Waseca County Public Health Director Sarah Berry said she is concerned about COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy as vaccine appointments are going unfilled.
Meanwhile, the Waseca Superintendent Eric Hudspith says the number of COVID-19 cases among students and staff remains low, but there’s still cases occurring in the community that are causing students to need to quarantine.
Waseca Public Health has opened its COVID-19 vaccine clinics to all residents, but filling the appointments for this week’s clinic has been “agonizingly slow,” Berry told the Waseca County Board Tuesday. There were a dozen open appointments as of Monday and by Tuesday morning, there were still eight open appointments, she said. She said they’ll wait to see whether registration for appointments are filled for next week’s clinic, but they may be near the end of the department’s “substantial push” on vaccines until the COVID-19 vaccines become available for children.
“Nearing the end of our interest locally in vaccines, which is a bit concerning because we are not at 50% vaccinated for the county,” she said.
Waseca County is lagging behind its neighboring counties for the number of adults who have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. As of Monday, 46% of Waseca County residents older than 16 have received at least one vaccine dose, compared with 50% in Blue Earth County, 53% in Rice County, 50% in Steele County, 49% in Freeborn County and 48% in Faribault County, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Le Sueur County is also at 46% for its vaccination rate.
Nearly 33% of Waseca residents older than 16 have completed their vaccine series, according to MDH. More women than men in Waseca County are receiving the vaccine.
Fewer residents in the 50-64 age range have received at least one dose than residents ages 18-49 and older than 65. About 50% of residents ages 50-64 have received one dose. Forty-four residents ages 16-17 in Waseca County have received at least one vaccine dose, according to MDH.
Berry said reaching 80% is the “gold standard” for Minnesota, but 70% is more attainable in a rural population. Between 70 and 80% is what is needed to slow the transmission of COVID-19, she said.
Health officials know there’s vaccine hesitancy in Minnesota, especially in southern Minnesota, and Waseca Public Health is trying to increase the amount of education about the vaccine available to the community, she said. The Mayo Clinic Health System has also helped in the effort to get the word out about the vaccine. Berry said she hopes that the effort can “ease people’s minds and answer their questions” about the vaccine.
“Without vaccine, our process of herd immunity means more people get hospitalized than otherwise would need to be and more people unfortunately die,” she told the County Board.
At this point, those who were avidly seeking a COVID-19 vaccine appointment have been vaccinated and the county has reached the stage of people who weren’t in a hurry to find an appointment or are hesitant about receiving the vaccine, Berry told the Waseca County News. Berry said Public Health is ready to assist them.
The state requires Public Health to administer its vaccine doses within 72 hours of receiving them and Berry said they’re not able to order more for the following week if they haven’t administered all of its doses. She said she expects the number of doses the county receives to naturally decline as more of the population is vaccinated.
Berry told the Waseca County News that the county will reach herd immunity either with vaccinations or via the spread of COVID-19, which will take longer and will mean more residents become ill. Using vaccinations and taking preventative measures such as mask wearing means herd immunity will be reached more quickly and with fewer residents becoming ill, she said.
Another Waseca County resident died of COVID-19 in the past week and seven Waseca County residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19 so far this month, she said. COVID-19 hospitalizations are trending up in the county and “it’s just not really where we’d like our friends and neighbors to be,” she said.
Waseca County’s 14-day case rate has been increasing in the last month. Its has increased from 21.27 cases per 10,000 residents during March 7-20, to 43.6 cases per 10,000 residents March 21-April 3, the most recent rate, according to MDH.
No learning model change
Barring any major changes in COVID-19 in Waseca, Superintendent Eric Huspith said there won’t be any changes to the learning model for students in the final two months of the school year.
Waseca students are currently attending school in-person four days a week and that has been “successful,” Hudspith told the Waseca School Board Thursday.
The district continues to have an average of two to five active COVID-19 cases at any given time. There was one active case and 43 students quarantining last week and five active cases and 100 students quarantining the week prior, according to Hudspith. However, the quarantines are due to exposure to a positive case in various places outside of school and only a couple quarantines are due to an exposure to a positive case at school, he said.
”We still have cases spreading in our community,” he said.
Going into the final two months, the district has gotten into a rhythm with changes due to the pandemic instead of it being overwhelming like it was earlier in the pandemic, he said.
”Students have figured it out by now, ‘I don’t want to mess up my graduation, my commencement, so I’m going to be smart,’” Hudspith said.
The school district intends to hold an in-person prom and graduation this spring. The grand march for prom will take place in the high school gym and they’re still working on determining capacity and setting up a livestream for it, he said. The dance will be held afterward at the Waseca County Fairgrounds to allow the event to be outdoors, but students must still remain in groups of no more than six. The location for graduation has yet to be determined, but it will be either in the gym or in an outdoor location such as the football stadium, Hudspith said.
”They’ve been working so hard this year to finish off this year. There’s so much hope and positivity that you see right now in all of our buildings,” Hudspith said.