Virus claims 100th life

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Monroe County reached a grim milestone last Thursday when it recorded its 100th death associated with the novel coronavirus. 

Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner reported two deaths last Thursday.

One of those people was an individual who tested positive for COVID-19 in October and lived in a long-term care facility before dying last month. The other person fell into the same category but died March 1.

“Again, I am unsure if we are classifying COVID deaths as cause of death or just people who have passed and were positive in the past,” Wagner said. 

Monroe County Coroner Bob Hill also waded into the fray on this issue. 

“The (Illinois Department of Public Health) is counting anyone that has ever tested positive and has since passed away, regardless of circumstances, as a COVID death,” said Hill, who is also running for mayor in Columbia. 

Hill said he has reviewed “at least 10” COVID deaths  here and likely a few more. 

In those cases, the most “egregious example” in Hill’s mind was a death in January he ruled was an accidental drug overdose. 

The deceased tested positive for the virus in October, and the state added that person’s death to the county’s toll before Hill got the toxicology report back, he said. 

“The IDPH has never contacted the coroner’s office regarding any cause of death or circumstances,” Hill said. “Nowhere on the death certificates that I am questioning did I rule, or a certifying physician rule, the patient died of COVID or that COVID contributed to the death in any way.  If this is happening here in Monroe County, I have serious questions regarding the statewide totals that are being reported.”

Wagner has also been questioning the state’s count of late and said he supports Hill’s assessment. 

“I agree with everything he said,” Wagner said of Hill’s comments. “That’s what I’ve been seeing and that’s what I’ve been saying for months.” 

On the positive side, Monroe County has another COVID-19 vaccine clinic scheduled for Friday from 1-7 p.m. at the Monroe County Fairgrounds. To download a vaccination consent form, click here.

Wagner said the county should get around 1,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine to distribute as first doses.

The Moderna first dose will be given to all county residents ages 18-64 with qualifying medical conditions, those ages 65 and older, and essential workers like health care workers and educators. Health conditions that make someone eligible are obesity, diabetes, pulmonary disease, smoking, heart conditions, chronic kidney disease, cancer, organ transplant, sickle cell and pregnancy. 

Second dose Moderna shots will also be administered to those who received their first dose of Moderna on or prior to Feb. 18.

The county administered an estimated 2,500 first doses at clinics last week after the state sent extra doses here. 

Starting April 12, Gov. JB Prtizker said anyone in the state will be eligible for the vaccine. On March 22, those in higher education, government workers and members of the media will be eligible for the vaccine. On March 29, restaurant staff, construction trade workers and religious leaders can get the shot.

The IDPH reports Monroe County has administered 14,752 doses of COVID vaccine. There are 5,365 people fully vaccinated here – meaning 15.63 percent of the county has received both shots.

Illinois overall has administered 4,818,097 doses of the vaccine and received over 6.1 million doses. A total of 1,794,697 residents have gotten both shots, which means 14.09 percent of Illinois is fully vaccinated. 

Another opportunity for vaccination is the Veterans Administration St. Louis Health Care System, which announced it has eliminated age requirements for enrolled veterans to get the shots. Veterans interested in getting vaccinated should email STLCOVIDVetVaccine@va.gov.

The county has now had 4,192 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic. There were 68 new cases since March 10.

Roughly 68 cases remain active, with just two local residents hospitalized with the virus. 

That is the lowest total of hospitalizations in months, and Wagner said several factors have contributed to that decline. 

“It’s just a decrease in spread. There have been some people vaccinated. It’s the ups and downs of the virus,” he said. “Hopefully, it will continue to drop because we’re drastically different from a month ago.” 

Overall, the Waterloo zip code has had 2,134 cases (25,012 tests performed), the Columbia zip code has had 1,596 cases (10,549 tests) and the Valmeyer zip code has had 162 cases (950 tests), according to the IDPH.

Monroe County’s seven-day rolling average test positivity rate was 5.9 percent on March 20.

The seven-day rolling average positivity rate for the metro east was 3.1 percent on March 20. The region has 34 percent of its ICU staffed beds available.

In St. Clair County, there have been 29,066 total positive tests and 465 coronavirus-related deaths. A total of 306,144 tests have been performed there.

