COVID vax clinics continue

Kim VonDerHaar of the Monroe County Health Department inoculates Brian Metzger with his Pfizer “booster” dose during Thursday’s clinic at the fairgrounds. The light rain did not stop individuals from getting booster shots, as there were still vehicles driving in during the tail end of the clinic. 

Monroe County’s COVID figures have been remaining low. 

As of Wednesday, the Monroe County Health Department reported 31 active cases, four hospitalizations and 105 deaths. 

Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner said this most recent death was a female in her 60s. Because of reporting issues across state lines, the health department was not aware this patient was in the hospital, nor that she had COVID-19, until after her death.

The hospitalization total is down from last week as one patient was recently released.

Wagner encouraged those eligible for “booster” vaccinations to do so. The health department is hosting Moderna drive-thru booster clinics from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Nov. 4 and Nov. 10 at the fairgrounds. 

Vaccine cards are necessary, but appointments are not. While these clinics are designed to meet booster needs, individuals may also get their initial series as well. 

“You’ve already gotten two shots. Go ahead and get the third,” Wagner said. 

Wagner is hoping by the new year, additional mass vaccine clinics will be held at Rock City in Valmeyer. 

“Once the weather gets below 30 degrees, we really need to be inside somewhere,” he said. 

More clinics will soon open as the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-11 was just approved Wednesday.

“We’re just now starting to contact the schools, but the plan is to run a vaccine clinic at each of the three school districts, one at Waterloo, one at Valmeyer and one at Columbia. Anybody from any school district can go to any one of those clinics,” Wagner said.

If there is large enough community need, the health department may add additional clinics at school buildings.

Prior to this approval, the health department already received a shipment of these lower-dose kids vaccines. 

“They actually sent it out prior to it being approved,” Wagner said. “This is really odd that they’re shipping it prior to approval because what happens if they don’t approve it and they’ve wasted all this time and money? But I guess they probably know from their inside knowledge that it’s going to be approved, otherwise I’m sure they wouldn’t be doing it.” 

As of Wednesday, 54.47 percent (18,702 residents) of Monroe County’s eligible population is fully vaccinated, per Illinois Department of Public Health data.

As Wagner told the Monroe County Board at Monday’s meeting, those who are vaccinated and are known close contacts are now being told to get tested 5-7 days after their initial exposure instead of 3-5. 

“They still don’t have to quarantine or anything like that if they’ve been vaccinated,” he clarified.

The health department has funding coming from Hope Coalition, which Wagner described as “a partnership between local health departments and hospitals,” for emergency response equipment. 

The department plans to use this funding to install new, larger front doors on its office building so they can fit pallet jacks full of supplies through. 

Currently, the health department has to unbox all large shipments. 

It can also be used for mass vaccination clinic supplies such as heaters, which Wagner said the department has used previous Hope Coalition funding for. 

The mass vaccination grant set to end in December has now been officially extended through the end of 2022. 

Right of Conscience Act

Some school districts across Illinois have been allowing its personnel to cite the Health Care Right of Conscience Act to exempt them from the state’s vaccine/weekly testing mandate. 

This may soon end due to legislation approved last week. 

SB1169 adds a section to the Health Care Right of Conscience Act, decades-old legislation originally intended to protect health care workers from performing abortions or other procedures, by specifying it is not unlawful for public officials, any agency, employer and others to “take any measures or impose any requirements” to limit “contraction or transmission” of COVID-19. 

Such measures and requirements include “terminating employment or excluding individuals from a school, a place or employment or public or private premises in response to noncompliance.” 

Approval of this change comes after attorneys have been providing school district clients with “conscientious objector forms,” through which individuals state that the COVID vaccine and weekly testing requirement outlined in Executive Order No. 88 goes against their consciously held beliefs.

Therefore, legal counsel providing these forms may argue these individuals are protected under the Health Care Right of Conscience Act, as the act’s original language states employers and institutions cannot impose conditions of employment or deny access based on one’s “refusal to receive, obtain, accept, perform, counsel, suggest, recommend, refer, assist or participate in any forms of health care services contrary to his or her conscience.” 

With the passage of SB1169, this will not be an option come June 2022. Because the bill did not receive a three-fifths majority in both chambers, it cannot be enacted immediately. 

The Columbia and Valmeyer school districts are currently allowing personnel to cite the act as a means to not get vaccinated or tested weekly. 

Columbia Superintendent of Schools Chris Grode said the fact there had to be a change to the act bolstered the district’s interpretation of the original law. 

He said that upon talking to legal counsel when Executive Order No. 88 was introduced, the district was told school personnel had three options: get vaccinated, submit weekly test results or be a conscientious objector. 

“The last time I talked to my lawyer about this, we were told that this was an option so we did it. Now I know that they have changed the law, so come June I’m not going to be able to do it anymore,” Grode said, later adding “I’m literally just trying to follow the rules. Sometimes that’s not as clear as I would like, but that’s the goal – keep the kids safe, educate them and follow the rules.” 

Grode said there are currently 14 personnel in his school district not testing or getting vaccinated as conscientious objectors. 

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