Monroe County adds COVID deaths; positive vaccine news

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Monroe County’s death toll from the novel coronavirus is now at 88 after the death of a man in his 90s who was not associated with a long-term care facility was reported Saturday.

After the COVID-related death of a male long-term care resident in his 90s was reported Tuesday, Monroe County reported two more deaths Wednesday: a male long-term care resident in his 80s and a female long-term care resident in her 90s.

Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner said the recent deaths from long-term care facilities are “spread out all over” the county’s nursing homes. He also said the deaths were of people who got infected before the vaccine was available to them.

Wagner added that some of the county’s facilities have inoculated all their residents, but others have not. He did not know specifics.

There are 21 residents hospitalized among the roughly 250 active coronavirus cases in Monroe County. Fourteen new coronavirus cases were reported over the weekend.

On Monday, Wagner reported the deaths of a woman in her 30s who tested positive in October and died in January, a woman in her 80s who tested positive in October and died in January, a man in his 90s who tested positive in December and died in January and a man in his 70s not associated with a long-term care facility who recently died in a hospital.

Wagner said the Monroe County coroner has not determined the cause of death of the woman in her 30s and ruled the man in his 90s died due to congestive heart failure.

“It appears the state is listing anyone who has had COVID in the past as a COVID death even when county coroners have determined it to be something else or has not yet determined,” Wagner said.

That news comes as Monroe County hosted another vaccine clinic for members of the public on Wednesday. The clinic was for county residents ages 75 and older. Early Wednesday afternoon, the clinic was opened up to those ages 70 and above until the remainder of vaccines were used.

“It went good,” Wagner said of the clinic. “It went a little slower because of the cold weather. We got through most of the 75 and older population.”

Although it went well, there were still some leftover shots that could not be stored in the county, so the health department contacted Regional Superintendent of Schools Kelton Davis to see if education personnel could get the vaccine.

Davis in December created a way for employees of Monroe County’s public and private schools to register for the vaccine, with the highest priority being given to those who are age 65 or older and those with pre-existing conditions that make them more susceptible to the virus.

All of those high priority individuals got vaccinated Thursday afternoon, along with a random selection of individuals chosen proportionally from each of the county’s schools. Anyone who works in education, from teachers to cafeteria workers, to custodians, was eligible.

“I was both ecstatic and emotional,” Davis said when he saw educators getting vaccinated. “To see our folks finally getting it in Monroe County, it damn near brought a tear to my eye. To say it was amazing is an understatement. Emotionally, we needed it. Our schools needed this to get started.”

Davis credited Wagner and his team with being responsive to the demands in the county and ensuring that none of the shots go to waste.

“Our health department stepped up big time,” Davis said.

The state added two vaccination sites in Monroe County this week, as the Walgreens locations in Waterloo and Columbia now offer the vaccine. An appointment is required to get the shot. Sign up for that here.

Following Wednesday’s clinic, Wagner also defended the decision to change the age range via an announcement on social media instead of the county’s Code Red system, pointing out the vaccine being used must be administered quickly.

“That was a spur-of-the-moment decision,” he said. “There was not time for a Code Red alert to go out.”

Wagner said Monroe County received approximately 1,000 doses for this clinic, which should have been “plenty to get through that age group.” 

That meant individuals needed not fear the county running out of vaccine, so they could come to the clinic at their convenience.

There was no registration for this clinic, which was for people getting their first shots only. Those who received their first dose at the Jan. 18 clinic should be contacted soon about getting their second shot next week. 

Wagner said the increase in doses came after “two days of raising hell.” 

“I actually got legislators involved, and our local legislators made some calls,” Wagner said. “Rep. David Friess (R-Red Bud) and Sen. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro), they have been really helpful.”

Another factor that helped with receiving over double the recent levels of vaccine is Monroe County is getting the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine instead of the Moderna one. 

That vaccine has essentially the same efficacy and side effects but requires a little more work on the health department’s part. 

“I don’t know what our allocation is going to be this week, but I’m hoping they give us more Pfizer because it seems like there’s a little more Pfizer running around with the logistics of administering it,” Wagner said. 

