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Who gets priority on wait list? Frustration over the vaccine rollout continues for the board of health as call center opens

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GALENA–How to prioritize individuals on a wait list for the COVID-19 vaccine was the question public health administrator Sandra Schleicher posed to members of the Jo Daviess County Board of Health during a meeting Wednesday, Feb. 17.

A call center went live in Hanover Monday, Feb. 22 and will operate weekdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. The center is staffed by Medical Reserve Corps volunteers who will be charged with compiling a wait list of individuals awaiting the vaccine.

“We had thought about prioritizing those over 65 on the list or do we want to open it up to anyone in 1B?” asked Schleicher. “We don’t know how to prioritize that.”

Board president Merri Berlage said she thinks those over 65 should be prioritized.

“I know those are the most at-risk and the people that are most upset at this point,” said Berlage.

Lisa Haas, board member and River Ridge school nurse, said that teachers should also be included as an initial priority.

“We have to get the school staff in,” said Haas. “They are in it every day and we have to get them in.”

Berlage asked Schleicher how many students have tested positive for COVID.

Schleicher said student numbers are low with 11 cases total.

“My question is, if they aren’t being exposed that much, I understand we don’t want to spread it, but don’t we want our high-risk people to get it first?” asked Berlage. “Are teachers high risk at this point?”

Board member Peg Dittmar said that all school employees should be included.

“We know most of the exposure isn’t happening at school, it is happening outside,” said Dittmar. “The problem is that if a teacher gets exposed, or is on quarantine, we are short teachers, we are short bus drivers, that is countywide.”

Dittmar said that there is a possibility of districts being closed because they don’t have the school staff to take care of the students.

Dr. Barbara Kepner, board member, asked about how other counties are prioritizing wait lists.

“All the other counties in our area have gone into the schools and vaccinated all of the teachers already,” said Haas.

Berlage said the people complaining to her are over 65, had health issues and are compromised and have been unable to get a vaccination.

“That should be our priority at this point,” said Berlage.

Haas disagreed. She said the people complaining to her are teachers who couldn’t get into the system because they were unable to be logged on because they are teaching.

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“Neither are these elderly people,” said Berlage.

Haas said she understood that, but she was voicing the complaints she receives.

“I think we have to look at this that we are serving the whole county, not just serving the schools and not just serving the elderly,” said Berlage.

Board member and Midwest Medical Center CEO Tracy Bauer said 1B includes teachers and those over 65, and that beginning Feb. 25 those with underlying health issues will also be included.

“Why now are we talking about prioritizing when we didn’t talk about that from the very beginning once 1B opened?” asked Bauer.

“It is because we are only receiving 200 or 300 vaccines per week,” said Berlage.

Berlage said she talked to state Rep. Andrew Chesney last week. He said that in 90 to 120 days there will not be a vaccine issue anymore.

“I know everyone is uptight about this and they want to get vaccines out there,” said Berlage. “We can’t get the vaccine. I know we have been asking about it. It isn’t only us. It is everybody around us. We have to deal with the cards that we have.”

Schleicher said if there were fewer people going online, it would open up some of the congestion on the website. Schleicher also said if the health department were to do a clinic at the school it could wipe out their entire week’s vaccine allocation.

“I think the people in the offices in the schools aren’t as exposed as much in the general public as those working in the stores,” said Kepner. “I think even at schools there are tiers of risk and that hasn’t been a hotbed of COVID. I would focus on over 65. Then if the schools are next, those that are really exposed should be at the top of the list.”

“The bigger issue is keeping our schools open,” said Bauer. “When our schools close that impacts our entire workforce in Jo Daviess County and I think that is why teachers and staff were included in 1B, in my opinion.”

Dittmar agreed, “We need to include them.”

“Maybe if they prioritized their staff in some sort of order and work through the list,” said Schleicher.

Haas said she could go back through the list and prioritize those over 65 or those with preexisting health conditions.

“I feel like I have to give them something,” said Haas. “I am really tired of getting bombarded and not having answers for anybody.”

Berlage said she understood Haas’s frustration.

“I think we all have that frustration and it is not Sandra’s problem. It is IDPH (Illinois Department of Public Health) and the federals that are divvying out the vaccine,” said Berlage. “It shouldn’t be something that is on your shoulders. You can’t do anything about that. They have to understand we are doing what we can and trying to be fair.”

No action resulted.

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