COVID claims another life

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Monroe County reported one new COVID death over the holiday weekend, bringing the local toll since the start of the pandemic to 108. 

Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner said this most recent death was a male in his 50s.

Wagner said the majority of local residents who have died from COVID since the vaccine became available were unvaccinated and stressed that being vaccinated can reduce one’s risk of hospitalization should they be infected with any of the COVID variants.

There were 232 active coronavirus cases and 13 hospitalizations in Monroe County as of Wednesday, Wagner said.

Given the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the Omicron variant accounts for over 50 percent of cases in the U.S., Wagner said there’s a likely chance this newest variant is playing a role in Monroe County’s numbers.

Last week, St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force reported 118 people were admitted to area hospitals during one 24-hour span due to COVID – the largest single-day patient influx in nearly a year.

Wagner also said long-term care facilities in Monroe County are seeing a few cases among employees and residents, but they “are not seeing any real large numbers of outbreaks” since the availability of vaccines. 

“We are seeing cases pop up every now and then, (but) not like we did earlier on where it would infect the whole facility or we’d have a whole wing of people with COVID. It’s much more restrained than that,” Wagner said. 

According to the latest Illinois Department of Public Health data, Integrity Health Care of Columbia has a staff vaccination rate of just 48 percent and a resident vaccination rate of 90.77 percent. 

Oak Hill in Waterloo, which is a  county-owned operation, has a staff vaccination rate of 81.19 percent and resident rate of 97.16 percent. 

Wagner said the number of active cases he is aware of may not show the full scope of the pandemic in Monroe County, as the state is rolling out a new means of centralized contact tracing – meaning there may be some cases and hospitalizations the local health department has not been informed about. 

According to a press release from the state, all positive COVID cases entered in its data system will receive an automatic text message from IDPH that reads “IDPH COVID: There is important info for you” along with a phone number to call and a link with isolation instructions. 

Those who call the telephone number will then be “opting in” for an interview, the release stated. Individuals ages 65 and older and those deemed to be at “higher risk of severe illness per CDC recommendations” will receive an additional text message if they do not respond to the original. 

The release said while local health departments will no longer be responsible for the entire contact tracing in their jurisdiction, they will still play a role in the process. 

“While most confirmed cases will be traced through the State Contact Tracing Surge Center, local health departments will continue to respond to cases in high-risk settings, including congregate facilities,” it said. “Local health departments will also be able to see details about cases so they can identify any potential clusters or outbreaks and can request those cases be transferred from the Surge Center for further contact tracing. Additionally, local health departments will continue to have oversight of schools, daycares and congregate settings, including assistance with mitigation strategies and outbreak management.” 

Wagner said the Monroe County Health Department and other local health departments were under the impression these full changes would start Jan. 13. At this time, he said it appears they are now underway and he is not sure if more changes will be introduced in January. 

On Monday, the CDC announced updated isolation guidance for individuals who test positive for COVID. 

Under this new CDC guidance, those who test positive for COVID-19 may isolate for five days instead of the previously directed 10, provided they are asymptomatic. They should wear masks when in public for five days after they stop isolating, the CDC said. 

“The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the 1-2 days prior to onset of symptoms and the 2-3 days after,” a CDC press release explained. 

The CDC also changed its quarantine guidance for those who were exposed to the disease. Unvaccinated individuals, those who have not received their booster dose and received their second Pfizer or Moderna vaccine over six months ago, and those who have not been boosted and received their Johnson & Johnson shot over two months ago, should quarantine for five days and wear a mask when around others for an additional five days. 

Those who have received a booster dose, their second Pfizer or Moderna vaccine within the last six months or received their Johnson & Johnson vaccine within the last two months do not need to quarantine, but should wear a mask in public for at least 10 days. 

The CDC recommends getting tested for COVID five days after initial exposure. If an individual exposed to COVID starts showing symptoms, they should immediately quarantine until they receive a negative test result. 

On Wednesday, IDPH data showed 57.23 percent (19,649 residents) of Monroe County’s eligible population is fully vaccinated and 8,001 booster doses have been administered. Wagner said he does not believe the former includes individuals ages 5-11.

The local health department will host a Moderna vaccine clinic (ages 18 and older) from 1-3 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 6 at Rock City in Valmeyer. 

A similar clinic, also from 1-3 p.m., will be held at the site for Pfizer (ages 12 and up) on Thursday, Jan. 13. 

Those in need of a COVID vaccination do not need to wait until the new year to do so. Doctors offices and area Walmart, Walgreens and CVS Pharmacy locations offer vaccines. 

Last Wednesday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved a Pfizer pill that seeks to quell the serious effects of COVID. This pill will be in limited supply and is only authorized for those with the disease who are highly likely to face hospitalization. 

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