Wagner also said he pointed to the mass vaccination site in St. Clair County in his efforts to get the state to give him more vaccine – though he said it appears that site is running into supply problems. 

“The problem is it does look like a number of counties are getting fewer doses when you look at the percent of population vaccinated,” Wagner said. “We’re one of the lowest. How can that be? I don’t have any doses. If these other counties are vaccinating more people, they have to be getting more doses.”

Bryant last week similarly decried what she called “vaccine inequity,”  using Monroe County as an example of an area that has not gotten its fair share of vaccine. 

“Our residents have done what they can to prevent the spread of this virus and helped protect our communities. Now it’s time for the governor to do his part and provide access to the vaccine,” Bryant said.

Per the Illinois Department of Public Health, Monroe County has administered 5,064 doses of COVID vaccine. There are 850 people fully vaccinated here, meaning 2.48 percent of the county has received both shots.

Illinois overall has administered 1,863,562 doses of the vaccine and received over 2.4 million doses. A total of 430,489 residents have gotten both shots, which means 3.38 percent of Illinois is fully vaccinated.

Wagner also lambasted the state’s decision to vaccinate inmates in Illinois, a decision Bryant has also criticized.  

“They want to send tens of thousands of doses to prisons to vaccinate all the prisoners when the 80-year-old grandma who has been a law-abiding citizen her whole life cannot get a vaccine because there is none available,” Wagner said. “It just makes no sense.” 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that “jurisdictions are encouraged to vaccinate staff and incarcerated/detained persons of correctional or detention facilities at the same time because of their shared increased risk of disease.” 

Staff of those facilities are in the 1b group currently being vaccinated. 

In light of the steadily increasing federal vaccine supply, Illinois is planning to expand the eligibility in the 1b group to include those with commodities and underlying conditions as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

On Feb. 25, that means those with cancer, chronic kidney disease, diabetes, heart conditions, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, obesity, pulmonary disease, sickle cell disease and people who are pregnant or immunocopromised due to an organ transplant will be added to the group. That does not mean those individuals can get vaccinated that day, as they may have to wait their turn within the 1b subgroups.

A state choice that has won praise came Thursday when Region 4, including Monroe County, moved to Phase 4 of the state’s Restore Illinois coronavirus response plan. 

In Phase 4, a number of limitations are lessened. Restaurants can open indoors with limited capacity and following strict public health procedures, including personal protective equipment for employees. 

To move to Phase 4, a region must have a test positivity rate at 6.5 percent or below and ICU bed availability of 20 percent or higher for three consecutive days based on a seven-day rolling average. 

This region met all those metrics, skipping over Tier 1 mitigations. The seven-day rolling average positivity rate for the metro east was 4.7 percent on Feb. 13. The region has 27 percent of its ICU staffed beds available.

Monroe County’s case total since the pandemic began is now at 4,013, with 143 new cases since Feb. 3.

The county recorded three cases Tuesdays, six cases Monday, three cases Sunday, 11 cases Saturday, 14 cases Friday, five cases Thursday and 12 cases Wednesday.

Overall, the Waterloo zip code has had 2,051 cases (22,219 tests performed), the Columbia zip code has had 1,525 cases (9,671 tests) and Valmeyer zip code has had 157 cases (851 tests), according to the IDPH.

Monroe County’s seven-day rolling average test positivity rate was 4.5 percent on Feb. 13.

In St. Clair County, there have been 27,321 total positive tests and 427 coronavirus-related deaths. A total of 274,439 tests have been performed there.

Randolph County has had 3,951 confirmed cases, 19 of which are active. Eighty-one people have died from the virus there.

Illinois overall is up to 1,164,922 cases of coronavirus and 20,034 deaths.

There are 1,726 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois, including 385 people in ICU beds and 179 on ventilators.

Missouri has recorded 472,143 confirmed cases and 7,458 deaths. That includes 73,112 cases in St. Louis County and 18,937 cases in St. Louis City, according to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services.

Nationally, more than 27.7 million people have contracted the virus, while at least 486,754 people have died.

Worldwide, there are over 109.3 million cases of coronavirus and over 2.4 million COVID-19-related deaths.

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