EFFINGHAM — The spread of the British COVID-19 variant in Effingham County has local health officials concerned, as does the increasing number of young residents testing positive for the virus.

Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Karen Feldkamp said the health department is not taking the fast-spreading COVID-19 variant lightly during the monthly Effingham County Health Committee meeting Tuesday.

“We’ve seen an increase in COVID cases and that doesn’t excite us at all,” Feldkamp said. “Last week we announced the British COVID-19 variant B.1.1.7 has been detected in some of our specimens here in Effingham County. The B.1.1.7 is more contagious and it’s easier to transmit.”

She said that is the reason why Effingham County is starting to see an increase in COVID-19 cases. Effingham County’s rolling seven-day positivity rate was 6.3% through April 5 — the highest it has been since January.

The health department recommends residents be vigilant, avoid crowds, mask up, wash hands thoroughly and social distance.

“It is a little disheartening because we felt we were moving in the right direction, but we are starting to see more positive cases,” Feldkamp said.

On Tuesday, the ECHD reported it had 16 people in quarantine and 39 positive cases.

“I have a concern about what we are seeing,” Feldkamp said. “Most of the people we are seeing are a little bit younger that are positive. That’s why we are trying to get more people vaccinated.”

“We want to head this off before we go into another wave because no one wants that,” Feldkamp said.

She said the ECHD is hoping no major outbreak happens because of the British variant before school lets out for summer.

“We really don’t want to recommend anyone to go to remote learning this year and we haven’t had to do that this year and we really don’t want to do that. We are diligently working with the school officials to try to make sure we have isolation and quarantine so it’s not spreading.” Feldkamp added.

Feldkamp said as of Tuesday the State of Illinois is reporting 14,866 doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been administered in Effingham County. She said of the 14,866 doses, 5,698 were totally vaccinated with both shots.

“That is a little over 16 percent of the population in Effingham County,” Feldkamp said. “We have also vaccinated over 50 percent of the people over 65.”

Feldkamp noted the state is still in Phase 4.

“In order to move into the Bridge phase, the entire state has to be in the position to move to the bridge stage and there are some regions that are in a really bad way,” she said.

The Bridge phase, which is the transition phase to fully reopening, requires the state must vaccinate at least 70 percent of the population aged 65 and older, while hospital ICU bed availability needs to be higher than 20 percent and COVID-19 hospitalization and death rates stable or flat for 28 days.

Feldkamp said since the clinic has been having a hard time filling all of the vaccination appointments the ECHD decided to open it to anyone who lives in the state of Illinois.

“I haven’t heard any issues from Effingham County having trouble getting into any of our clinics,” Feldkamp said. “Please let us know if you are having problems.”

She said they are doing both first-dose and second-dose clinics. The ECHD hosted its first one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine clinic on Wednesday that was fully booked.

Feldkamp said the department has now gone to all online appointments, which makes it easier for people to choose their day and time. She said they also take individuals by phone who cannot access the internet.

Effingham County Health Department Administrator Jeff Workman told committee members some departments have several vaccine openings.

“In the southern part of the state, a lot of health departments are reporting that they have a lot of appointments left over that are unfilled,” Workman said.

“I feel the availability of the vaccine is very good in Effingham County,” Feldkamp said. “We are also accommodating more individuals by hosting clinics at different hours of the day to make it more available for those who work during the day.”

She said they expect to be having a Saturday clinic within the next week or two.

Charles Mills can be reached at charles.mills@effinghamdailynews.com or by phone at 217-347-7151 ext. 126.

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Charles Mills is reporter and videographer for the Effingham Daily News. A 1983 graduate of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, he worked as senior video editor for a Nashville television station. He is a native of Vandalia.