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Low vaccinations and high transmission make contact tracing in Vermilion County difficult during the holidays

The Vermilion County Health Department hosts a COVID-19 vaccine clinic outside the Danville Dans baseball game in Danville in summer of 2021. With a vaccination rate below 40 percent against COVID-19, the county has been struggling with climbing cases of the virus.

DANVILLE — When Doug Toole, the director of the Vermilion County Health Department, and the department’s contact tracers get back to their desks in the morning, there are piles of calls to make. 

Those piles represent positive cases of COVID-19.

Contact tracing is an important part of stopping the spread of COVID-19, according to Toole. But, he also wants contact tracers to take time to rest and spend time with their families for the holidays.

Listen to this interview here.

“I want the staff to have time off, they certainly deserve to have some time off to unwind [and] spend time with family,” Toole said. “But then you come in and you see a pile of work on your desk, and they’re a pile [of] a large number of new cases in the queue you got to call.” 

As more contact tracers take days off for the holidays, Toole said he’s worried that the positive cases will continue to pile up. 

The county is also balancing low vaccination rates compared to other counties throughout the state of Illinois. 

Almost 40 percent of Vermilion county is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Vermilion County Health Department website.

Because information about the virus has changed over the past year and a half, Toole says contact tracing is essential to making sure people who test positive have accurate information about what to do next.

“If it takes us a while to get to them, then that’s when some of that misinformation starts to spread and work against us,” Toole said. “Like, oh, I hadn’t thought you know, my kids are showing symptoms. I thought they could still go to school.” 

To help local health departments that were struggling with keeping up with cases, the state of Illinois created “surge centers,” around eight months ago, Toole said. These centers are composed of remote contact tracers that pick up the slack when local health departments fall behind.

“We’re trying to catch people as soon as we can, but it’s tough when you’ve got over 100 cases coming in,” Toole said.

Although they often help, Toole said even they have started to fall behind, too.

As of this week, the county has a test positivity rate of almost 11 percent, according to the Vermilion County Health Department website.

Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent sickness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Transmission.

Farrah Anderson is a student journalist with Illinois Public Media’s student newsroom. Follow her on Twitter @farrahsoa.

Picture of Farrah Anderson

Farrah Anderson

Farrah Anderson is a student at the University of Illinois studying journalism. At Illinois Public Media, Anderson works as a general assignment reporter and produces and hosts the 217 Today podcast.

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