Rettke: Slow vaccine rollout means we’re not out of the woods yet

As we attempt yet another reopening of our schools and local economy, I’ve been thinking a lot about our neighbors who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities in light of what appears to be a slow-going vaccine rollout.

Residents in those facilities account for 68% of our deaths in this county, over 60 deaths out of our 89 so far. They don’t have the privilege of indoor dining and being with family. We need to remain vigilant for them, even as vaccine frustrations ramp up.

Since the vaccine first arrived in DeKalb County on Dec. 29, we’ve been inundated by messages, calls and emails from readers with a singular concern: When’s it my turn?

The unfortunate truth of the matter is we do not yet know. Local and state health officials have reiterated that rollout would be slow and phased, prioritizing those who need it most, although many details remain unclear. And we can feel that frustration along with you.

Our federal government should have used these past 10 months to better lay out a more efficient, uniform-across-the-states, clearly communicated mass vaccination distribution plan to ensure we’d reach more people quicker. Instead, we’re left comparing state to state with little uniformity.

Details of who’s in what phase and what the order of distribution would be should have been out sooner, and while the Illinois Department of Public Health lists in detail who is in Phase 1a and 1b, the remaining tiers seem largely left to interpretation.

According to the IDPH, Phase 1c could include those ages 16 to 64 and “other essential workers,” but beyond those phases, it’s just “the rest of the population.”

Logically, we know the next few phases will continue to be essential workers, but which ones, and who decides that?

This all should have been figured out and publicly released before this point, and messaging should have been clearer. That surely would help address concerns, mitigate impatience and ease people’s minds because we’d all know what to expect.

Messaging is vital during a time of crisis, and we need to remember that not all of us communicate digitally.

Call your elderly family members, neighbors or friends. Help them register with the DeKalb County Health Department’s online registration portal at www.health.dekalbcounty.org/about/coronavirus/covid-19-vaccine. Seek out resources such as, yes, your local newspaper, employer, a church leader or a friend to try and help you plan for when it’s your time.

Our partners at the DeKalb County Health Department have been doing a yeoman’s duty to try to follow the lack of federal leadership at the top throughout this pandemic. They’re understaffed and overworked and can’t always answer all your questions.

But we will try to. Our local news team is committed to laying out all the facts and processes for this vaccine rollout as they come to us. When we know something, we’ll share it. Bear with us as we continue to press our local and state officials for this much-needed information.

Yes, our COVID-19 case rate has dropped since November, allowing us to loosen restrictions on indoor dining and youth sports, as well as enabling many schools to reopen, as they did this past Tuesday in DeKalb County.

But our region narrowly missed a chance to loosen restrictions even further Friday. If we’d recorded one more day of 6.5% positivity rate regionally, we would be there. We recorded 6.6%, and DeKalb County had the highest positivity rate in the region at 11.4%.

We can’t let our excitement at finally reopening again cloud our responsibility to remain vigilant. Let’s continue to mask up, socially distance and limit interactions with those outside our quarantine bubble.

Just because you’ve received your first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine does not mean you are immune.

Our case rates are down, but our long-term care facility outbreaks have never been worse.

As of Friday, there have been 439 cases connected to residents and staff at seven facilities currently in outbreak mode and 27 reported deaths in this round of outbreaks. Over the summer and fall, Willow Crest Nursing Pavilion in Sandwich, Pine Acres Rehabilitation and Living Center in DeKalb and Prairie Crossing Living and Rehabilitation Center in Shabbona battled initial outbreaks as well, leaving dozens infected and 34 dead among the three facilities.

DeKalb County Rehabilitation and Nursing Center accounts for 117 of those cases, dozens in only the past week alone, and interim DeKalb County Administrator Gary Hanson said this week that the outbreak rose exponentially the same day residents received their first dose of the vaccine.

We are still living in a pandemic, where our “health and safety” is not guaranteed and things can change by the second.

I’m grateful that we’re able to move forward with the promise of a vaccine, but I encourage each of you to remain vigilant. We’re not out of the woods yet.

Kelsey Rettke

Kelsey Rettke is the editor of the Daily Chronicle, part of Shaw Media and DeKalb County's only daily newspaper devoted to local news, crime and courts, government, business, sports and community coverage. Kelsey also covers breaking news for Shaw Media Local News Network.