Health departments are urging people to continue following protocols to prevent further spread of the coronavirus.
"Washing hands, wearing your face mask, and practicing social distancing," said Raeva Farris, Public Information Officer at the McDonough and Schuyler County Health Department, during an interview with Tri States Public Radio.
"For Christmas and New Year's, we recommend only small gatherings or even virtual gatherings."
Some health experts across the U.S. feared a surge in COVID-19 cases after Thanksgiving. But Farris said that did not happen locally. She believes that is because people followed protocols and guidelines for preventing the spread of the virus.
Farris urged people to take advantage of the Illinois Department of Public Health's free COVID-19 testing offered in Macomb on Monday, December 21; Wednesday, December 30; and Saturday, January 2. The testing will be done in Q lot on the Western Illinois University campus from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. each day.
Farris said she can see a light at the end of the tunnel for the pandemic. But she said we are not out of the woods yet.
"It will only get better when everybody takes part and follows what the CDC and the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) recommend," she said. "We all have to cooperate and work together."
Farris said contact tracing has been the biggest challenge for the health department during the pandemic.
She also said the health department cannot order people to wear masks in public. "We can only encourage it and use the facts and data from the CDC and IDPH. Our role is to encourage people to follow those rules and guidelines."
McDonough District Hospital administered its first COVID-19 vaccines to employees on Wednesday, December 16.
"Physically, it felt just like a flu immunization, no different at all," Chief Nursing Officer Wanda Foster told TSPR. "I think emotionally and psychologically it was exhilarating to take that step."
She said she experienced "absolutely zero side effects."
Foster said MDH received 205 doses of the vaccine and -- like other hospitals across the U.S. – it is finding an extra dose in many of the vials.
Foster said MDH's vaccinations are being given first to employees who come in the most contact with COVID patients. She said Walgreens and CVS have contracts to administer vaccinations to residents and staff at the community's nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
The plan is much the same for Knox County. The county health department and the COVID-19 Unified Command said the first doses of vaccine will be distributed to at-risk, local hospital personnel.
"After a year that has presented unthinkable challenges to our county, I am grateful that the COVID-19 vaccine will become available in the coming weeks," said Public Health Administrator Michele Gabriel in a news release. "This pandemic and the quick turnaround of vaccines is a once in a lifetime experience."
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