Winnebago County Board Chairman Joe Chiarelli recovering after hospitalization for COVID-19

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — Winnebago County Board Chairman Joe Chiarelli tested positive for COVID-19 on November 3rd and was admitted to the UW Health COVID Unit, according to Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara.

Chiarelli was diagnosed with COVID pneumonia and received treatments, including oxygen and medication. He was released three days ago, and is reportedly recovering well.

Health experts consider this a “breakthrough” case as the Chairman was fully vaccinated.

In a statement read by McNamara, Chiarelli thanked the community for their thoughts and concerns, and encouraged the public to stay vigilant and safe during the holiday season.

“Take his word to heart. There’s a reason he felt comfortable and compelled to provide a statement,” McNamara said. “The magnitude is not acceptable, and we can all play a role in that. Be vigilant.”

“Everyone was hoping these COVID updates were gone forever, including myself,” said Rockford Mayor Tom McNamara. “Unfortunately, with the statistics now, we know it is no where near the end.”

Winnebago County hospitals have reported an increase in hospitalizations of patients suffering from COVID-19 symptoms.

As of Friday, the county’s testing positivity rate was 8.4%, with 51.8% of the population being fully vaccinated.

Top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci said last week that families who are vaccinated against COVID-19 can “feel good about enjoying a typical” Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.

“If you get vaccinated and your family’s vaccinated, you can feel good about enjoying a typical Thanksgiving, Christmas with your family and close friends,” he said.

McNamara gave some advice on how to stay safe during the holiday season.

“We know you obviously will be gathering with your family; we are simply asking that you make really smart decisions while gathering with your family,” McNamara said. “Number one, if you are feeling sick, stay home. Number two, get a test and insure you are not spreading COVID to some of your most loved ones. If you are vaccinated but have not gotten the booster yet, get it this week.”

McNamara said that he was glad that Stroll on State is outdoors, therefore making it much safer. He said that, according to experts, while infections can still happen outdoors, the risk is greatly reduced.

The Stroll on State team has taken multiple precautions to make the event as safe as possible, according to McNamara. These include multiple tree lighting ceremonies and Santa pop-ups, as opposed to one location.

Dr. Stephen Bartlett, the Chief Medical Officer at St. Anthony Medical, said that Chiarelli was vaccinated, and that it could have been a lot worse if he had not been.

“People who are being admitted to the hospital with the COVID infection are 10 to 1, people without the vaccine to people who have had the vaccine,” Bartlett said. “We’re seeing younger people getting sick with COVID than we did a year ago….there are two infants who are severely ill with COVID, so we can’t emphasize enough that we’re in the middle of another surge.”

According to Winnebago County Health Department Director Dr. Sandra Martell, Winnebago County has been categorized as having a high risk of transmission for two months.

“It’s kind of like we’re blowing through every stoplight,” Martell said. “Our transmission rate is currently 502 cases per 100,000, our positivity rate is over 10%. Currently, we have 126 individuals hospitalized. A three-day total reported 539 cases from Saturday, Sunday and Monday, and we have a low vaccination rate of 61.4%.”

Martell said that, with the increase in hospitalizations, emergency departments are full and hospitals are once again having to modify visitor policies.

Winnebago County is doing worse than DuPage and Cook Counties, even though their populations are higher, including Naperville and Chicago.

“What’s the difference,” Martell said. “The percent [of residents] vaccinated. The majority of hospitalized cases [are people that are] unvaccinated.”

Only 13% of hospitalized patients have been fully vaccinated.

“It’s very rare for an ICU stay for people who are vaccinated,” Bartlett said. “It’s a much milder infection if you’re vaccinated.”

Martell scolded residents, telling them “no shopping, no sports, no going to the movies. It means stay home,” if they are sick. She also said to not have Thanksgiving dinner, unmasked, with unvaccinated people, and that indoor masking is necessary given the county’s high transmission rate.

“I’ve heard we’re just going to live through this and it’s not going to be a big deal,” Martell said. “It’s not endemic yet. It’s still controlling our lives, our businesses, our schools. We need to get control. We need to mask up, wash up, back up and vaxx up…It’s time to double down.”

Martell said that there has been a growing concern that the state could bring back restaurant closures, and that she does not expect to see a surge of cases following Stroll on State, since “superspreader” events are small groups of unvaccinated getting together.

“We don’t want to close down,” Martell said. “Nobody liked it. I didn’t like it, either.”

Fauci warned on Monday about “prematurely” dropping mask mandates as Washington, D.C., lifts its requirement for indoor masking despite opposition from the city’s council members.

“Breakthrough infections is not a reason to be unvaccinated. We understand that immunity is waning. We had the approval of the booster doseses for everyone 18 years old and older,” Martell said. “If you’ve been six months since you’ve gotten your first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna, it’s time to get it. If it’s been two months since you got a Janssen or Johnson and Johnson, get your booster shot.”

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