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Malik Willingham (3) assists Marcus Hansen on a third-down stop in the second quarter of a 2018 playoff game against the Hutchinson Tigers. Marcus Hansen was named to the AP All-State second team Wednesdsay. (File photo/southernminn.com)

First COVID-19 vaccines administered in Waseca County
  • Updated

The first COVID-19 vaccines were administered at the Mayo Clinic in Waseca on Tuesday, Dec. 22.

The Waseca clinic received 60 vaccines from Pfizer for its frontline staff. This is the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccinations that hospital staff expect to continue into 2021, said Dr. Gokhan Anil, the regional chair of clinical practice for the Mayo Clinic Health System. The vaccine is administered in two doses 21 days apart and the vaccine becomes 95% effective about a week after the second dose is administered, he said.

This first phase of Mayo Clinic’s vaccine distribution is only available to frontline workers, specifically intensive care unit staff, emergency room staff and the emergency medical services workers because they are the first line of defense and the most at risk for exposure. It is unclear when the public will have access to the vaccine, but it is coming, he said.

“The vaccine has been welcomed by the healthcare workers, being that the pandemic has affected us significantly,” Anil said. “It’s a welcome use for all of us in caring for patients and it has been very effective in protecting us from the COVID-19.”

All vaccination time slots at the Mayo Clinics that have received the vaccine have been filled according to Anil, which he said “is great.”

Those who have received the vaccine so far in the region have physically reacted positively to it. Anil shared that with any vaccine people will have a mild reaction with the most common being irritation at the injection site or muscle aches. Another side effect is a mild headache or that muscle aches can last 24-48 hours after the injection. According to Anil, 15% of those who receive the vaccine will have mild symptoms, but he said symptoms show that the person’s immune system is reacting. If anyone has a worse reaction to the vaccine, there are healthcare workers on site prepared to react and help the person.

Though all healthcare workers are able to sign up for the vaccine, it is unclear when they will all be able to get it due to limited supplies and the distribution of it.

Anil said there are two companies manufacturing a vaccine at this time, Pfizer and Moderna, but supplies are limited.

The two-shot Pfizer vaccine requires an ultra cold freezer to store the vaccine at minus 94 degrees that the Mankato Mayo Clinic has and is the reason it is the distributor for the region. The Pfizer vaccine is only to be given to those 16 years or older, according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The Moderna vaccine is only required to be stored between minus 13 and 5 degrees and was approved by the FDA Dec. 18, according to Anil. Moderna should only be used on individuals 18 years or older and it is also a two-shot vaccine with the second dosage administered 28 days after the first.

With the Moderna vaccine, the nursing homes will be receiving a shipment of vaccines this week or next week due to the easy storage, according to Dr. Anil.

The next group to receive the vaccines, following the hospital and emergency responders, are those in the age group 75 years or older and the next essential workers such as grocery clerks and transportation workers. This group was established by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Everyone who can receive the vaccine should receive it eventually, but the timing will depend on the dosages available and the production by the two companies,” Dr. Anil said.

The CDC, Minnesota Public Health Officials and local Public Health agencies have been managing the public vaccination efforts, which also depends on the supply of the vaccines and when each is distributed to the area.

For those who had COVID-19, the recommendation is to wait for 90 days after a positive test before receiving the vaccination.

Though the vaccine is becoming more available, Anil said people still need to wear a mask, social distance and continue to wash their hands frequently.

“Until we have a significant portion of the public vaccinated or exposed to the virus, we still need to protect ourselves,” Anil said. “We want the public to still protect themselves, because this is the only way to get schools to reopen and get life back to normal.”

Waseca County Public Health officials are urging residents to be patient, continue to wear masks and social distance while the initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine are distributed.

Waseca County Public Health Director Sarah Berry said they’ve been working with the South Central Healthcare Coalition and other partners to ensure the vaccine gets to those who are in the priority populations.

“The fact is that there are limited doses of the vaccine available during these initial shipments and it will take time, perhaps months, before it’s readily available to the general public,” she said in a statement.

The COVID-19 vaccine is expected to arrive in the region next week, according to Berry. Vaccinations of the priority populations, including healthcare workers and long-term care residents and staff, are to begin sometime after the new year. Additional allocations of the vaccine are expected on a weekly basis, according to the department.

Eric Weller, regional healthcare preparedness coordinator for the South Central Healthcare Coalition, said they’re confident the vaccine is safe and has been proven to be 95% effective in clinical trials.

“We also know that the arrival of the vaccine does not mean an immediate end to this pandemic. People will still need to wear masks, social distance and seek medical care if they are feeling ill,” Weller said.

Weller and Berry are encouraging people to remain home as much as possible, stay at least 6 feet away from other people in public places, telework if possible and avoid close contact with people who are sick. People who are older than 65 or have certain underlying medical conditions should stay at home and avoid situations where they could be exposed, including travel.

special section
Two Waseca Lutheran Churches host drive thru Nativity scene
  • Updated

St. Paul Lutheran Church and St. John Lutheran Church teamed for a drive-thru Nativity on Dec. 18 and Dec. 19 to bring holiday joy to the community.

The two parking lots were transformed into six Nativity scenes with actors and live animals depicting each one. At the end of the drive thru, there was a donation spot for people to drop off canned goods or to give a monetary donation that went to the Waseca Area Food Shelf.

Waseca schools prepare to return to hybrid learning in January
  • Updated

Waseca kindergarten through 12th grade students will return to the hybrid learning model the week of Jan. 11.

