COVID surge continues in Monroe County

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Pictured, from left, Kim Von Der Harr administers a COVID-19 vaccination to Brynn Huebner during a children’s vaccine clinic held Wednesday afternoon at Zahnow Elementary School in Waterloo.

This week, Monroe County saw two new additions to its COVID-19 death toll as active cases reached a point they had not seen in a long time. 

On Tuesday, Monroe County reported 218 active coronavirus cases. By Wednesday, that total decreased to 172. By Friday, it was back up to 198. 

Monroe County’s COVID-related death total is now at 107 after two were added this week. The two newest deaths were both individuals in their 60s – the first a man, the second a woman. Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner said the majority of recent COVID-related deaths have been unvaccinated individuals.

As of Friday, the Monroe County Health Department knows of 11 hospitalizations. That follows an upward trend throughout the St. Louis region.

On Tuesday, Wagner learned of a new change regarding the tracking of close contacts: local health departments will no longer be leading the process. Instead, the state’s Surge Center will be taking over. This change will go into effect Dec. 28. 

When someone tests positive, they will receive an automated call from the center explaining quarantine rules. For those ages 65 and older, the call will not be automated, Wagner said. 

“It’s going to be a complete mess,” Wagner said, later adding that “counties are pushing back because it doesn’t seem to be well thought out.” 

Wagner said he anticipates more details will come early next week and is hopeful the state will consider concerns many local administrators are expressing. 

Should this change go through as currently planned, schools would be responsible for their own contact tracing without the help of the local health department, Wagner said. 

High-risk individuals early into their COVID infection may be given monoclonal antibodies by their doctor. Wagner said this treatment is administered via transfusion by medical professionals and stressed this is not a preventative measure. 

“It’s kind of like a blood infusion. It actually has to be done in a hospital,” Wagner said. 

Limited supply and cost is why the criteria for receiving this treatment is selective, Wagner said. 

Many have also been discussing Merck’s COVID-19 pill, which Denmark recently approved for at-risk patients.

“It will stop it from progressing farther. It’s actually not going to take the virus away, but it’s going to help your body fight it quicker,” Wagner said of the Merck pill. “It’s not going to take it away, but it should prevent it from progressing into severe symptoms. 

How the pill will be distributed in the U.S. – and whether or not it will be accessible to everybody – should it be approved is still up in the air, according to Wagner. It might be prescription only or eventually may be over-the-counter. 

On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommendation expressing a clinical preference for individuals to receive an mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Moderna or Pfizer) over Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine. This unanimous recommendation followed a discussion of the latest evidence on vaccine effectiveness, vaccine safety and rare adverse events, and the abundant U.S. vaccine supply. The committee reaffirmed, however, that receiving any vaccine is better than being unvaccinated. 

As of Friday, 56.64 percent (19,448 residents) of Monroe County’s population is fully vaccinated. This does not count booster shots or vaccines for children ages 5-11. Nearly 7,000 booster doses have been administered in Monroe County. 

Wagner said a total of 330 shots were administered to local schoolchildren (ages 5-11) during clinics held Tuesday at Parkview Elementary in Columbia and Wednesday at Zahnow Elementary in Waterloo. These were a mix of first and second doses. 

The next public vaccine clinic offered by the health department takes place from 1-3 p.m. Jan. 6 at Rock City in Valmeyer. This will be for any doses of the Moderna vaccine for ages 18 and up. 

COVID vaccines are also offered at Walmart in Waterloo, Schnucks in Waterloo, Walgreens in Waterloo and Columbia, and at CVS Pharmacy in Columbia. 

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