CHAMPAIGN — More than 60 percent of Champaign County’s COVID-19 cases have been among children, teens and adults 40 and younger, but the common thread among the mostly older adults who have died of the disease has been underlying health conditions.

The seven Champaign County residents who have died have been immune-compromised or have had such other comorbid conditions as high blood pressure, diabetes and COPD, according to Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Deputy Administrator Awais Vaid.

Five of the seven deaths have been people in their 70s, 80s and 90s. Another was a woman in her 60s and the most recent, announced Tuesday, was a woman in her 40s with multiple comorbid conditions, Vaid said.

Whether COVID-19 is considered to be the primary cause of death or a contributing factor, it’s still counted as a COVID-19 death, Vaid said.

The potential for hypertension to be an underlying factor in more serious COVID-19 cases is vast, since nearly half of U.S. adults have hypertension and only about one-fourth of them have their high blood pressure under control.

A study published in April that included 5,700 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the New York area found the most common comorbidities were hypertension, obesity and diabetes.

Controlling blood pressure with medications can be protective, Vaid said, “but if you are not and aren’t well controlled, that can be a greater risk.”

While there haven’t been any deaths among younger people in Champaign County to date, the number of cases in people 40 and younger have been multiplying because there are simply more young adults out in the community working essential jobs, Vaid said.

And, he said, younger adults are also more likely to be living in apartments, which have commonly touched surfaces and higher population densities.

It’s likely that the 22 people 10 and younger who have become infected in Champaign County are mostly kids of essential workers out in the community and/or living in apartments, Vaid said.

“One good thing with the recent cases we have seen in the last two weeks is a lot of these individuals are asymptomatic or mildly symptomatic,” he said. “That’s why you have not seen hospitalizations.”

500 being monitored

The significant factor in the recent upswing in Champaign County cases has been the outbreak at Rantoul Foods, Vaid said.

The outbreak linked to the plant held at 83 cases Wednesday, with no additional positive cases.

“The issue with outbreaks is, once it’s in a facility, it pretty much infects the majority of the people who are there if they’re not following the guidelines,” he said.

Some employees at the Rantoul plant work more than one job and are living in multiple-person households, raising the potential for spread in the community, Vaid said.

Champaign County should begin to see a decline in the numbers of new cases later this week, he projected.

Rantoul Foods is requiring all current employees to be tested in order to come to work, Vaid said. Among those who haven’t been tested may be some who were on the employee list, but no longer working there, he said.

“If they’re not employed anymore, there’s no way to force them to get tested,” Vaid said.

Tracing the contacts of Rantoul Foods-related cases is still under way, he said.

Countywide, including Rantoul Foods-related cases and others, the health district is currently monitoring 500 people who have been in contact with others who have been infected, Vaid said.

Small towns, small totals

There are two possible reasons some communities — such as Sidney, Homer, Pesotum, Ludlow and Tolono — have had so few cases of COVID-19.

One of them: “Hopefully, they are maintaining social distancing and not coming into contact with positive cases, which is a good sign,” Vaid said.

The other possible reason is there may have been more cases in these ZIP code areas than have been confirmed, because people with mild cases did what they were told to do early on and stayed home, and were never tested, he said.

Testing to expand by June

Look for COVID-19 testing to be available to anyone who wants to be tested in Champaign County by June 1, Vaid said.

Champaign County already is among those counties in the state with the highest level of testing outside Chicago, he said.

And, since Carle began processing tests locally, results are coming in much faster, in 24 hours as opposed to the two-to-three-day wait in other communities, Vaid said.

Gym not in compliance

Nearly all businesses in Champaign County have been compliant with the governor’s executive order, Vaid said. He could recall the public health district needing to send just a few cease and desist letters to local businesses, and with one exception, the letters resulted in compliance, he said.

The exception, The Zone gym in St. Joseph, has been referred to the state’s attorney’s office, Vaid said.

dpressey@news-gazette.com