McLean County Board of Health Extends Contact Tracer Program
The McLean County Board of Health on Wednesday approved a plan to extend the COVID-19 contact tracing and call center programs, at least through November.
Also at the meeting, the board discussed how adolescents now can receive the Pfizer vaccine, and how to promote the vaccine to older people who have yet to receive it. The board also approved four priority funding areas for its mental health programming for FY22: crisis response, youth services, adult mental health, and justice in specialty courts.
The board voted 7-0 to extend the contact tracing program. Members Hannah Eisner, Dr. Alan Ginzburg, Andrew Held, and Sonja Reece were absent from the virtual meeting.
McLean County Health Department Administrator Jessica McKnight said another $70,000 of the health department’s fund balance is needed to continue the contact tracing program through November, with a staff of 25 tracers and managers.
But that’s just a fraction of the six-month extension’s roughly $570,000 price tag. With current funds, plus an expected $180,000 state grant, most of it already will be covered, she said, adding she expects to hear later this month from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), about the grant.
However, McKnight and her staff plan to re-assess the program’s needs in July, she told the board.
Vaccine now available to people as young as 12
On Wednesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) gave the go-ahead for 12- to 15-year olds to get the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.
The IDPH already has been communicating with pediatricians across the state about the expected change. Ideally, health providers will be able to get the vaccine directly from the state.
But McKnight said the health department also is working with schools and other community partners to set up clinics. Some will be at schools, others will be drive-thru clinics to accommodate working parents, she said. Families also are welcome to bring their children who are 12 and older to any of the community clinics.
The MCHD also has been working to communicate with parents about the possible challenges of timing COVID-19 vaccines and back-to-school vaccines, according to McKnight.
Apparently, there is a seven-week time frame when considering wait periods between the two COVID-vaccine doses, and other required back-to-school vaccines.
Her advice to parents planning for next school year: “Don’t put it off."
Continued vaccine outreach
McKnight also talked about the state’s bridge to Phase 5 of Restore Illinois that officially begins on Friday.
She praised the move as a step closer to normal, that’s data driven. “I really think it’s a testament to the mitigations that we’ve had in place for the last year — masks, social distancing, limited gatherings, and now of course the vaccine,” she said.
But she urged caution, as people still are getting the virus, and tragically some still are dying from it, she said.
“The bridge phase does not mean this pandemic is over or this disease is done with us,” said McKnight.
Now, the MCHD is focusing efforts on continuing to reach residents in the county who remain, for whatever reason, hesitant to receive the vaccine. Among demographics, older, white, male Republicans have had the highest level of hesitancy, said McKnight.
“What are we going to do to close that gap?” asked board member Dr. Richard Ginnetti.
MCHD is focused on promoting the vaccine, both its efficacy and its availability, said McKnight. “We’re going to continue to talk about the safety of this,” she said, adding she sees improving convenience of getting the vaccine as key.
“How do we make this very, very easy for our public to get,” she said. Drive-up vaccine clinics, walk-in clinics, and evening clinics are a few ways they’re working on this effort. Also, continuing partnerships, and taking the vaccine to community locations are ways the department is doing this.
MCHD staff encourage young adults to get the vaccine, as that group has seen an increase in COVID cases in recent months. In her report, McKnight said clinics have been at the campuses of Illinois State University, Illinois Wesleyan University and Heartland Community College. Staff also has worked with local school districts to set up vaccine clinics in their schools for eligible students. Prior to Wednesday, that was students 16 or older.
She also reported COVID cases are trending downward again, after a slight increase in March and April. While 500 new cases were reported in mid-April, that was down to 330 the first week of May.
MCHD clinics administered more than 26,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine in April. In March, they administered 14,400. However, McKnight said as the county nears half of its residents getting at least the first dose, demand has slowed.
Board sets priorities in mental health funding
On Wednesday, the board 7-0 to approve its mental health advisory board’s priorities for FY22.
The areas of crisis response, mental health for youth, mental health for adults, and justice focus on a variety of education and services. The health department aims to make these programs affordable and accessible, especially for those who are underinsured or uninsured.
Board member Cory Tello said additional mental health funds also could from federal COVID-relief funding arriving to the city, county, and state. “We want to factor that into the equation,” she said, to help with gaps. But the board needs to be mindful that those extra funds will go away over the next few years. So, a long-term plan to sustain these programs also is needed.
Reaching a diverse population, especially for those traditionally underserved, is a priority, according to board materials.
- Crisis response: The department targets immediate short-term response to behavioral health episodes. Some ways it will do this is through a crisis hotline, counseling to de-escalate symptoms, and mental health triage centers as alternatives to hospitals and jails. The department also would help fund crisis training to law enforcement and other first responders.
- Mental health; youth and adult: The department divides this funding into two categories: for people under 21, and for adults. In both of these, the department aims to provide help to identify mental health issues, and how to manage those. These programs might include counseling, intervention; and for youth specifically, embedded school programs; as well as professional training for mental health first aid to young people.
- Justice: In its target area of justice, the department works through the specialty courts. It’s aim is to help people exiting the jails land back on their feet. Some ways include using specialized therapy programs, recovery coaches, and support groups.