Vaccines and COVID-19 surge topic of Effingham County Health Committee

Effingham County Health Department Administrator Jeff Workman gives members of the Effingham County Board Health Committee a COVID-19 update Tuesday afternoon.

EFFINGHAM — The Effingham County Board Health Committee discussed Tuesday expectations of more COVID-19 cases following Thanksgiving.

Effingham County Health Department Administrator Jeff Workman and Effingham County Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Karen Feldkamp gave the committee an update on the county’s COVID-19 situation.

Feldkamp expects the number of COVID-19 cases in Effingham County to climb due to Thanksgiving activities.

“We know a lot of people did not take our guidance to heart,” Feldkamp said.

Feldkamp said the department was informed about a COVID-19-positive person hosting a Thanksgiving gathering at their home outside of Effingham County.

“It wasn’t in our county, but I’m sure those instances have happened in our county as well. That said, we anticipate our numbers will go up,” Feldkamp said.

Feldkamp said there were close to 800 county residents under quarantine and 400 in isolation as of Tuesday afternoon. She said there were still quite a few hospitalizations.

“That’s a lot of people to keep track of and we anticipate our numbers to continue to climb,” Feldkamp said.

“We have several outbreaks in our community associated with congregate settings. So, we have one contact tracer that is doing nothing but dealing with outbreaks,” she said.

Feldkamp said two contact tracers are assigned to work only COVID-19-related school exposures.

“That is a pretty big undertaking for us. That is probably close to 300 kids,” Feldkamp said.

The health department hired nine contact tracers within the past week, increasing the total number of tracers to assist with the current case load and anticipated increase in cases. Workman said regular health department staff members are doing contact tracing as well.

Feldkamp said with regular staff the department has 20 contact tracers working on COVID-19 cases.

“We are continuously hiring people and getting applications all of the time,” Workman said. “We are starting to scale up in anticipation of a surge.”

Feldkamp said there is an interview process involved with contact tracing and it takes time to sort through information they collect. She said since more and more people are getting COVID-19 tests, results are getting to the health department slower than they did a month ago.

“The thing that causes us the most work are people who need a letter that says they have been in quarantine and they can go back to work,” Feldkamp said. “Imagine 200 people getting out of quarantine on the same day and people waiting to the last day wanting a letter.”

Feldkamp said the department continues to plan for the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines. She expects the vaccinations will be given via drive-thru for safety of both the staff and public.

“It’s probably going to get here when the really bad weather gets here and we need to plan for that,” Workman said.

“It will be hard for our staff to do a drive-thru clinic in the winter. However, I think it’s the safest way to limit COVID-19 spread. So, we are looking at supplies, training, staffing and waiting for additional guidance from the state and CDC,” Feldkamp said.

Workman said the first vaccine shipment to the health department from Pfizer will be packed in dry ice. He said the vaccine must be stored at a temperature of minus 80 degrees, then thawed and mixed.

“Once we get it, we will have to administer those doses in five days,” Workman said, adding, “It’s going to be a little more time consuming than the regular flu shot.”

Health Committee Chairman Doug McCain asked Workman who would be eligible to get the vaccine.

Workman said plans are being finalized and should be released in the next couple of days after a legal review.

McCain asked Workman whether or not extra security was needed at the vaccination site.

“You may have people who want it that can’t get it yet,” McCain said.

“It’s hard to predict how big of an issue it’s going to be,” Workman said. “We’ll have to figure out the security issue at some point and at some point we’ll have to get law enforcement involved when it comes to traffic control.”

Workman said he received approval from the Effingham County Board of Health for a hoop building to be used for COVID-19 vaccinations in anticipation of cold weather when vaccinations would be given.

“We feel a hoop building would give us protection from the rain and snow. It should be wide and long enough to handle multiple cars at a time. If we have sufficient staffing, we should be able to get people through that fairly quickly,” Workman said.

“Our record for shots in one day is 1,200 and that was in a 6 1/2- to seven-hour period,” Feldkamp said. “When it comes to vaccinations, the thing that takes the most time is paperwork and we need plans on how to reduce that time.”

“There is a lot more planning we need to do,” Workman said.

The next board of health meeting is scheduled for Jan. 11.

Charles Mills can be reached at charles.mills@effinghamdailynews.com or by phone at 217-347-7151 ext. 126.

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Reporter/Videographer

Charles Mills is reporter and videographer for the Effingham Daily News. A 1983 graduate of Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, he worked as senior video editor for a Nashville television station. He is a native of Vandalia.

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