As COVID-19 cases decline nationally and locally, local expert says country hasn’t hit ‘all-clear’ yet

Although mask wearing and vaccines are helping
Published: Feb. 23, 2021 at 11:34 PM CST
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ROCK ISLAND, Ill. (KWQC) - According to the Mayo Clinic, Iowa and Illinois have seen a decline in daily case numbers from January 21 to February 21.

To Augustana College Asst. Professor of public health Rebecca Heick, the answer as to why there’s a decline isn’t a simple one.

“I think it’s actually a combination of factors there is no one thing we could say ‘ope, yep, this is exactly what’s happening’ and I think that’s kind of been the story of this pandemic is that there’s been no point where we’ve been able to say ‘ope, yep, it’s this one thing,’” Heick said, “It doesn’t mean that we’re in the clear, that is one thing I want to be very frank about is that this decrease in cases isn’t some kind of an all-clear flag that we can kind of all go back to our normal lives.”

One thing for certain though is how the decline is relative.

“We had such a massive surge in cases beginning back in November and running through the holidays and even into early February we saw significant spikes in our numbers after individuals and groups had gathered over the holidays,” Heick said.

Although people’s behavior has helped.

“Those types of data also indicate that we have people that actually hunkered down after the holidays, they saw that big surge that we had talked about and decided maybe staying home was a safer bet at least for a few weeks and so obviously if we have more people staying home our case numbers are also going to decrease,” Heick said, “Actually more people have started doing things like wearing masks or perhaps they’re wearing them better so it’s covering both mouth and nose.”

As for the vaccines, they haven’t made an impact just yet on numbers.

“People are like ‘oh my gosh, are we already seeing the impact of vaccines?’ I would love to say ‘absolutely, that is what is driving the numbers down is vaccination’ wouldn’t it be great if I could say that? The reality is our vaccination rates in the US and Iowa and Illinois etcetera are still low enough that there might be some minimal impact on the individuals who’ve been vaccinated but in large part, we aren’t yet to a place where we’re going to start seeing a big impact.” Heick said.

“Now, for the next couple of months, we do expect to see that as our vaccination numbers continue to rise, there will be an impact and one of the things we expect to see first is actually a potential decrease in hospitalizations and maybe even deaths,” Heick continued.

Heick said by the time the US has 50% of people fully vaccinated, things could begin to change.

“Most experts believe that once we hit about the 50% mark, that’s when we’re really going to see an impact and of course at that point if 50% of our population is fully immunized, particularly if it continues to show that these vaccines are very effective against the variants that we’re seeing, if that process continues and the ability to stop those variants from causing new infection or re-infection is also a part of that, then you know by late Spring I’ll expect that we’ll be starting to see some things shift,” Heick said.

In the end, Heick still reiterates what health experts have been preaching for nearly a year now.

“What we need people to do is to continue to follow the same guidance that we’ve been giving the last several months, we really need people to continue to mask up,” Heick said, “This pandemic isn’t about me, or it isn’t specifically about you, it’s actually about all of us, the decisions that I make don’t just affect me or they don’t just affect my family, they actually affect every person that I potentially have contact with.”

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