PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — During an interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes, President Biden declared that the COVID-19 pandemic is “over”, but local health leaders said the virus is likely here to stay.

Robert Anderson the CEO of OSF Healthcare’s Central Region said for months COVID-19 patients within the OSF system have remained steady, utilizing just 4-5% of bed capacity.

“When you look at the height of the pandemic, that was as many as 25-30 percent. So it has changed dramatically,” Anderson said.

The decline in hospitalized patients is a welcomed sign for healthcare workers that have bared the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve dealt with the pandemic for 2 and a half years, we have staffing challenges with people who have decided to retire early or leave the workforce,” Anderson said.

Despite better conditions and mixed messages about which phase of COVID-19 we’re currently facing, health leaders said the virus hasn’t left.

As of Monday, the 7-day statewide average for COVID-19 cases is 2,222, with Central Illinois counties ranging from low to high community levels.

We are looking at a different picture today than we were in 2020 and 2021. But it becomes easy to confuse a message that says ‘we are in a better place’ with one that says ‘we are done with COVID-19, it is all over, and there’s no reason that I should still pay attention to this virus.’ 

We have high rates of at least partial immunity from previous infections and vaccination.  We have treatments that are helping us to reduce COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths.  However, the fact remains that regardless of how we define our current situation the SARS-CoV-2 virus is most likely going to be around indefinitely. 

We are no longer facing the complete unknown. We are familiar with the tools available to help protect ourselves and others. Taking steps to reduce our risk of getting and spreading the virus, utilizing the newest treatments and therapies, and keeping up to date on vaccines and boosters all continue to be important. These actions are even more vital for those who are immunocompromised or at higher risk of severe illness.

– Jessica McKnight, McLean County Health Department administrator.

Anderson said he sees COVID-19 becoming much like the flu, where it’s an illness the community will live with.

“We use things like vaccines, we use things like coughing into your elbow and wearing masks those are all things to help us manage endemic disease in our environment and I think that’s probably where we’re moving today with COVID,” Anderson said.

Anderson said OSF is also seeing less severe illnesses associated with COVID-19. He said the latest booster, which targets the two variants which make up covid infections, will help keep that trend going