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PANDEMIC PERSPECTIVE: Why counting cases may not be the future of tracking the COVID-19 pandemic

Rock Island County Health Department's Janet Hill explains how the pandemic may be tracked in the future.

ROCK ISLAND COUNTY, Ill. — As we near the two-year mark of the coronavirus pandemic we are getting a new look at how health leaders are viewing the virus.

News 8' spoke with Janet Hill, Chief Operating Officer for the Rock Island County Health Department to get a pulse on the pandemic.

Here's what we learned:

Where is Rock Island County right now in the fight against COVID-19?

We've seen rapidly rising cases since Thanksgiving. We are seeing more than 200 cases a day reported from labs. All those at-home tests people are buying aren't included in the official case count which means, actually, the prevalence of the disease is high than what our official case count shows

We are seeing a lag in contact tracing from the State Health Department, why do you think that is?

Last week there were more than 207,000 [COVID-19] cases in the State of Illinois. The Illinois Department of Public Health Surge Center was meant to health local health departments all across the state get information out as quickly and easily as possible to positive patients. As you can imagine when you have 207,000 cases hitting within a week, not everyone will be called... However, that information is widely available. So if you don't get a call people do continue to follow isolation and quarantine rules.

Now that at-home COVID-19 tests are widely available, and these tests don't report to the state, could we see a false sense of safety with an expected decline in reported cases?

We are starting to look more at hospitalizations, which are still very high in our community. They aren't quite as high as they were after the Christmas holidays, however, that doesn't necessarily mean that people were discharged. Many of those patients have died. So far this week we've had 14 deaths.

You've been on the front lines since the very beginning. As we approach two years, what is going through your mind?

I think we are coming to a point that we are learning to live with the pandemic a little bit.

The CDC last week updated their mask guidance. They said now we should wear N-95 and KN-95 masks. But then later came out and said that 60% of KN-95 masks in our country are fake. These 'fake' masks were the same masks we were told kept us safe in the beginning, how do you gain the trust of skeptics with these changes?

Information changes during a pandemic because we learn more about the virus and how it's transmitted. So information that you may have heard coming up on two years ago probably is outdated.

What we do know is that cloth masks are better than no mask and the best mask is the one that you will wear every time. Make sure it fits tightly around your face and nose. Surgical masks are widely available are weren't in the past. couple those with cloth masks and that offers really good protection.