PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — Local health leaders shared encouraging news Wednesday on the Tri-County area’s current fight against COVID-19.

Monica Hendrickson, Public Health Administrator for the Peoria City/County Health Department, said daily COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have started to decrease over the past week.

“Our Tri-County’s case count dipped from last week,” Hendrickson said. “Last week, we were at 667 new cases each day, we’re now under 600 at 595.”

Hendrickson said the downtrend can be attributed to numerous factors such as more people getting vaccinated and/or the virus running out of hosts.

She said although COVID-19 numbers are improving and hospitalizations are starting to stabilize, she said there’s still a long road ahead.

“Just because we’re not feeling that rush of pressure that we were seeing a few weeks ago, it does not mean that we are able to stop working continuously on trying to stem the continuous spread of this virus,” Hendrickson said.

“Our hospitalizations, while they’re decreasing and stabilizing as well as our ICU capacity, all of those things are things that don’t happen overnight and take time to get corrected.”

Bob Anderson, president of OSF St. Francis Medical Center, gave an update on how the hospital is fairing during the current slip-in cases. He said it’s a bit of a relief, but there are still other issues rattling the system.

“We still have staffing shortages because we probably have probably about 20% higher absentee rate right now amongst our mission partners at St. Francis due to call-offs for a variety of reasons,” Anderson said.

He said these call-off could be due to staff having small children that have become ill or that need to be quarantined, or even staff members themselves possibly getting exposed to the virus.

Anderson said the hospital now has shorter delays for its emergency department, as well as bringing in patients from the region. He said the state also granted the hospital additional staffing resources.

“We don’t have the date that those resources will arrive, but they’re Locums nurses and respiratory therapists that will be assigned to St. Francis for six weeks to help us to bridge this staffing gap,” Anderson said.

He along with Hendrickson stressed the importance of wearing a mask, social, distancing, and getting vaccinated.

Hendrickson said guidance has changed in terms of people no longer being “fully vaccinated” but rather “up-to-date” on their vaccines, meaning boosted.

Beth Crider, Peoria County Regional Office of Education superintendent, said administrators will continue to recommend mask-wearing for students and staff in the county. She said the ruling in a current class-action lawsuit challenging the mask mandate in 145 Illinois schools could be issued by Friday.

Crider said no matter what the ruling is, her recommendation for schools will continue being to mask up.

“Each school district has their own law firm that represents them and gives them legal advice as well, but it will be the encouragement and the recommendation that we continue to socially distance, and mask, and wash our hands,” Crider said.