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Calling for shots

Health director reports updates on COVID-19 vaccination efforts

Vaccination efforts to combat COVID- 19 are well underway in Taylor County, but county board members want to make sure the region is not overlooked.

County health director Patty Krug on Tuesday told members of the county’s executive committee that she was pleased with the pace at which vaccinations are going on in the area.

Krug explained that the vaccinations are taking place according to the state plan with the first round of vaccines going to frontline healthcare workers, longterm care facility staff and residents.

“One of the nursing homes was immunized yesterday the other nursing home is scheduling theirs for next week,” Krug said. Those immunizations are being done through a state contract with CVS and Walgreens which bring their own personnel to do the immunizations. Krug said that Aspirus began vaccinating employees the week of Christmas and that emergency medical technicians are being offered vaccinations. According to Krug the healthcare workers and longterm care residents are considered part of the 1A group. Once those vaccinations are completed, it moves to the 1B group which includes “essential workers” before being made available to the general public with priority given to those who are older or at risk.

Krug said the state has not given guidance at this point about who are considered to be essential employees. She said there were also concerns elsewhere in the state of unaffiliated healthcare providers setting up times for immunizations but only having a third of the people show up to get the shots. Because of the storage and handling needs of the vaccines, this could result in wasted doses. Fortunately, in that county another group was able to use the vaccines so they did not go to waste. Krug said that in Taylor County that would not be allowed with people needing to make a commitment to receiving the vaccine.

Krug said there were some challenges in administering the vaccine. Particularly in regard to the 15 to 30 minutes people must be observed following vaccination to watch for possible reactions. Krug said she has confirmation that when large scale vaccinations occur EMTs from the ambulance service will be on hand to help watch for adverse reactions.

Executive committee member Scott Mildbrand praised the work being done by Taylor County Health Department and said he wished the entire vaccination effort was being run by them. He said his primary concern was that this region is not overlooked as the state rolls out vaccinations.

“I think we will have to be very careful that the northern part of the state doesn’t get left behind,” he said, expressing concern that political pressure would drive vaccinations to focus on more populated areas and in southern Wisconsin. He also expressed concern that vaccines could be sitting unused in some areas rather than going to where they are needed.

Krug said the vaccines are being distributed with each county getting an allotment of them. “I am not getting any negative feedback about the process,” she said.

Committee member Chuck Zenner pledged county support for the immunization effort calling on Krug to ask for what is needed to make the vaccination effort go as smoothly and quickly as possible. He said he did not anticipate opposition on the county board to any help they can give.

Mildbrand agreed. “The only way we will get out of the pandemic is through mass vaccination,” Mildbrand said, encouraging Krug to ask for any resources she would need for the effort.

Broadband project

If all goes according to plan, rural Taylor County residents could have access to broadband internet by next fall. However, as the county continues to work on contract language with a potential partner, the county board member who spearheaded the project raised issues that needed to be addressed for the long term.

Supervisor Mike Bub is the chairman of the broadband committee and has been a leader in the efforts for the project for the county to partner with a private company to build a middle-mile fiber optic network including about 90 miles worth of fiber optic cable. The fiber will provide a backbone for other firms to sell services to businesses, residents and others. Last year the county board voted unanimously to commit to borrowing the money needed for the project. The goal is for the county to collect revenue from the use of the fiber by private entities to pay off the debt and in the long-range become a revenue generator for the county.

While the county is currently working on a final contract with a business partner, Bub raised the concern for the need to have a point person in the county to deal with any issues going forward. For right now, the county is considering Russ Berg of Nokomis Networking, who has been a consultant for the project with the county for some time. Zenner said he would like to see Berg overseeing the project at least through construction.

Bub agreed, but said in the long-run that contracting with Berg after the project was completed would be an expensive option. He questioned if it would fall under the information technology department, under the county finance committee or even buildings and grounds to deal with issues that arise.

Mildbrand said it sounded like it would be different parts of the county all working together on it. County board chairman Jim Metz agreed saying departments should be working on it together.

“No offense, but that is not always our strong suit,” Bub said.

Metz said differences should be set aside and everyone working together. “We are all part of Taylor County,” he said.

Regardless of the need for inter-departmental cooperation to make the project successful, Bub said he felt there needed to be a point person. He said he doubted it would need to be a full-time position and suggested that with the phase-out of the AS400 that additional duties could be picked up by staff in the IT department. Bub said at this point he wanted to raise the issue.

The consensus was that with a $7.5 million investment by the county, they wanted to make sure things were being handled correctly and by someone who knew what they were doing.

In other business, committee members gave their support to a resolution calling for the state to increase child support funding by an additional $4 million per year statewide during 2021 to 2023. So far, about 20 counties have signed onto the resolution calling for the state to increase funding levels which will be further enhanced by federal matching dollars.