Despite the Hyperbole, Facts Don’t Support Misleading Definition of Winnebago County as a COVID-19 “Hot Spot”

You can’t take everything you read at face value. A headline in the May 6 edition of the Rockford Register Star is a case in point. “Deemed a ‘hot spot’ last week, Winnebago County ranks in top 20 COVID-19 cases per capita” could not be more misleading.

In truth, Winnebago County as with most of IL, other than a handful of counties in and around Chicago, has very low COVID-19 per capita infection and mortality rates. As of the May 6 report provided by the Winnebago County Health Department (the same day of the Register Star headline in question), we had a total of 734 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 22 deaths.

Consider this: as of May 6, Winnebago County recorded approximately 1,100 deaths this year. Of those, only 22 were attributed COVID-19, with a vast majority of these over the age of 70 and with other serious health ailments.

To put this in perspective, the City of Chicago has a COVID-19 infection rate of 737 per 100,000 residents, compared to Rockford’s 491 per 100,000 residents. This means Rockford’s infection rate is 38% of Chicago’s rate, or about 1/3.  Does that sound like a “hot spot” to you?

We need to look rationally at the virus. Protecting the most vulnerable, particularly seniors in nursing homes and the dedicated health care professionals that care for them, is the most important priority. This can be accomplished without keeping our state and local economy on perpetual lockdown. 

If today you are allowed to buy groceries, household goods and any number of other items at a big box store by practicing social distancing, proper cleaning, and limiting the number of customers inside at one time, you should be allowed to walk into ANY local retailer, small business, or restaurant with the same public health measures in place. There is no scientific rationale to justify 100’s of people in a big box store being safer than 10 people in our local small businesses or restaurants. None.

Our community has been working together effectively to limit the spread of the virus. Our hospital system is stable, and we meet all of the Governor’s benchmarks and essentially have since the beginning of his Stay at Home Order.  Despite the Register Star’s misleading headline, no one should be afraid that Winnebago County is a “hot spot”. The facts clearly contradict that assertion, and we should be reopening our economy now in a smart, safe, regional way.

Joe Sosnowski is State Representative for Illinois’ 69th District serving portions of Winnebago and Boone Counties.