 700 new COVID-19 cases a day, whereas in the last two weeks it averaged 400 new cases a day.

For the entire month, McLean County averaged 500 new COVID-19 cases a day. Manko said that the steady decrease is promising, but said that number still needs to come way down.

“That’s still pretty high, but the positive thing is we’re seeing them go down much faster than the previous surges where that peak was extended over a longer period of time,” Manko said.

As of Monday, 85% of McLean County ICU beds were in use, this includes COVID and non-COVID patients.

But, at OSF Saint Joseph, president Lynn Fulton said they’re noticing fewer COVID-19 patients come to them for treatments within the past couple of weeks.

“Over the last two weeks, we’ve really seen a steady decrease in overall hospitalizations, and even better, we’ve seen a decrease of patients in the ICU,” Fulton said.

Fulton said she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the trend, and called this a disease of the unvaccinated.

“Unfortunately when you have as many unvaccinated as we do, you run the risk of other variants coming through the population,” Fulton said.

At Carle-Bromenn Chief Medical Officer, Dr. John Wieland said they’re seeing a similar decline in COVID-19 patients, but overall the hospital is as busy as ever.

“On the whole, the healthcare system and our hospital resources are still stretched,” Wieland said.

Wieland, Fulton, and Manko all said the key to ending the pandemic and preventing other variants and peaks is by a majority of people getting vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19.

“You do get some natural immunity from recovering from an acute infection, but these variants that pop up really challenge that,” Wieland said.

To note, McLean County residents are 59% fully vaccinated against the virus, that’s just below the Illinois average of 62%.

According to OSF around 87% of patients in the hospital for COVID-19 are either unvaccinated or have not received a booster.

Wieland said at Carle-Bromenn, unvaccinated patients represent about 2/3 of COVID patients.