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THIS WEEK: A post-pandemic plan

Public health workers make plans now that the COVID-19 pandemic has receded.

ROCK ISLAND, Ill. — It's a different world.

At one point during the 2022 COVID-19 surge in Rock Island County, the city's health department was reporting almost one in three tests: 31% came back positive.

Two and a half months later, in April, it's less than one percent: 0.79 percent.

"We're very happy to see much lower rates," said Janet Hill, the health department's Chief Operating Officer.

"We're at a very different point in the pandemic," Hill said on "News 8 This Week with Jim Mertens".

Doctors say if someone tells you the threat of COVID-19 infections is over, they're wrong.

But public health leaders say they are cautiously very optimistic though Quad City vaccination coverage hovers near 62% for people ages 5 and older.

"That means that 38% of people are still putting their health, their family's health, and their community at risk," Hill said.

Listen to our entire interview with Rock Island County Health's Janet Hill on THE CITIES PODCAST.

Part of public health care's focus regarding the COVID pandemic is on booster shots for those most at-risk for serious illnesses.

"We really would encourage people who are over 50 who have underlying medical conditions, those over the age of 65 to go ahead and get that next shot," said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "And also to recognize that they may very well need another shot, come the fall."

Some areas are seeing COVID case numbers rise

While the number of COVID cases throughout Iowa and all but one Illinois county is low, there are some areas where health officials say they're seeing increases.

Large cities like New York and Chicago have seen rising case numbers.

"But right now, still, we are now, I'm not alarmed, although our cases are rising," said Chicago Public Health Commissioner Dr. Allison Arwady.

Chicago may see a few more cases but it's nothing like the January surge.

"At this point, even a small is much more easy to handle because our hospital systems are not overwhelmed," said Rock Island County's Janet Hill.

On April 8, there was only one COVID patient in a Rock Island County hospital.

It's a sign that public health officials can now put more emphasis on its other programs like those impacting the health of women, infants, and children.

Returning to normalcy

"Until you saw us vaccinate more than half of the country, we did our work very quietly," Hill said regarding the role of public health in America.

She says that made public health department more likely to suffer from budget cuts in years past.

"In the last 15 years the Rock Island County Health Department has lost about half of our workforce and we must properly invest in public health," Hill said.

Now she said health care workers are ready to use the publicity they've received in coordinating a rapid response to the pandemic to help provide other services.

And bring old ones back.

Hill said Rock Island County received a federal waiver at the start of the pandemic which changed the way public health workers helped women and children in WIC (Women Infant Children) and other similar health programs.

It basically ended face-to-face medical sessions that she said were vital to illness prevention among women, children and low-income citizens.

"We really want to get our kids back," Hill said regarding the children who may have missed direct medical benefits from public health workers.

The county hopes to reopen its Maternal/Child Health Clinic in July.

"We know that it's good public health when we lay eyes on our clients," Hill said. 

Watch "News 8 THIS WEEK with Jim Mertens" Sunday mornings at 10 on WQAD News 8.

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