URBANA — The Illinois Department of Public Health announced Wednesday that it would exclude only results from the University of Illinois’ saliva-based test from its data for Region 6, instead of all of Champaign County’s results.
Without the county’s data, Region 6’s seven-day COVID-19 positivity rate had crossed the 8 percent threshold that could lead to more restrictions.
After the change, the region’s rate was recalculated at 6.6 percent.
It’s “a very good step,” Urbana Mayor Diane Marlin said. “It’s helping to keep the overall positivity rate down, which means delaying imposition of additional mitigations.”
After the state health agency announced earlier this month that it would exclude Champaign County’s data from Region 6 stats but still subject it to any additional mitigations, local mayors, UI officials, state legislators and other county officials asked for the county to be made its own region.
While that didn’t happen, Marlin said only excluding the UI’s tests was an acceptable compromise.
“While we didn’t get everything we asked for, they did listen to us,” she said. “It still feels a little bit like punishment without representation, but not as much.”
Marlin said she, Champaign Mayor Deb Feinen and Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator Julie Pryde had phone conferences “on several occasions” with IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike and the lieutenant governor’s office.
“They listened, and the announcement today was I think the result of those efforts,” Marlin said.
Ezike said Wednesday that the shift in how Region 6’s data is calculated will allow the state to “more accurately represent the spread across the region.”
“This will allow us to better identify testing needs and trends in that region,” she said.
And Gov. J.B. Pritzker praised the UI’s massive testing effort, but said it is skewing the region’s data.
“We think that’s a terrific thing, by the way, what they’re doing,” he said. “But the IDPH determined that it would be better to measure the region by taking those and putting them aside as we’re measuring whether mitigations will be necessary in the totality of that region.”
With the UI’s tests excluded, Champaign County has a seven-day positivity rate of about 3 percent, state data shows. Other counties in the 21-county region are above 8 percent, such as Vermilion, which is at 10.5 percent.
Marlin encouraged residents from other counties to get tested at the free location at Market Place Mall in Champaign.
“We have excess testing capacity here,” she said. “Anyone can get tested.”
And she said Champaign County is working with nearby counties to share the posters, guides and other materials it has developed.
“We’re willing to share whatever information we have here to help the region as a whole,” she said. “There’s no guarantee we will stay under 8 percent, unless other counties take this seriously.”