Nearly 100 cases of coronavirus linked to Illinois summer camp where masking wasn’t required

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An COVID-19 outbreak at a summer camp in central Illinois led to nearly 100 people infected with the virus.

Illinois health officials said 85 campers and staff contracted the virus and 11 fell ill at a nearby conference attended by individuals from the camp.

Most of the cases – at least 70 percent – occurred in unvaccinated individuals and one unvaccinated individual was hospitalized due to COVID-19.

The camp wasn’t checking vaccination status and did not require masks indoors – going against guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

This outbreak underscores the importance of vaccination for young adults as the super-contagious Indian Delta variant gains ground in the U.S.

An Illinois summer camp was the site of a recent Covid outbreak causing almost 100 cases

An Illinois summer camp was the site of a recent Covid outbreak causing almost 100 cases

It may seem counterintuitive to require masks at a summer camp.

Camp activities mostly take place outside, where fewer than one percent of Covid infections occur and where the CDC says unvaccinated people may go mask-less.

Additionally, children are less likely to become seriously ill from COVID-19 compared to adults. 

Only 0.1 percent of U.S. Covid deaths have occurred in children between the ages of five and 17.

But a recent outbreak in Illinois shows that it’s still important for summer camps – and other locations that cater to children – to take precautions against COVIS-19 when campers are not yet vaccinated.

The Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) announced on June 28 that it identified 96 Covid cases connected to an outbreak at a summer camp in the central part of the state.

About 48 percent of Illinois residents are fully vaccinated, but rates are much lower in some counties - represented by lighter blue on this map

About 48 percent of Illinois residents are fully vaccinated, but rates are much lower in some counties – represented by lighter blue on this map

Out of those cases, 85 occurred in campers and camp staff. 

A couple of individuals from the camp attended a conference nearby, causing 11 more cases.

All of the campers and staff were over age 12, making them eligible for vaccination. Yet vaccination rates at this camp were low.

Though the camp was not checking vaccination status, IDPH reports that the state ‘is aware of only a handful of campers and staff receiving the vaccine.’

At least 70 percent of the cases in this outbreak were in unvaccinated people. 

One young adult – who was not vaccinated – required hospital care for a severe COVID-19 case.

IDPH has not released the name or location of this summer camp, but the state reports that most cases in the outbreak occurred in Schuyler and Adams counties – which have low vaccination rates.

In both counties, about 40 percent of the population is fully vaccinated. This is significantly lower than both the state’s overall vaccination rate (48 percent) and the national rate (46 percent).

About three percent of first doses administered in the U.S. (4.6 million shots) have gone to children between ages 12 and 15, as of June 29

About three percent of first doses administered in the U.S. (4.6 million shots) have gone to children between ages 12 and 15, as of June 29

In the CDC guidelines for youth camps, the agency recommends that camps only operate with no public health measures when all campers and staff are fully vaccinated.

When not all campers and staff are vaccinated, however, the agency recommends that camps require masks indoors. 

Camps should also require physical distancing, group campers together to reduce possible disease exposures, screen campers and staff for symptoms, and more.

The Illinois camp did not follow these guidelines with IDPH reporting that the camp wasn’t requiring masks indoors.

The outbreak demonstrates the importance of vaccination for teenagers and young adults, who have been vaccinated at lower rates than older Americans.

While children and younger adults are less likely to get seriously ill from Covid, there’s still a present risk. Children may suffer from MIS-C and other long-term symptoms.

‘The perceived risk to children may seem small, but even a mild case of COVID-19 can cause long-term health issues,’ said IDPH Director Dr Ngozi Ezike in a press release.

‘Additionally, infected youth who may not experience severe illness can still spread the virus to others, including those who are too young to be vaccinated or those who don’t build the strong expected immune response to the vaccine.’

This risk for unvaccinated children and adults is only growing as the Delta variant gains ground in the U.S. This variant – first identified in India – is much more contagious than other strains of the virus.

The Delta variant currently causes one in five Covid cases in the U.S. – and its rate is doubling every two weeks. In parts of the Midwest, the variant is already causing almost 50 percent of cases, according to the CDC.

Public health officials in Illinois are working with the CDC to sequence cases from the summer camp outbreak – in order to determine whether these cases may be tied to Delta or another variant of concern.

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