PEORIA – With the daily average number of new COVID-19 cases in the Tri-County Area dropping this week, a local health administrator issued a warning about Labor Day weekend: Let’s not repeat mistakes made over the Fourth of July holiday.


"...our community saw a huge spike in cases, and that was because of individuals gathering together or traveling during the Fourth of July weekend, and the subsequent cases that came from it," said Peoria City/County Health Administrator Monica Hendrickson during the weekly COVID-19 update on Facebook. "We really want to focus on… all the good work our community has been doing, embracing face coverings and masking, our schools reopening, the social distancing and hygiene practices that we’ve all put into place. Lets keep going with that. And if you are traveling during the long weekend, continue to do those precautions even if you are visiting a state or community that doesn’t necessarily follow that… so when you return you are bringing back memories from the area, not necessarily the virus."


The Tri-County Area is currently averaging 53 new cases a day, and about three fourths of the area’s 4,056 cases have recovered.


More area deaths


The virus is still taking a heavy toll in central Illinois. Five elderly Tri-County residents died this week, for a total of 54 deaths since the pandemic began.


Older people aren’t the only ones affected by COVID-19 – the virus apparently had a role in the death of 29-year-old former Peoria Rivermen player Tyler Amburgey. He died in Texas on Sunday. According to his grandfather, Amburgey was diagnosed with COVID-19 the prior week.


"Tyler had been sick for about a week, and he’d gone days without sleeping," Paul Hinds, Amburgey’s grandfather, told the Journal Star on Tuesday. "The medical examiner said he took a sleeping pill to try to get some rest."


The medical examiner told the family that both sleeping pills and COVID-19 slowed his heart rate, and that Amburgey’s heart stopped.


Amburgey left behind his wife, Aimee, and daughter, Rylee, 8. The Rowlett, Texas, native, who was living with his family in Lavon, Texas, was a part of the Rivermen’s inaugural SPHL team in 2013-14, and played two seasons with Peoria.


First death related to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally is reported


For those who need proof that large social gatherings aren’t a great idea right now, the first COVID-19 death related to the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally was reported this week.


More than 400,000 people attended the 10-day event in South Dakota Aug. 7 through Aug 16.


The man who died was a 60-year-old Minnesota resident with underlying health conditions. At least 260 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in 11 states are directly tied to the rally, according to a survey of health departments conducted by The Washington Post.


Epidemiologists believe the figure is probably higher because many rally goers have resisted testing, and also because there is limited contact tracing in some states, according to The Washington Post.


Universities working to create the optimal plan for monitoring COVID-19


The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign may have the best COVID-19 testing program of any university in the U.S., according to an article published Aug. 29 in Fortune magazine.


UIUC Students are tested frequently, starting when they arrived on campus and twice a week thereafter. Test results are tied to each student’s ID through a university-developed tracking app and students who test positive aren’t admitted to University buildings.


A key component of the program is a new rapid saliva test developed in-house by UIUC researchers. Results are typically available within five hours. The test received FDA emergency use authorization shortly before classes were scheduled to begin.


Test developers are working to make the test available to other institutions, like Bradley University, in the near future. But this week BU President Stephen Standifird told WCBU 89.9 radio that those negotiations are currently stalled because UIUC is struggling with volume issues.


"Until we have confidence in the reliability of those tests, we've decided to stick with the plan that we have," Standifird told WCBU.


A vaccine by the end of October? Probably not


On Wednesday, news reports made it sound like a COVID-19 vaccine was imminent. USA Today reported that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was telling some health officials to be ready to start distributing a COVID-19 vaccine by November. There were also reports that Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said COVID-19 clinical trials could be cut short if positive results were overwhelming, allowing the vaccine to be available more quickly.


But the next day those hopes dimmed when Fauci told CNN that a November distribution was not likely.


On Friday, the New York Times offered a bit of clarity after reviewing an interview with Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser for the White House vaccine program, which aired on National Public Radio. A vaccine by the end of October is "extremely unlikely but not impossible," Slaoui said.


Slaoui said that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for states to prepare for a vaccine as early as late October was "the right thing to do" in case a vaccine was ready by then, but that, in truth, there is only a "very, very low chance" a vaccine will be available by the end of October.


There is no intent to introduce the vaccine before clinical trials are complete and an independent monitoring board affirms the effectiveness of the vaccine, Slaoui told NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly.


Vaccine? We don’t need no stinkin’ vaccine


The urgency to quickly market a vaccine might be a moot point if a new USA Today/Suffolk poll is true: Two thirds of participants said they won’t get a COVID-19 vaccine right when it comes out, and a quarter said they will never get it.


According to USA Today, the new poll had results similar to other surveys that indicated as many as one third of Americans would decline a vaccine because, along with the fact that they distrust immunizations of any kind, many people also don’t trust the Trump administration's push to speed up development of the COVID-19 vaccine.


Sex in the age of COVID, Canadian-style


On Wednesday, Canada’s chief public health officer, Theresa Tam, said people should refrain from kissing and wear masks when having sex with new partners, according to Reuters.


Tam said in a statement that the pandemic made sex complicated, especially for those whose sexual partners did not live in the same household.


"Like other activities during COVID-19 that involve physical closeness, there are some things you can do to minimize the risk of getting infected and spreading the virus," she said. Tam urged people to avoid face-to-face closeness as well as alcohol.


"The lowest risk sexual activity during COVID-19 involves yourself alone."


Information from the New York Times, The Washington Post, Fortune, USA Today, Reuters, WCBU 89.9 radio and NPR was used to compile this report.


Leslie Renken can be reached at 270-8503 or lrenken@pjstar.com. Follow her on Twitter.com/LeslieRenken, and subscribe to her on Facebook.com/leslie.renken.