While Rusk County is not out of the woods in terms of COVID-19, the Health and Human Services Department is working to make the vaccine more available to residents.

HHS Director Jeremy Jacobs and Public Health Nurse Amanda Weinert presented an update on COVID-19 and the vaccination release schedule. The tentative next stage of vaccination release is March 1.

Currently, individuals in Phase 1A, which includes health care workers and long-term care staff and residents, are eligible to receive the vaccine. Phase 1B is partially released and those eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine includes fire and law enforcement officers and individuals 65 and older.

The next Phase 1B release, tentatively planned for March 1 would include individuals who work in education and childcare, Medicaid long-term care program participants, public facing essential workers, non-frontline health care workers, congregate living and those in the mink industry.

Opening of the phases depends on supply and demand of the vaccine, said Jacobs. However, the supply and demand across the state is not equal. Residents of rural area are being told to wait.

With fewer individuals in each of the phases, rural areas are able to move more quickly through the phases. Vaccines are first being distributed to areas where there are still Phase 1A needs, then Phase 1B needs before being opened up to the next phases.

Large urban areas, said Jacobs, are scrambling to meet the needs of Phase 1A individuals.

In the event the county is required to have a large-scale vaccination clinic set up, the Ladysmith Fire Hall would be the determined location, said Weinert. This clinic set up would require the assistance of EMS personnel. Individuals receiving a vaccination would be required to remain at  the hall for 15 minutes after the injection for monitoring.

In this set up, individuals with a history of anaphylactic shock would need to be monitored for 30 minutes. The monitoring times are to ensure individuals present no immediate side effects from the vaccination.

Weinert said each Monday Public Health officials contact the State to request doses of vaccines. Requesting the vaccines does not guarantee the county will receive the number of vaccines requested. 

The next shipment is likely to be 100, however “it’s going to work and its going to happen,” said Jacobs about Rusk County receiving vaccination medication.

Weinert said Wisconsin wants to roll forward together as a unified front. 

At this time both of the available COVID-19 vaccinations require two injections. The Moderna COVID-19 vaccination requires a second injection four weeks after the first one. The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccination requires it’s second dose three weeks following the first one.

The vaccinations are not interchangeable, according to Weinert. Those receiving the first dose from Moderna, must have the second dose also from Moderna. The second dose of the vaccine is automatically scheduled into the State’s allocation schedule.

Both of the available vaccinations have a very short shelf life, which is another reason small numbers of vaccinations are being shipped to municipalities. It is desirable to eliminate any potential waste of the vaccine.

Individuals interested in receiving a COVID-19 vaccination can sign up and Jacobs and Weinert said they are hoping everyone will sign up. Right now, Rusk County residents can call 715-532-2218 to sign up for the vaccine. Individuals may also use a survey monkey link on the left side of the Rusk County website to sign up.

According to Jacobs, as of Jan. 25, 362,500 COVID-19 doses have been given in Wisconsin. Of those given, 14,098 doses were given on Jan. 25.

Wisconsin is working to provide approximately 70,000 doses each day to residents. After counties submit their requests, the State is making the decision on where to allocate the available vaccines.

County supervisor Josh Unterschuetz asked about long term side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine. At this time there have been no long term studies of possible side effects of the vaccine. Weinert said the technology in the vaccine is different than other vaccines but that it has been studied in other, non-vaccine applications over the last 10 years. 

The vaccine is believed to be safe.

Jacobs said the State is hoping 80 percent of Wisconsin residents will “be good neighbors” and get the vaccine.

When asked about other, new strains of COVID-19, Weinert said the currently available vaccines should provide some protection against the other COVID strains. The strains are very similar to each other and the human body creates similar antibodies to fight the virus.

While the symptoms may be different and the body may respond differently to the new virus, the built up antibodies can recognize some of the virus. This makes the current COVID-19 vaccines more likely to protect against a similar COVID strain, according to Weinert. 

County Administrator Andy Albarado said at this time the county is not requiring employees to get the vaccine because it is being viewed as a personal health choice. Albarado did say the county will make sure employees know when they qualify to get the vaccine.

Board supervisors approved two HHS resolutions. The first was a resolution to support increased funding for Aging and Disability Resources Centers across Wisconsin. The resolution supports the State’s desire to provide an additional $27.4 million in funding to multiple programs in ADRC including expanding dementia care, expanding elder benefit specialists, expand caregiver support and fully fund ADRC support systems to name a few. 

As the fastest growing demographic in Wisconsin, the resolution hopes to grow with the State’s needs.

The second HHS resolution approved requested the state funding for county child support agencies be increased by $4 million in each fiscal year 2021-2023 in the Wisconsin state budget. This increase in funds is requested due to an abrupt federal interpretation  change in June 2019 that eliminated $4.2 million in federal birth costs recovery matching funds for Wisconsin.

The county currently has 1,100 active child support cases. 

Forestry Director Jeremy Kowlowski and Nick Stadnyk presented their 2020 annual reports. In forestry, timber sales were $2,613,273.60 and stumpage revenue was $289,114. Due to COVID, the stumpage revenue was about $700,000 less than 2019.

In land conservation, approximately 75 percent of the corners in the county have been re-monumented. In zoning, revenue was slightly above the 2019 figures with COVID posing no affects on permits.

Board supervisors approved a $3 million 10-year bond at 1.02 percent interest rate. According to Justin Fisher of Baird Financial, this is the lowest interest the county has ever received. This bond will focus on the county’s strategic debt service and will be renewed every two years. Approximately $2.5 will be for road projects.

The board supervisors also approved refinancing a general obligation bond at .96 percent interest rate. Refinancing at this low rate will result in a savings of $360,000 and was called a prudent choice by Fisher.

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