Health officials say increase in COVID-19 cases driven by unvaccinated and young people

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PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are trending in the wrong direction in central Illinois, and doctors say unvaccinated and young people are driving the increase.

The Peoria area has the ninth highest daily average for new COVID-19 cases in the country, according to an analysis by The New York Times.

“We all want the pandemic to be over, but unfortunately it is not, everybody is still susceptible. Now that we’ve gotten our older population vaccinated, it’s those individuals primarily that are not vaccinated that are getting the virus,” said Dr. John Miller, Vice President of Medical Affairs at UnityPoint Health.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, director of Illinois Department of Public Health, said there were 1,100 Illinoisians hospitalized with COVID-19 in March. As of April 7, that number has ticked up to 1,800 hospitalizations.

“The overwhelming majority of COVID hospitalizations are in people who have not been vaccinated,” she said.

And in McLean County, hospital beds are reaching full capacity, with 96% of ICU beds and 97% of total beds in use.

“Its the highest we’ve seen since January… the numbers are especially growing among younger adults, late teens and early 20s,” said Marianne Manko, public affairs coordinator at McLean County Health Department.

Complicating the problem are COVID-19 variants. Dr. Miller said the U.K. mutation – B.117 – is expected to become the dominant strain in the area. The mutation makes the virus more transmissible and brings with it higher mortality rates.

“The danger of the new variants spreading means that we want every dose to get into arms as fast as humanely possible. The vaccine is the best weapon against the variants, its the fastest ticket back to a normal life,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D-Ill.).

Pritzker said 25% of the adult population is fully vaccinated, and 72% of seniors and 42% of individuals 18 and over have received at least one dose.

Dr. Miller said UnityPoint is reaching out the people using the “Well” app from the health department, which lets people know when vaccines become available.

“Because of this rise and percentage that they’re seeing they’ve also asked us to target the 18 to 30 year old range as well,” he said.

Starting Monday, April 12, 16 and 17-year olds will be eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.

“The key is the more quickly we get everyone vaccinated, the less likely we are to have this massive spread and develop these variants,” said Dr. Miller.

“You can’t just wish or demand yourself out of this pandemic, the way you get out of this pandemic really is through the vaccine,” Manko said.

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