Randolph County has had 4,029 confirmed cases, eight of which are active. Eighty-three people have died from the virus there.

Illinois overall is up to 1,224,915 cases of coronavirus and 21,116 deaths.

There are 1,270 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois, including 272 people in ICU beds and 117 on ventilators.

Missouri has recorded 486,525 confirmed cases and 8,429 deaths. That includes 76,011 cases in St. Louis County and 19,689 cases in St. Louis City, according to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services.

Nationally, more than 29.9 million people have contracted the virus, while at least 543,016 people have died.

Worldwide, there are over 123.9 million cases of coronavirus and over 2.7 million COVID-19-related deaths. 

COVID relief bill

President Joe Biden signed the sixth major relief bill aimed at helping the United States weather the coronavirus pandemic last week. 

The $1.9 trillion package passed Congress almost entirely along party lines, with only one Democrat voting against it in the House of Representatives. No Republicans voted for it in the House or Senate. 

According to the Pew Research Center, 70 percent of Americans favored the legislation, including 41 percent of Republicans. 

“This historic legislation is about rebuilding the backbone of this country and giving people in this nation, working people, middle class folks, people who built the country, a fighting chance,” Biden said of the package, called the American Rescue Plan, when signing it on Thursday. 

The highlight of the bill for many is it includes another round of stimulus payments. 

Fulfilling a campaign promise for Democrats, the bill will send $1,400 to individuals who earn less than $75,000 annually, while married couples earning less than $150,000 per year would get $2,800. 

The checks, which began going out last week, decline rapidly for those who earn more, with individuals who make $80,000 or more and couples who have a combined yearly income of $160,00 or more getting no money. 

Approximately $422 billion of the bill funds the stimulus checks. 

Another highlight for many people are the changes the bill makes to the child tax credit. 

Starting in July, most parents will get $3,000 per year for every child ages 6-17 and $3,600 for every child under 6. 

The bill calls for sending “periodic” payments of $250-$300 per child to help offset the costs of raising a family. 

Currently, the tax credit provides a one-time annual payment of $2,000 for children up to age 16. It was raised to that level during the Trump Administration. 

These new benefits apply to couples who earn up to $150,000 and single parents who make up to $112,500. 

This $109 billion provision is only good for this year, but Democrats have said they will seek to make these changes permanent. 

Also in the childhood realm, the bill earmarks $130 billion to help K-12 schools reopen amid the pandemic. That money will go toward improving ventilation systems, reducing class sizes, purchasing personal protective equipment and implementing social distancing, among other items.

Some of that money may be seen in Monroe County, as may some of the $350 billion allocated for state and local governments that have been strained by the pandemic. 

Additionally, over $50 billion will be distributed to small businesses, including $7 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program $25 billion for relief for small and mid-sized restaurants.

In terms of money going directly toward fighting the virus, the bill sends tens of billions of dollars to help fund efforts COVID testing and contact tracing, including $14 billion for vaccine distribution. 

It also allocates money toward helping the less fortunate, spending $350 billion to extend the weekly $300 weekly unemployment aid until September, providing a tax break on unemployment benefits up to about $10,000 and setting aside $45 billion for rental, utility and mortgage assistance. 

According to U.S. Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth, both Illinois Democrats, this state will get $7.5 billion in direct aid, $5.5 billion for city and county governments and $5 billion for K-12 schools. 

“All across the board, the bill that we passed, whether it’s money for schools or money for hospitals or money for clinics or money for administering this vaccine, was money that will be well spent in the state of Illinois and all across the United States,” Durbin said.

“It’s clear that we need bold action now to give Americans the resources they need to beat this pandemic, save our economy and start getting us back to our normal, regular lives,” Duckworth said. “I’m proud that our Democratic Caucus is delivering on our promise to the American people to do all we can to get us to the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

U.S. Rep Mike Bost of Murphysboro joined his Republican colleagues in voting against the measure, citing the bill’s price tag as one of his reasons. 

The $1.9 trillion package is projected to add $1.85 billion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years. 

“Only 9 percent of the funding in this bill goes to COVID-19 relief, while the other 91 percent funded their liberal wish list in disguise,” Bost said. “It’s critical we find real, targeted solutions to keeping our communities healthy and getting Americans back to school and work, but we must do so without breaking the bank for future generations.”

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