Waseca Superintendent Eric Hudspith shared the updates to the school learning model and school safety protocols at the Dec. 17 school board meeting.

The district is following Gov. Tim Walz’s newest executive order, but he anticipates that some of the information and guidelines will change by January depending on how winter break goes.

“Right now, I’m optimistic, because our staff are doing the right thing, our students are doing the right thing,” Hudspith said of returning on Jan. 11 to hybrid learning. “So we’re looking at managing that first week in January with distance learning and then hybrid learning and getting them back in school.”

Hartley Elementary School’s hybrid learning model is in-person Tuesdays-Fridays, which the students and staff previously followed.

A potential change that could happen the week of Jan. 18 is the Waseca Intermediate Students could move to the same hybrid model as Hartley to be in-person four days a week as well. According to the new executive order, WIS students are classified as elementary age, allowing more flexibility for the school.

Administration will make the decision whether to move WIS to the in-person hybrid model after winter break with monitoring how things are going. WIS will otherwise run on the “blue and gold” hybrid model of two days in school and two days distance learning each week.

“That’s exciting for us to hopefully get our elementary students back to four days a week, on the 18th would be our goal,” Hudspith said.

The Waseca Junior Senior High School students will remain in the hybrid learning model from the week of Jan. 11 until further notice on the blue and gold schedule.

Hudspith shared that the school will continue to bring in students who need additional support and potentially bring in some students for one class period for the more advanced classes.

“We are looking forward to having our students back in school more often and are excited to see them back in hybrid model very soon,” Hudspith said.

With the elementary students returning to four days a week at Hartley, the staff will be required, per the executive order, to wear both a mask and a face shield along with students having to wear a mask for their physical education classes.

Staff in the district will also have access to a saliva COVID-19 test they can take every other week in the school, if they choose to do so. This test isn’t required, but is an available option for the staff who want to use it.

The district schools will not have to change the way lunch is served, the executive order states, because the students are able to be properly socially distanced in the common areas for lunch.

Another change in the executive order is the school transportation guidelines.

Instead of buses being at 50% capacity, it is more about keeping students socially distanced on the bus. The exception to the rule is if the windows are down one inch, then the capacity can be higher. The school district is working on the details of transportation.

Practices for winter sports will also return on Jan. 4.

The activities department will communicate with coaches and families regarding the implementation of any new safety measures and the district is waiting for guidance from Minnesota State High School League for information about competitions.

Look for communication from the district or on the district website for changes or updates.

Matthew Petsinger, owner of the Waseca American Family Insurance, recently made the move to a permanent location at 101 State Street south. The building will officially be open on Dec. 28. (Bailey Grubish/Southernminn.com)

Waseca school district tax levy to decrease
  • Updated

The Waseca School Board approved the 2021 property tax levy with a 3.9% decrease.

The board set the levy at $4.9 million with a decrease in the levy of about $199,000.

Elizabeth Beery, finance director for the Waseca school district, presented the cut during the Truth in Taxation hearing prior to the board’s vote on Monday, Dec. 21. The decrease is based on changes in population, state statutes and board authority, changes in property values, building bond and census data.

The general fund levy will decrease by about $383,000, or 16.57%, while other funds will see an increase in 2021. The Community Education funds will increase just over $64,000, or 28%, and debt services will increase nearly $200,000, or about 5%, according to Beery.

Legislative actions have been taken over the years to allow smaller school districts to have the same opportunity as the larger school districts through a Local Optional Revenue School Board Authority for $724. This does not require voter approval.

This is what the Waseca School District operates on and does not currently have a voter approved operating referendum and has not asked for anything beyond what the LOR has allowed the district to do. Waseca is one out of 102 school districts that only use the LOR at this time.

“We’ve been very fortunate. We are trying to do the best that we can financially and trying to be as fiscally responsible as we can and watching our fund balances,” Beery said.

Long-term facilities maintenance revenue began with the 2016-17 fiscal year to also help close the gap. The revenue is intended to create greater equity among districts in funding for facility maintenance and the fund gives districts access to substantial additional revenue from state aid instead of the community.

Beery said most buildings in the district are older than 35 years, which allows the district to qualify for the maximum amount of revenue through this program. For the fiscal year 2019 most districts received $380 per pupil unit.

“So, really to maintain your buildings, to make sure that you’re able to upkeep and keep a safe and healthy environment that is what the Long-Term Facility Maintenance is for,” Beery said. “So again, a very big deal for Waseca Public schools and other outstates, because now we can still maintain the buildings that we need to and not draw from other funding and we get a state aid portion, rather than having to levy our community for all of it.”

The Ag Bond Credit is another advantage for Waseca Public Schools that Beery highlighted in her presentation.

It was created in 2018 to repay anyone with agricultural land in the district a credit. For 2021, this credit will increase 55% for a combined credit of about $475,000. About 36% of Waseca’s population is on agricultural land and those eligible will find the credit on the upper right hand corner of the tax statement.

General fund revenue for 2020-2021 comes from three sources: state at 80%, local at 16.8% and federal at 3.2%.

According to the district, local revenue includes levy, safe schools, long-term facility maintenance and operating capital as well as operating referendum, participation fees, gate receipts, donations and other miscellaneous revenue presented.

The general fund expenditures break down for 2020-2021 into nine categories: elementary and secondary regular instruction at 38.9%, special education instruction at 22.5%, sites and buildings at 11.1%, instructional support services at 9%, pupil support services at 8.1%, administration at 4.5%, district support services at 3.7%, career and tech instruction at 1.7% and fiscal and other fixed costs programs at 0.5%.