‘Get it now,’ Wagner says of vaccine

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This chart shows the average number of COVID-19 tests conducted each day in each county within Region 4 from March 11 to April 15. Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner said the test number for Monroe County is much too low. 

The Monroe County Health Department announced that the next COVID vaccine clinic will take place this coming Monday.

There will be a clinic with the Moderna vaccine on Monday from 3 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at the Monroe County Fairgrounds. All Monroe County residents ages 18 and older can get their first dose at that clinic. Those who got their first dose of the Moderna vaccine on or before March 29 can get their second dose.

Simultaneously, Monroe County will also offer first and second doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for all county residents ages 16 and older on Monday. Those under 18 must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. The second doses are for those who got their first shot on April 5 or earlier.

There was a second-dose clinic Thursday for those who got their first dose of the Moderna vaccine on March 25 or prior.

Other vaccine opportunities include Red Bud Regional Hospital, which offers the Moderna vaccine to individuals ages 18 and up by appointment only to those who are 90 days COVID negative, 90 days from receiving COVID antibody treatment and 14 days from receiving and other vaccines (flu, measles, shingles, etc.). Sign up by clicking here or calling 618-282-7373.

The St. Clair County mass vaccination site at the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds in Belleville is for all Illinois residents. To register, click here.

The Walgreens locations in Waterloo and Columbia offer COVID vaccines. To register, click here.

In other local pandemic news, Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner is again questioning state data related to the novel coronavirus, with the target of his criticism this time being the test positivity rate for Monroe County. 

According to Wagner, the Illinois Department of Public Health’s data does not take into consideration problems Wagner said his office is experiencing with getting negative COVID-19 test results from Missouri, which skews the county’s numbers higher. 

“The positivity rate that they’re receiving is not an accurate number,” Wagner said. 

Essentially, Wagner said people who test positive for the virus at a site in Missouri will often contact the health department to let them know, and that is how Wagner finds out about the results. 

His office then contacts the lab to fax them test results so Wagner can add it to the appropriate database. 

Wagner said he is not usually notified by the lab or state in any other way about those positive tests, and he finds out about even fewer negative tests because people who do not have the virus typically do not inform the health department of that. 

The matter came to a head Monday after the IDPH put Monroe County at the warning level for the virus, switching it from blue to orange on its color-coded map because of a high positivity rate. 

That move happened despite Wagner saying he had been working with the IDPH for over two weeks to address this issue, though he had not gotten a call back. 

“That’s why I have a problem with this 9 percent (seven-day rolling average positivity rate as of the week of April 4) is I know where we’re at, I know there’s a problem with reporting, I’ve made it known to the state and we’re working with the state,” Wagner said. “So, for them to go ahead and proceed with moving us to orange is just wrong.” 

Wagner said the problem is that the positivity rate determines what nursing homes in Monroe County can do. 

“It affects how they can operate, how they can have visitors, and everything else,” he said.  

The issue with not getting test results from Missouri has been ongoing throughout the pandemic, with the severity of the problem varying, per Wagner. 

Now, it is at a high point. 

“Most of our tests come from the other side of the river,” Wagner noted. “I’d say at least 50 percent of our tests come from the other side of the river.”

As part of its normal reporting over the weekend, the IDPH may have begun correcting the issue. 

From Friday to Sunday, it released daily test and positivity rate information from April 12-14. 

Over those three days, the IDPH said the county had 184, 239 and 364 COVID tests, respectively. 

Prior to that, the IDPH reported Monroe County conducted fewer than 100 tests almost every day in the preceding weeks. With those high test totals, the positivity rate plummeted to around 1-3 percent. 

“Maybe they’re getting it straightened out,” Wagner said, adding he still had not heard from the IDPH. “That’s what I would expect our positivity to be, or even a little lower, just based on our case load.” 

The recent testing data for the region seems to support Wagner’s argument. 

A Republic-Times review of testing and positivity rate data for the entire region shows that from March 11 to April 15, Monroe County had the third-highest average number of  daily positive tests in Region 4 – behind only St. Clair and Madison counties. 

