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MCHD Readies Next Phase of Vaccine Rollout

The McLean County Board of Health met Wednesday, January 13, 2021

As Illinois' COVID-19 vaccine distribution begins its next phase Monday, many older residents and essential workers are eager to get their shots, officials said at Wednesday's meeting of the McLean County Board of Health.

Currently, in Phase 1a, only health care workers and nursing home residents can be vaccinated against the coronavirus. But the department is readying for Phase 1b, said Jessica McKnight, McLean County Health Department administrator.

In this next phase, people 65 and older and everyone from educators to grocery store clerks, will be able to access the vaccine. A full list of eligibity criteria is on the department's website.

On Wednesday morning, the health department launched an information signup page for Phase 1b eligible residents. It allows them to be notified about updates to the vaccine rollout, and how to set up appointments at the vaccine clinic. 

McKnight told the board that by the afternoon, more than 600 people had signed up.
A quick check of the website at 9:30 p.m. showed more than 1,000 people registered for the 1b group.

The vaccine clinics will require residents to set up advance appointments, she said, adding the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) tells county health officials weekly how many doses will be available. 

“The vaccine is still very limited at this time,” said McKnight, who noted they are still in the process of vaccinating members in the first group, in the healthcare field. “We’re trying to administer as close to 100 percent of our received doses within the following week.”  

Currently, the department has only received the Moderna version. More than 4,700 doses have been distributed within the county. 

A full list of categories included in Phase 1a and Phase 1b are listed on the department's website. As for the online registration forms, the health board is eager to spread the word.

“Do we have this on Facebook and Instagram? Because that’s where a lot of people go,” said board member Sonja Reece. McKnight told her it would be added to the department’s Facebook page later Wednesday. 

“We can all be messengers,” said Reece, encouraging her fellow board members to share the post on their own social media pages, redirecting community members to the health department link. 

COVID by the numbers

On Wednesday, the county reported 3 more deaths, including a man in his 40s and two men in their 80s, one of whom lived in a long-term care facility. That brings the county’s COVID fatalities to 134. 

Nearly 12,800 county residents have contracted the disease since last spring.

The health department reported 86 new cases on Wednesday. As of yesterday, the county’s rolling seven-day positivity rate was 9.1%

At the state level, IDPH data for Tuesday showed 97 new deaths in the state, along with nearly 5,900 new confirmed and probable cases. (Illinois’ seven-day-average is about 100 COVID deaths per day; and 6,700 new cases.)

Nationally, Tuesday marked another grim milestone  with a record 4,300 coronavirus deaths. That’s with a seven-day average of 3,321 people dying from the disease in America, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). 

Pandemic community partners

As part of Wednesday’s meeting, the health board authorized three pandemic-related agreements with: 

  • City of Bloomington, allowing the health department to dispense vaccines at a Bloomington site--  Grossinger Motors Arena;
  • Illinois State University, allowing the health department to potentially store vaccines in a specialized freezer on campus. McKnight said this is for future planning.
  • Woodford County Health Department, regarding alternative housing for quarantined and isolation patients.  The agreement indicates Woodford County will reimburse MCHD for that service. McKnight told the board the locations are confidential.

Staff reorganizing

The health department also is creating a public affairs position, with a salary of about $55,000. However, by eliminating two vacant health promotions specialist posts, the restructuring will save about $30,000 from the budget. One person was promoted and another retired, said McKnight.

Board member Cory Tello said she hopes this dedicated position allows the health department to better reach the parts of the community that have been most negatively impacted by COVID, especially due to social disparities. 

"I hoping that this will allow the marketing ... to everyone in our county, but particularly to those that have the most needs, and perhaps the most unmet needs," she said.

Outreach could help deepen and broaden the health department's relationships to different sub- populations, including those in rural areas, Tello said.

McKnight told the board the public affairs coordinator will handle social media and other correspondence, as well as promote vaccine clinics, and other public service events. Within the health promotions division, two full-time specialists remain. However, because of declining grant funding, the other two positions weren’t needed, she said. 

From 2019 to late June 2020, as part of his job as McLean County communication specialist, Dion McNeal handled media duties for the health department. However, after a dispute, he was terminated. McNeal recently filed a lawsuitalleging he faced on-the-job discrimination and retaliation after he publicly raised concerns about racism in the workplace.

Board members Alan Ginzburg and Andrew Held were absent from Wednesday’s meeting. 

To stay up-to-date on local news about pandemic, visit the WGLT page about COVID.

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Michele Steinbacher was a WGLT correspondent, joining the staff in 2020. She left the station in 2024.