Wagner questions positivity rate

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 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 the test results so Wagner can add it to the appropriate database. 

Wagner said he is usually not 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 let the health department know 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 came after Wagner said 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.”

For more on this, get this week’s edition of the Republic-Times or check back here Wednesday afternoon.  

The Monroe County Health Department offered more clinics last week for residents to get the COVID-19 vaccine. 

The county administered first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine Thursday at the Monroe County Fairgrounds for all residents ages 16 and up.

Another Pfizer first-dose clinic took place Friday for all county residents ages 16 and up. There was no registration for this clinic.

There was also a second-dose clinic Friday at the fairgrounds for residents who received their first shot of the Moderna vaccine on March 19 or prior.

“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 initially planned to focus on vaccinating only high school seniors at Thursday’s clinic because it got an extra 500 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine from St. Clair County for that purpose.

It had to expand eligibility to all county residents after there was low turnout, and Wagner said he is still sending 100 doses back.

“That’s unfortunate, but it is what it is,” he said. “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 the county not having gotten even one shot.

If that continues, with a large portion of the population declining the vaccine, Wagner said that could 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.” 

Other local vaccine options include a mass vaccination site at the Belle-Clair Fairgrounds in Belleville, which is open to all Illinois residents. Click here for more information.

Walgreens locations in Waterloo and Columbia also offer COVID vaccines. Click here for more information.

No Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be available for now after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevent and Food and Drug Administration last week advised temporarily pausing the distribution of that single-shot vaccine. That recommendation came after six women ages 18-48 reported having rare and severe blood clots 6-13 days after getting that shot. More than 6.8 million Johnson & Johnson shots have been given in the United States.

“Until that process is complete, we are recommending a pause in the use of this vaccine out of an abundance of caution,” the CDC and FDA statement reads. “This is important, in part, to ensure that the health care provider community is aware of the potential for these adverse events and can plan for proper recognition and management due to the unique treatment required with this type of blood clot.”

Wagner said none of those six adverse reactions were from here, and he had no concerns about any coming up.

“People who have already got it should not be concerned,” Wagner said. “It’s one in a million.”

For anyone concerned about the safety of the vaccine, Wagner advised they get either of the two other authorized shots, saying any inconvenience caused by getting two doses is minimal when compared to the miniscule chance of a severe reaction to the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

“Once they study (the blood clot issue),  I’m sure (the Johnson & Johnson) vaccine is going to be safe and everything,” Wagner stressed. 

Wagner also said the distribution of that vaccine being paused should not have a major impact on the county’s vaccination efforts because it was not slated to receive significant quantities of the shot.

This comes after the Monroe County Health Department had doses of the COVID-19 vaccine left when the clinic ended last Thursday afternoon, marking the first time that has happened.

Wagner said the clinic went “really well” but Monroe County only used about 500 of the 600 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and half of the 300 Moderna shots.

“It’s a good thing because it means people can get the shot if they want it, but it’s a bad thing because I don’t think a lot of people have gotten the shot,” Wagner said.

The IDPH reports Monroe County has administered 24,532 doses of COVID vaccine. There are 11,310 people fully vaccinated here – meaning 32.94 percent of the county has received both shots.

Illinois overall has administered 8,201,830 doses of the vaccine and received over 10.1 million doses. A total of 3,416,113 residents have gotten both shots, which means 26.81 percent of Illinois is fully vaccinated.

There was also a development last week relating to the Monroe County’s COVID-related death toll. 

Wagner had previously said he would no longer report deaths because he was concerned about the accuracy of the state’s data,  and the IDPH removed 15 deaths from Monroe County’s count last weekend. That total now stands at 90. 

“I don’t know if they adjusted it down or if they were that far behind to start with,” said Wagner, whose last reported death toll was 105. “But they have reviewed some cases and taken some cases off, but I’m not sure if they had reported them in their totals.”

Wagner said he was pleased to see the count adjusted.

“Across the state, with how many deaths are coming in, they can’t look at each one. If it is delayed and they are looking at it over time, great,” he said.

“There’s still a lot of deaths that are counted that I question,” Wagner added. “They got rid of a few of the blatant ones. Did some of these people have some long-term health conditions from COVID? Maybe, but they were already declining and that was not what caused their death.” 

Monroe County has had a total of 4,346 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic began, about 55 of which are active. Four residents remain hospitalized with the virus. There have been 84 new cases since April 7.

Wagner announced 28 cases Thursday – the most in a single day in weeks – and said that could be due to a large group of test results coming in at once, more school-age children testing positive for the virus and multiple people in families contracting it.

“We’re kind of back in the 5-10 cases a day range,” Wagner said, noting that jump does not appear to be the start of a sharp increase in daily cases. 

Overall, the Waterloo zip code has had 2,209 cases (26,751 tests performed), the Columbia zip code has had 1,652 cases (11,344 tests) and the Valmeyer zip code has had 167 cases (1,039 tests), according to the IDPH.

Monroe County’s seven-day rolling average test positivity rate was 3.1 percent on April 17.

The seven-day rolling average positivity rate for the metro east was 3.4 percent on April 17. The region has 35 percent of its ICU staffed beds available.

In St. Clair County, there have been 30,037 total positive tests and 475 coronavirus-related deaths. A total of 330,820 tests have been performed there.

Randolph County has had 4,113 confirmed cases, 15 of which are active. Eighty-five people have died from the virus there.

Illinois overall is up to 1,306,787 cases of coronavirus and 21,694 deaths. There are 2,218 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Illinois, including 522 people in ICU beds.

Missouri has recorded 497,134 confirmed cases and 8,684 deaths. That includes 78,772 cases in St. Louis County and 20,493 cases in St. Louis City, according to the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services.

Nationally, more than 31.7 million people have contracted the virus, while at least 567,287 people have died.

Worldwide, there have been over 141.7 million cases of coronavirus and over 3 million COVID-19-related deaths.

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James Moss

James is an alumni of Southern Illinois University Edwardsville where he graduated summa cum laude with degrees in mass communications and applied communications studies. While in school, he interned at two newspapers and worked at a local grocery store to pay for his education. When not working for the Republic-Times, he enjoys watching movies, reading, playing video games and spending time with his friends.
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