It had the second-lowest average number of daily tests, however, ahead of only Washington County. 

Similarly, over that period, Monroe County had the third-highest total of positive tests behind Madison and St. Clair counties and the second-fewest total tests performed ahead of only Washington County. 

“They’re not accurate numbers,” Wagner said of that data. “That fits right into the scenario that we’re not getting those reported. That’s why those numbers are that way.” 

All the concerns about positivity rate are somewhat lessened as that metric has been used less compared to earlier in the pandemic. 

More experts are saying that, since around a quarter of the population in many areas has gotten vaccinated and fewer people are getting tested in general, hospitalizations, ICU-bed occupancy and cases are better ways to measure prevalence of the virus. 

Wagner agreed with that assessment. 

“After a substantial number of the population has been vaccinated, positivity rates should not be used because you’ve taken a large portion of the population out of even getting tested,” he reasoned. “The positivity rates still mean something, but they don’t mean what they used to mean.” 

Vax turnout concerns

In other local pandemic news, Monroe County hosted two first-dose vaccine clinics and a second-dose clinic last week. 

The first-dose clinic was originally designed for vaccinating high school seniors, but it was expanded to all county residents after low turnout. 

“It went fine,” Wagner said of the first-dose clinics. “I would have liked to have seen a little more participation by the high school students.”

The county could focus on that group because it was issued an extra 500 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from St. Clair County for that purpose.

Monroe County sent 100 of those doses back because it could not use them, but Wagner still thanked the neighboring county for sending the shots. 

“That’s unfortunate, but it is what it is,” he said of sending the shots back. “I think the Johnson & Johnson news scared people a little bit. I understand the skepticism of some parents.”

The hesitancy to get vaccinated among high school students is part of a trend Wagner is noticing, as the vaccine clinics are becoming increasingly less busy despite much of Monroe County not having gotten even one shot.

If that continues, with a large portion of the population declining the vaccine, Wagner said that can only make the pandemic worse.

“Anytime the more the virus can spread, the higher chance it has of mutating into something we don’t want,” he warned. “I still encourage everybody to get the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine as soon as possible. Don’t wait on it. If you’re going to get it, get it now.”

The IDPH reports Monroe County has administered 26,218 doses of COVID vaccine. There are 12,423 people fully vaccinated here – meaning 36.18 percent of the county has received both shots.

Illinois overall has administered 8,942,127 doses of the vaccine and received over 11.1 million doses. A total of 3,835,491 residents have gotten both shots, which means 30.1 percent of Illinois is fully vaccinated.

Monroe County has had a total of 4,362 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, about 38 of which are active. Four residents remain hospitalized with the virus. There have been 32 new cases since April 14.

Overall, the Waterloo zip code has had 2,216 cases (27,291 tests performed), the Columbia zip code has had 1,656 cases (11,585 tests) and the Valmeyer zip code has had 168 cases (1,071 tests), according to the IDPH.

Monroe County’s seven-day rolling average test positivity rate was 1.3 percent on April 24.

The seven-day rolling average positivity rate for the metro east was 2.5 percent on April 23. The region has 36 percent of its ICU staffed beds available.

In St. Clair County, there have been 30,329 total positive tests and 475 coronavirus-related deaths. A total of 336,895 tests have been performed there.

Randolph County has had 4,130 confirmed cases, 13 of which are active. Eighty-five people have died from the virus there.

Illinois overall is up to 1,325,726 cases of coronavirus and 21,858 deaths. There are 2,083 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois, including 502 people in ICU beds.

Missouri has recorded 500,071 confirmed cases and 8,732 deaths. That includes 79,643 cases in St. Louis County and 20,755 cases in St. Louis City, according to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services.

Nationally, more than 32.1 million people have contracted the virus, while at least 572,237 people have died.

Worldwide, there have been over 147.5 million cases of coronavirus and over 3.1 million COVID-19-related deaths.

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