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SOUTHERN ILLINOIS — The Southern Seven Health Department says COVID-19 cases are rising "exponentially" in the region of southern Illinois it serves. 

The health department on Friday reported 40 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases across its seven-county region — saying that marks a more than 200% increase over last week's cases. 

The Southern Seven region includes Alexander, Hardin, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Pulaski, and Union counties.

Twenty-seven of the newly confirmed cases are in Union County, three are in Pulaski County, two are in Pope County, three are in Massac County, four are in Johnson County and one is in Alexander County. 

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A health department spokesman says the sudden case increase is "troubling news" for the region.

"We know that our neighbors in Missouri are struggling with the Delta variant of COVID-19 currently exploding in their state," S7HD Community Outreach Coordinator Nathan Ryder said in a statement Friday. "We are worried about the spillover effect we may begin to see with the large amounts of people in the S7 region who haven’t gotten themselves vaccinated against COVID-19 yet.”

The health department says 36,562 COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in its region since Dec. 16. The average of individuals fully vaccinated in the region is 25.87%, the health department reports. Four out of the seven counties have the lowest vaccination rates in Illinois, the health department says, with less than 25% fully vaccinated. That includes Hardin County with 24.6%, Pope County with 23%, Pulaski County with 22% and Alexander County with 14.5%.

The health department is urging people who live in the Southern Seven region to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

"If you haven’t been vaccinated against COVID-19, you’re putting yourself at high risk with the more contagious and severe Delta variant of COVID that is spreading rapidly," Ryder said. "The three vaccines we currently have access to are showing they’re very effective at protecting you and helping to slow the spread of this and other COVID variants. We have plenty of vaccine available at S7HD. Now is the time to schedule yourself to get vaccinated before we see a potential surge."

The region has had 103 coronavirus-related deaths since the pandemic began.