EagleHerald Editor

MARINETTE—The Marinette County Health and Human Services Board Wednesday received a variety of COVID-19 information, including the county’s current rating and an update on the availability of a vaccine.

Public Health Officer Molly Bonjean said the county’s status regarding COVID-19 has been upgraded by the Department of Health Services (DHS) since last month.

She said numbers are trending downward, but her department is still dealing with the fallout from the holidays. Ironically, Wednesday was the worst day yet in the United States with 3,900 COVID-19-related deaths reported, according to the Associated Press.

“Marinette County, like the State of Wisconsin, is in the ‘high’ category,” Bonjean said, noting that is an improvement from the “critical” designation of last month. She said just one of the state’s 72 counties (Menominee County) is in the critical category.

Regarding vaccinations, Bonjean said Wisconsin is in phase 1A with vaccinations available to health care workers and long term care facilities.

“Access to the COVID-19 vaccine for others will take several months,” she said. “We are very excited here at Public Health for this very long-awaited vaccine and we are eager to start administering vaccines. We know it will help reduce the spread of the virus and eventually help put an end to this pandemic.

“We are working diligently to assure this vaccine gets to Marinette County residents as safely and quickly as possible following the state’s guidelines.”

Bonjean said the public will be alerted as the vaccine becomes available. She is asking people to monitor the county’s website for updated information.

Bonjean said the second phase (1B) of vaccinations will be available to those 75 years and older and front-line essential workers, according to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). She said Wisconsin does not have to adhere to the ACIP recommendations.

“We only know the 1A list at this time,” Bonjean said, adding that while she realizes people want to know when they can get their vaccine, everyone has to sit tight until that information is determined.

“We do not have a waiting list at Marinette County Public Health,” Bonjean said.

She said the county cannot request a certain brand of vaccine. “We get what we get,” she said.

The two types of vaccines available are Phizer-BioNTech and Moderna.

HHS Director Robin Elsner, who attended his final meeting because of his impending retirement, praised the HHS staff for how it has handled the pandemic.

“We’ve been able to keep our population stable,” he said. “We’ve had people who have had COVID and we had to have quarantine time. For the most part, I think our management staff has navigated our workforce of 115 full-time staff very well and we’ve been able to continue to service Marinette County. I think it’s credit to the whole department.”

Elsner said he’s excited about the vaccinations.

“I hope everyone decides to get one,” he said citing research put into the vaccine. “They’ve been working on the coronavirus for years. I haven’t heard of any significant side effects regarding either vaccine. I’m excited, 2021 is going to be a great year.”

Some of the COVID-19 data presented by Bonjean:

Over the last seven days, Marinette County is averaging nine new cases a day.

As of Wednesday, the county had 3,934 confirmed cases and 50 deaths. The number of cases in the county the previous three months is: 1,127 cases on Oct. 5; 2,462 cases on Nov. 5; and 3,501 cases on Dec. 5. The rate of growth by month has grown smaller in the county.

“The activity has slowed down a little bit,” Bonjean said.

Regarding hospital beds and ventilators in northeast Wisconsin, 81% of the total beds are in use; 84% of the ICU beds are in use: and 17% of ventilators are in use.

The DHS data is available on the Marinette County home page.

Bonjean also told the board that at-home testing kits and collection kits are now available in Wisconsin. More information is available on the DHS COVID-19 website.

She said a free exposure notification app is now available for Smart phones users. This allows people to notify close contacts if you received a positive test. Information on that feature is available on the county’s website.

DIRECTOR’S LAST MEETING

At the start of the meeting, HHS deputy director Glenn Sartorelli led a tribute to Elsner. Current and past employees appeared in person or by Zoom to say kind words about Elsner and his work at HHS. His family members also appeared via Zoom.

Elsner is retiring after a 29-year career with the county, including more than 10 years as the director.

Sartorelli presented Elsner with a plaque, while retired former ADRC director Pam Daye poked fun at Elsner’s work as a baseball and softball umpire.

She jokingly gave Elsner a pair of glasses that she said might be helpful for him. Daye then looked at Elsner and in her best umpire’s voice, said “Strike three, you’re outta here!”

A Power Point presentation that featured highlights of Elsner’s HHS career, along with work and family photos was played.