More than 80 percent of those over 65 who live in Itasca County have received at least a first dose of vaccine and 50 percent of all those ages 16 and over have been vaccinated so far. At the same time, rates of COVID-19 infection in Itasca County continue to be uncontrolled, primarily among children and those of child-bearing age.
Over the past seven days, 152 more Itasca County residents were diagnosed with COVID-19, down from 180 the previous seven days. The most current 14-day case rate per 10,000 residents finds that Itasca County has jumped from a rate of 14 in January to 76.5 as of this week.
“Itasca County’s fight against COVID is not over, but we still have so much to be grateful for over a year into this global pandemic,” said Kelly Chandler, Itasca County Public Health division manager. “We have three vaccines approved which provide 100 percent effectiveness against death from COVID. And with these great vaccines, we have the ability to reach herd immunity—to not spread this infectious disease amongst our families, friends and neighbors. We need to get to 70 to 80 percent of our population vaccinated to achieve this.”
Itasca County’s older residents have shown the way when it comes to protecting themselves and others through COVID vaccination, said Sam Dwyer, acute care pharmacist for Essentia Health Deer River. “Elder adults led the way in being vaccinated, and now it’s our generation’s turn.
“My wife and I reviewed the literature, including looking into issues related to fertility. We saw concerns circulating on the Internet, but put that concern away after checking with medical experts and got vaccinated. We’re happy to say, now, that she is pregnant.”
Dr. Cristina Castillo-Nelson, family medicine physician providing obstetrics at Grand Itasca Clinic & Hospital, has followed closely questions related to fertility and COVID-19 vaccines. “While the initial trials for the three COVID vaccines did not include pregnant women, we now know after many months and millions of vaccinations, that they are safe for women who are wanting to become pregnant, who are pregnant and who are breastfeeding,” she said. “We’ve seen many women who got vaccinated get pregnant. We’ve also seen women who were vaccinated during pregnancy or while breastfeeding pass along COVID vaccine antibodies to their babies. If you have specific worries or concerns about getting vaccinated, I would strongly encourage you to talk to your OB/Gyn or Family Medicine doctor about them.”
Luke St. Germain, Itasca County veteran services officer, says he chose to get vaccinated in order to protect the 4,000 local veterans he serves, the majority of whom are over age 65. “I felt comfortable getting the vaccine, probably because of being an Air Force medic,” he said. “I have a deep respect for our medical providers, and they are recommending vaccines. And being a military person, I received a lot of vaccines in the past so, I figured, what’s one more?
“If you’re seeking vaccination, there are a lot of opportunities in our communities and if you are a veteran the VA has plenty of supplies. If you need help accessing the VA, contact us at 218-327-2858.”
Most communities in the Itasca area will host Memorial Day observations at cemeteries, said St. Germain. “We ask communities to respect social distancing, maintaining space between each other, and masking up of course.”
Noah Wilcox started to study the science and follow what was happening with vaccines. He talked to friends in medical and pharmaceutical fields before deciding to get vaccinated. “I’m not a guy that gets flu shots, but this thing is different,” he said. “I’m a huge patriot for this country and came to the conclusion that it’s part of my duty to help reach herd immunity and, when we had the opportunity, my wife and I enthusiastically got vaccinated.
“I don’t think you realize how much anxiety you carry around until you get that first shot, and even more so the relief when you’re two weeks past the second. Now, our whole family, including our 16-year-old twins, are vaccinated.”
As president, CEO and chairman of Grand Rapids State Bank, Wilcox describes the decision to close the bank’s lobbies to appointment-only once the pandemic hit as “nerve-wracking.” “It was the first time ever in the history of our nearly 107 years in business,” he said. “We really are one of the front porches of our community in Grand Rapids and we welcome hundreds of people coming through our door every day. We made the decision to slow the spread and be responsible. We wanted to keep our staff safe and be able to continue to support those who bank with us.”
Wilcox’s advice to others? “Get the shot and help our country heal and move forward. The science talks. This thing will strike. It’s tragic that we’ve lost 53 people to this disease in Itasca County and I hope we don’t lose any more.”
“As much as we are all anxious to get back to what will be the new normal post-pandemic, please stay strong,” said Chandler. “Still stay six feet apart from others and wear masks. Our schools are working to stay in person for the remainder of the year and host proms and graduations, our businesses want to stay open and even open-up further. We are grateful for all in Itasca who continue to do their part to slow the spread of COVID while we are working to get our neighbors vaccinated.”
Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are generally available at clinics, hospitals and pharmacies throughout Itasca County:
• Essentia Health Deer River (Deer River) – 16 and older, call 218-786-1750 or visit www.essentiahealth.org.
• Grand Itasca Clinic & Hospital (Grand Rapids) and Fairview Range (Hibbing) – 16 and older, call Grand Itasca at 218-326-7344 or Fairview Range at 218-362-6937 or log in to MyChart.
• Itasca County Public Health: Vaccination events announced at the department’s Facebook page and website, with walk-ins available depending on supplies. To arrange vaccination of your organization or work site, contact the Itasca COVID info line at 218-327-6784.
• Scenic Rivers Health Care clinics in Bigfork, Northome, Big Falls, Cook, Tower and Floodwood are vaccinating as supplies allow. Call 877-541-2817 .
• Thrifty White Pharmacies (Grand Rapids/north store only and Hibbing): 16 or 18 and older (both Pfizer and Moderna available), www.thriftywhite.com. Walk-ins welcome. Those needing registration assistance may call individual locations.
• Walgreens (Grand Rapids): online scheduling at www.Walgreens.com.
• Walmart Pharmacies: availability is updated daily at www.walmart.com, including for the Grand Rapids location.
Itasca residents with questions or concerns may leave them at the Itasca County COVID message line, with calls returned 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday – Friday. The Itasca COVID line number is 218-327-6784. Information about vaccination options and current local data and information may be found at the county’s website here: https://www.co.itasca.mn.us/798/COVID-19-Coronavirus-Information