CRAWFORD COUNTY - Last week marked a significant turning point for Crawford County in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Crawford County Public Health Department was able to conduct their first vaccine clinic for unaffiliated health care providers and some first responders.
“I am just about giddy with relief,” Crawford County Public Health Director Cindy Riniker said. “I finally have a sense that there is light at the end of the tunnel.”
Prairie Maison and Soldiers Grove Health Services employees and residents also received the vaccine last week, insuring that some of the most vulnerable county residents have begun the process to be protected.
Phase 1A expanded
On Tuesday, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) announced that adults over the age of 65 will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine beginning January 25. Currently, frontline health care workers, residents in long term care facilities (nursing homes and assisted living facilities), and police and fire personnel are eligible.
"Older adults have been hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, and prioritizing this population will help save lives,” said DHS Secretary-designee Andrea Palm. “The amount of vaccine we get from the federal government will determine how quickly we can get these groups vaccinated. Our partners in health care, pharmacies and local public health are ready and up to the task.”
Crawford County Public Health is planning to hold community vaccination clinics for Crawford County residents throughout the county in the next few weeks to the priority groups listed above. Community clinics will be scheduled and added to the website as they are available. If the community site schedule is full, watch the website for additional clinics to be announced. We plan to hold our first community clinic for individuals 65 and older next week at the National Guard Armory, Prairie du Chien, WI.
If you are in a priority group and would like to receive a COVID-19 vaccine please pre-register by going to the Crawford County Public Health webpage, crawfordcountywi.org/health or call our office at 608-326-0229.
Pre-registration is required to ensure the amount of vaccine ordered will be used in a specific amount of time and no walk-ins will received a vaccination.
The health department is allowed to order vaccine weekly based on sign ups of individuals in targeted priority groups who make an appointment to be vaccinated. The department is currently using the Pfizer vaccine, which requires very cold storage conditions. This means that the doses must be used within five days of receipt.
“I was surprised that a rural county like ours would receive the Pfizer vaccine, and not the Moderna vaccine, which was touted as ideal for rural areas,” Riniker said. “What we’ve been told is that if we start with Pfizer we can expect to end with Pfizer.”
Riniker explained that Crossing Rivers Hospital has been using the Moderna vaccine to vaccinate front line health care workers.
“It is unfortunate that our county’s hospital and our department are using different vaccines,” Riniker said. “This means that it won’t be as easy for us to work together on a vaccination program.”
Riniker explained that in order to achieve the 90-plus percent immunity conferred by the vaccine, two doses are required. The doses are meant to be administered about 28 days apart, and it can take some time after receiving the vaccine for immunity to kick in.
According to an article by National Public Radio, the timing and rate of immunity conferred by the vaccines is just beginning to be understood.
“With the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, a study published in ‘The New England Journal of Medicine’ in December found that protection doesn't start until 12 days after the first shot and that it reaches 52 percent effectiveness a few weeks later. A week after the second vaccination, the effectiveness rate hits 95 percent. In its application for authorization, Moderna reported a protection rate of 51 percent two weeks after the first immunization and 94 percent two weeks after the second dose.”
While vaccine manufacturers were able to obtain emergency authorization based on the protection the vaccine confers on vaccinated individuals, it remains unknown if vaccinated individuals can still spread the virus. Further testing is being done to understand this issue, but in the meantime everyone is still urged to follow public health guidelines for slowing the spread.
“I am cautiously hopeful that we’re going to see a big improvement by late spring or early summer in terms of opening things back up again,” Riniker said. “However, it is going to take time to get the vaccines distributed, and in the meantime it is crucial that county residents continue to follow all the same public health recommendations to stop the spread – good hand hygiene, covering coughs, maintaining social distance, wearing a mask in public, and avoiding mass gatherings.”
Riniker said that the Wisconsin Department of Health Services is expected to announce criteria for which groups of people will be included in the ‘1B’ vaccine group this week. When vaccine supply and public health guidelines allow, she expects to open several mass vaccination sites around the county. When the time comes, Riniker expects to have an online signup feature available, and residents will also be able to schedule an appointment by phone.
“What is crucial is to get as many doses of the vaccine into arms as quickly as possible if we are going to achieve herd immunity,” Riniker explained. “The state has a goal of having 80 percent of the population vaccinated before restrictions will be lessened, so get the vaccine as soon as you can.”
Phase 1B includes essential workers. This phase will include critical infrastructure services and specific groups will be released and notified as we move forward. Phase 1C will include individuals who are considered higher risk for severe illness based on age and/or health history. There is no estimated timeframe on when this phase will start at this time.
Remain in Phase Two
In last week’s bi-weekly update on Crawford County COVID-19 metrics, Riniker announced that the county would remain in Phase Two. This means that indoor capacities are limited to 50 percent, when combined with social distancing and mask wearing. Gatherings are limited to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors.
Riniker said that in the last two weeks, the county’s test positivity rate was 6.5 percent. This represents a small increase from the prior two weeks where the positivity rate was 6.4 percent. The new case rate in the county remains concerning at 4.7 (up from 4.1), and well above the goal of 0.5 cases per day.
Other metrics are showing positive trends such as 98 percent of new cases are reported to public health within 48 hours, and 85 percent of cases have been contacted by public health for contract tracing within 24 hours. Hospitals are in good shape to handle patient care, and illnesses among staff have been small.
“We are continuing to see almost half of all positive cases reporting that they have no idea how they were exposed to the virus,” Riniker said. “This means that 48 percent of individuals who test positive got it from community spread, and this shows that the virus is still circulating in our community.”
The B.1.1.7 variant of corona virus, first detected in the United Kingdom, has been detected in 14 states as of Thursday, Jan. 14. Those states are California, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Indiana, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Maryland, Washington D.C., Georgia and Florida.
B.1.1.7 is estimated to be roughly 50 percent more transmissible than other variants. Federal health officials warn that it may become the dominant variant in the United States by March. It is no more deadly than other forms of the coronavirus. But because it can cause so many more infections, it may lead to many more deaths.In Wisconsin, the variant was detected last week in the Eau Claire area, and was linked to an individual who had recently travelled internationally.
Brazil and South African variants
According to an article by the Associated Press in Columbia, South Carolina, published on Thursday, Jan. 28, “A new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa has been found in the United States for the first time, with two cases diagnosed in South Carolina, state health officials said Thursday. The two cases don’t appear to be connected, nor do the people have a history of recent travel, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control said. ‘That’s frightening,” because it means there could be more undetected cases within the state, said Dr. Krutika Kuppalli, an infectious diseases physician at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. “It’s probably more widespread.’”
As of Wednesday, Jan. 27, the B.1.1.7 variant called the “UK Variant,” because it was first identified in the United Kingdom, has been identified in 28 states, with 315 cases verified through testing. Given that this variant is estimated to be 50 percent more transmissible, it is feared that it may become the dominant strain in the U.S. by March. Dr. Fauci indicated in the first Coronavirus Task Force briefing held by the Biden Administration that there are some signs that this variant could cause more severe illness. The good news about this variant is that the vaccines are effective against it, as are monoclonal antibody therapies.
The Brazil Variant was identified in the state of Minnesota on Monday, Jan. 25.Both the Brazil and South Africa variant are somewhat more troubling than the U.K. variant in that preliminary research may be showing that these variants reduce the protection of the vaccines against the virus, and may also reduce the effectiveness of monoclonal antibody treatments. The two variants have also been seen to reinfect persons who previously had the virus. In addition, they share the attribute of being more transmissible with the U.K. variant.