COVID deaths continue as Monroe County awaits vaccine

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Monroe County’s death toll from the novel coronavirus is up to 55 following 10 more local deaths in recent days. 

The uptick in deaths comes as the Monroe County’s case total continues to steadily rise, and as it set a new record for hospitalizations. 

Monroe County has had 2,629 coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. It has reported 494 new cases since Dec. 2, and there are 308 active cases. 

There were 28 new cases Tuesday, 20 new cases Monday, 47 new cases Sunday, 40 new cases Saturday, 31 new cases Friday and 41 new cases Thursday.

There are 26 residents currently hospitalized with the virus, up one from the record 25 individuals hospitalized last week.

The two most recent deaths were announced Monday. The deceased were men in their 80s and 70s, neither of whom was associated with a long-term care facility.

Before Monday, the four newest deaths were a 78 year-old man, 73-year-old man, an 81-year-old man and a 77-year-old woman, none of whom were associated with a long-term care facility.

Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner reported two of the deaths Tuesday and one each Wednesday and Thursday.

“The ones that are not associated with long-term care are just ones where conditions worsened at home, they went to the hospital and continued downhill from there,” Wagner said. 

Last Thursday, Monroe County had new three deaths associated with different senior care facilities. 

Integrity Healthcare in Columbia, Oak Hill Senior Living & Rehabilitation Center and Cedarhurst in Waterloo each had a resident’s death reported. 

The Oak Hill death was originally not classified as being due to coronavirus, but now it is. The Cedarhurst resident died after being transferred to Oak Hill, but the death is still attributed to the former facility.

The sixth death was not a new one, but a resident of Integrity who died some time ago and the state had been counting toward the county’s total. Wagner was just notified of this death Thursday. 

Wagner said he has so far not seen a post-Thanksgiving surge in case numbers, though he is noticing more people in their 60s and older are contracting COVID-19. 

“Before Thanksgiving it was kind of all over the map in terms of age, but we’re seeing a few more older people who are coming up positive right now,” Wagner explained before noting he assumes some of that is due to Thanksgiving gatherings. “It’ll be about another week or so before if we start seeing hospitalizations in that age group go up and another week from that with deaths increasing.” 

It is too early to know for certain that there was not a spike in cases after this holiday like there has been after every previous holiday because the virus can incubate for up to 14 days. 

Wagner attributed the lack of a sharp increase so far to people taking safety precautions. 

“I think people were getting together, but they were cautious,” Wagner said. “They were with family members or people they knew the behavior of. If someone was running around all the time unmasked, they probably weren’t real welcome at a whole lot of Thanksgivings, and that’s what I’ve heard from the general public.”

In related news, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new quarantine guidelines. Read more on that by clicking here.

Another free mobile COVID-19 testing site was set up at the Monroe County Annex in Waterloo on Thursday.

Regardless of whether there is a surge, the county should have some good news on the pandemic front next week because the Illinois Department of Public Health announced the first vaccines in Illinois will be dedicated to hospital and health care workers in the 50 counties with the highest death rates per capita. 

Monroe County was on that list, but IDPH changed its mind after it realized Monroe County and a few other counties did not have hospitals.

The shipments that were going to go to those counties are now going to places like Springfield that were outside the top 50 counties but have hospitals.

“That’s fine. Since they want hospital and health care workers to get the first round, giving me that vaccine doesn’t really do anything,” Wagner said.

Wagner said the county should receive its first vaccine shipment about a week later than originally planned, meaning it would arrive on Dec. 22. 

“Then it should be a regular occurrence, weekly, after that,” he said. 

The vaccines will be shipped to 10 regional hospital coordinating centers, who will then coordinate distribution to the 50 counties. For this area, 6,825 doses are being shipped to Memorial Hospital in Belleville. 

The Pfizer vaccine – which must be stored at ultra-cold temperature, may be approved for emergency authorization by the Food and Drug Administration this week, making it the first shipment areas will receive. 

The Moderna vaccine, which does not have to be stored at those temperatures, is also expected to be OK’d in the coming weeks. 

Wagner noted that details are still being worked out for the first shipment. 

Since Monroe County does not have a hospital, for example, Wagner said he does not yet know if the first vaccine shipment will be used for hospital employees who live here or if some will be sent to Randolph County. 

Long-term care facility workers will not get vaccinated from that first shipment because CVS and Walgreens are handling those vaccinations. 

Wagner also said many early vaccine doses may be shipped to larger cities and hospitals because they have the freezers required to store the vaccine. 

In places like Monroe County, all doses received must be used before they go bad. 

“They are being very cautious on not wasting any of it,” Wagner said of how the state is handling vaccine shipments. “They’re going to be very careful so that if you get a shipment you can use it and not stockpile it.” 

One particular Wagner does know is that each dose of the vaccine this county receives will go to a new person, as opposed to half that number, because the vaccine requires two shots. 

“Every time we get a new shipment, Illinois has got the second shipment 28 days later planned to come. That’s a good thing,” he said. 

Overall, the Waterloo zip code has had 1,318 cases (13,566 tests performed), the Columbia zip code has had 1,065 cases (6,274 tests) and the Valmeyer zip code has had 99 cases (583 tests), according to the IDPH.

The IDPH on Friday listed Monroe County, along with every county in the state except Champaign and Piatt, as being at the warning level for COVID-19. 

For the week of Nov. 29, the county had 763 cases per 100,000 residents (the goal is less than 50), a test positivity rate of 15.7 percent (the goal is less than or equal to 8 percent), performed 1,654 tests (the goal is to do enough to meet the positivity rate) and 17.3 percent of ICU beds available (the goal is at least 20 percent).

This is the second time Monroe County has not met the ICU availability metric. It met every other one.

In St. Clair County, there have been 18,354 total positive tests and 292 coronavirus-related deaths. A total of 185,388 tests have been performed there.

The St. Clair County Health Department suspended food or liquor licenses for seven bars and restaurants late last week, for not complying with a statewide ban on indoor service, including The Nail in New Athens and George’s Pub in East Carondelet. 

Randolph County has had 2,826 confirmed cases, 227 of which are active. Thirty-three people have died from the virus in that county. 

The metro east, including these counties and Monroe County, has seen its test positivity rate remain well over the level at which mitigations are imposed. 

The seven-day rolling average positivity rate was 12.7 percent on Dec. 12. It has been over the threshold for new mitigations of 8 percent for more than a month.

The region has only 15 percent of its medical or surgical beds available and 23 percent of its ICU beds.

Illinois overall is up to 863,477 cases of coronavirus and 14,509 deaths.

There are 4,965 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the state, including 1,057 people in ICU beds and 598 on ventilators.

Neighboring Missouri has recorded 350,365 confirmed cases and 4,754 deaths. That includes 54,215 cases in St. Louis County and 14,258 cases in St. Louis City, according to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services.

Nationally, more than 16.6 million people have contracted the virus, while at least 302,314 people have died.

Worldwide, there are over 73.1 million cases of coronavirus and over 1.6 million COVID-19-related deaths.

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