Southern Seven Health Department has started the process to move to the Illinois Department of Public Health’s new centralized COVID-19 Contact Tracing process, which goes into effect today, Thursday, Jan. 13.

Due to the tracing process transition and the record-breaking COVID caseloads, Southern Seven discontinued its daily reporting of COVID cases as of Monday, Jan. 10.

“We at Southern Seven are proud we’ve been able to keep the residents of our seven counties informed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic with local case count information published for the past 650-days when we were alerted of our first positive case,” said Nathan Ryder, community outreach coordinator for the department’s COVID-19 response team. “We are one of the last few local health departments in the state still publishing a daily case count.”

At the end of December, IDPH informed all local health departments the state was moving to centralize the COVID contact tracing process, freeing up overburdened local contact tracers to focus on the most critical cases of COVID in their communities, including seniors, residents and staff of long-term care facilities and local outbreaks of the virus. All other cases who choose to participate in the contact tracing process will be handled by IDPH’s Surge Center. Individuals who choose to opt-out of contact tracing will receive instructions on how to self-notify their close contacts and how to follow quarantine or isolation guidelines.

“As we transition to the state’s centralized contact tracing system, it’s going to be harder for us at the local level to maintain the continuity of those daily reports,” Ryder said. “Both the state and the CDC now have robust COVID-19 data that is published online frequently and gives users the ability to look at case information on the county level.”

As of Friday, Jan. 7, when the last statistics were made available by Southern Seven, Massac County had 2789 cumulative COVID cases since the pandemic began in the region in April 2020. Of those, 2563 have recovered and 168 are active. There have been 58 deaths reported in Massac County, with two — a male and a female both in their 60s — reported on Friday.

From Jan 5-7, Southern Seven reported 112 new cases of COVID in Massac County — four in less than 10-years-old; 24 teenagers; 18 in their 20s; 15 in their 30s; 24 in their 40s; 15 in their 50s; nine in their 60s; two in their 70s; and one in their 80s or above.

As of Monday, 12,332 Massac Countians have received the vaccine since it became available in December 2020. Of that number, 5095 have been fully vaccinated — meaning 36.19% of the county’s population has been fully vaccinated.

From Jan 5-7, Southern Seven reported 446 new cases of COVID and 317 recoveries in the region. There have been 13,218 cumulative cases in the Southern Seven region since the pandemic began in the region in April 2020. The Southern Seven region has had 193 deaths since the pandemic began.

New contact tracing process begins today

Beginning today, Thursday, Jan. 13, individuals will no longer be contacted by a member of Southern Seven’s Contact Tracing Team unless their case is flagged as a high priority. This is due in part to the overwhelming number of new positive cases and the limited staffing and resources available for contact tracing at the local level.

Under the new contacting system, all individuals who take a lab-based COVID-19 test and receive a positive result will be first contacted with a text message from IDPH to the cell phone number they provide as their point of contact.

The new message will display the following text: “IDPH COVID: There is important info for you. Call 312-777-1999 or click: https://dph.illinois.gov/covid19/community-guidance/ confirmed-or-possible-covid-19.html.”

The new text message being sent by IDPH does not confirm your test results or display other sensitive information.

“You can also visit the web address included in the message for helpful tips on what to do after receiving a positive COVID-19 test result,” Ryder noted. “It’s important to note that if you will need a release letter to return to work, school or the doctor, you will need to call the number provided to you by IDPH and participate in the contact tracing process.”

Individuals who do not have a cell phone number will instead receive a phone call from IDPH’s COVID-19 Surge Center. These calls will originate with a Chicago area code.

“Southern Seven will continue to provide release letters for cases that were handled by our tracers prior to the Jan. 13 switchover,” said Ryder. “Beginning today, it’s important you call the number listed in that text message from IDPH so you can get your quarantine or isolation release letters. Southern Seven will no longer generate those letters for you.”

Southern Seven will continue to update its website, Facebook page, podcast and the media as warranted with important updates related to COVID-19. New case counts and other COVID-related statistics published by IDPH can be viewed at https://dph.illi nois.gov/covid19/data.html.

The CDC also offers COVID statistics on its data tracker at https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#data tracker-home.

“Southern Seven encourages all individuals ages 5 and up to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” Ryder said. “We know COVID-19 vaccines are very effective in preventing severe illness, hospitalizations, and the potentially deadly consequences of the virus.”

Individuals can schedule a vaccine appointment with Southern Seven by calling 618-634-2297 between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Organizations wanting to host a clinic in their community can apply online at https://dph.illinois.gov/covid19/ vaccinationclinics.html.

IDPH adopts CDC recommendation for teens’ COVID-19 booster doses

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Department of Public Health is adopting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation for those aged 12 to 15 years to get a booster dose five months after receiving the second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

“We know that COVID-19 vaccine booster doses can help provide ongoing protection against the Omicron variant,” said IDPH director Dr. Ngozi Ezike. “Following the CDC’s recommendation, booster doses are encouraged for those aged 12 to 15 years who received their second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine five months ago.”

On Jan. 3, the Food and Drug Administration amended the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and expanded it to include a single booster doses for individuals 12- to 15-years-old.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices reviewed the available safety data following the administration of more than 25 million vaccine doses in adolescents and concluded COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.

At this time, only the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is authorized and recommended for adolescents aged 12-15.

To find vaccination locations near you, visit www.vaccines.gov or call 1-800-232-0233.

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