COVID-19 vaccinations will begin next week in Cass County

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   In a week when the news should have been about an approved vaccine to combat COVID-19 and when Cass County residents could expect to receive it, the news instead is about more than 155 new cases and the death of a 72-year-old male who died Saturday of the deadly virus. The latest death brings the county’s total number of deaths to 27 and raises to 1,401 cases the number being since April.
  County residents are, however, expected to begin receiving COVID-19 vaccinations sometime next week, according to Teresa Armstrong, Director of the Cass County Health Department.
   “Cass County was originally supposed to be among the first 50 counties to receive the vaccine, based on the state’s guidelines, but because of the higher priority placed on first line health care workers, that allocation has been redirected to the hospitals in our region,” Armstrong said.
   When the vaccines become available in the county, the health department will follow the protocol established by the Illinois Department of Public Health to distribute the vaccines.
   Health care workers, like clinic staff, EMS, home health care and pharmacy workers will be on the first tier of recipients.  
   The next to be vaccinated will be other critical workforce personnel like police and firefighters, congregate home employees, teachers, food production workers and postal workers as vaccine becomes available, Armstrong said.
   “Getting people vaccinated will take some time,” she said. “We’ll only be allocated so many vaccines per week, but hopefully that allocation will increase every week.  “It’s not like we’re going to be able to walk into JBS with 2,000 vaccines anytime soon and take care of everyone at one time,” she said.
   With regard to nursing home staff and residents, vaccines at nursing homes will be administered by CVS or Walgreens.  The two pharmaceutical giants will have staff on site to provide vaccines to nursing home staff and residents.
   Armstrong said among the biggest challenges her department will face with the new vaccines is gaining public trust.  “Gaining public trust to take the vaccines is going to be a heavy lift,” she said.
   As far as the county’s weekly new case count is concerned, Armstrong said the rate of spread is still unacceptably high. “We’re seeing 25 or more cases per day,” she said, and that’s doing nothing to slow the spread of the disease.
   She also expressed concern about the rising number of cases being reported among grade school aged children. “We’re seeing a significant rise in our youth cases,” she said.  “Last week we had more than 30 youth cases, and that’s too high.”
   While the health department is still seeing cases linked to DOT Foods and JBS because of their high  number of employees, Armstrong can't definitively say there is a link between the new numbers being reported and the area's two largest employers.  
   Whether or not the exposure is occurring at the plant or in the home is very difficult to determine she said. At this point it’s hard to say if any new infections found at either plant are being transmitted there, or if that transmission is taking place in the home or public.
   We’re still working hard at contact tracing, and urging people to self -quarantine when they’re feeling ill, to continue wearing their masks, to maintain social distancing when out in public and continue to wash their hands frequently.
   Even though we have vaccines now, this isn’t going to go away overnight,” she said. “We’ve still got a lot of rough days ahead, and the best way of countering that is by wearing masks and following the protocols we’ve been actively involved in following."