Board of Health listens to September updates

The Marquette County Board of Health met on September 7th, hearing updates on COVID, environmental health, staffing and budget.

Health Department Director Jayme Sopha discussed several numbers related to COVID-19 and vaccinations in Marquette County. She showed maps that indicate Marquette County is now listed as a high rate of transmission area, as is most of the state of Wisconsin, and in fact, much of the United States. She said the cumulative case rate is starting to increase again in Marquette County, which as of the meeting date had a total of 1,773 COVID cases since the beginning in 2020. The past month saw 113 cases, compared to just 0-2 per week in the weeks prior to August. Eight of those people were hospitalized and one passed away, she reported. On the date of the meeting, 42 county residents remained in isolation, whereas three week prior to that, the number was 9.

Sopha said the State is following breakthrough cases, which are cases reported in people who are fully vaccinated. They are finding about 25% of the positive cases are people who were fully vaccinated but there are far fewer of those people being hospitalized than those who have not been vaccinated.

Sopha explained that the Delta variant of COVID is considered far more infectious than the version we initially saw. The State is also sequencing a sampling of positive test results around the state to look at which variant is present. In Marquette County, about 10.7% of positive cases are being sequenced in this way, much more than in many of our surrounding counties.

As far as vaccination rates go, the state is showing 55.5% residents having at least one dose and 52.2% fully vaccinated. In Marquette County however, only 45.1% of residents have been fully vaccinated, with the 65+ age group representing a large portion of that.

Sopha said several things may be helping spur more people to get vaccinated, including the State’s $100 gift card incentive, as well as the full approval that Pfizer received for its vaccine, now renamed COMIRNATY. Sopha said some people continue to feel they don’t need a vaccine because they already had COVID, but pointed to a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report study that indicated unvaccinated people who had COVID are a little over two times as likely to get it again than their vaccinated counterparts. She noted that this was a small study, but may be an indicator that vaccines do make a difference.

She also explained that the FDA and State have approved Pfizer boosters for people with moderate to severe immune compromization and that a variety of health conditions fall under that. “The degree to which you have it is the defining factor, “she said.

Environmental Health Specialist Jessica Jungenberg gave a report on her activities for August. She wrote two animal quarantine orders, one of which had been released as of the meeting date. There were two submissions of animals for testing, one of which came back negative and one inconclusive that was released after a quarantine. There was also one well test done which came back with normal results.

She listed about a half-dozen housing abatements and orders, along with the status of those. She is also looking into an animal complaint in Endeavor regarding roaming domestic fowl.

Jungenberg completed 36 inspections in Marquette County, 20 in Waushara and 8 in Green Lake, many of which were for “campground season.” There have been some annual back to school trainings done by Jungenberg and she also recently became certified as a Lead Hazard Investigator.

She also reported on an inspection completed for a new rooming house at Lake Arrowhead, as well as information she gave to a new owner at Woods & Goods, a potential buyer for Sparks Grill, and an individual interested in starting up an ice cream truck, along with an inspection at Twisted Pub & Grub in Neshkoro.

In staffing news, Sopha reported on an upcoming staff retirement, saying the recruiting process has begun to fill that position. They are also recruiting for a full-time nurse to fill the emergency preparedness director role, as that person wishes to go to part-time hours.

The Board approved the 2022 budget proposal as presented, moving it on to the County Executive & Finance Committee. County Administrator Ron Barger will make some adjustments as final numbers come in for details such as insurance costs and others that are not yet determined.

The Board also approved forwarding a staffing plan for 2022 that adds 1 temporary full-time staff person while temporarily adding 25% time to another person and 40% for a third person. The full-time person would continue to do COVID contact tracing work for 2022. The second person is a 50% time nurse who would go to 75% time. The third person would be the current emergency preparedness nurse who will continue at 2 days a week.

Sopha said the Health Department will be receiving approximately $900,000 in grants over the next 3+ years, much of which is earmarked for COVID related remediation or recovery for the Health Department, so the staffing she proposed would all be covered by that grant money. She is anticipating the contact tracer’s work will only involve 2022, while the additional hours for the other two staff may continue into 2023 and 2024 under the grant. Their contracts will contain stipulations that their contracts may end early if there is no more need for their services or if grant money ends.

Finally, the board forwarded the proposed 2022 budget on to Executive & Finance Committee, noting a net levy decrease of 8.44%. Sopha said they anticipate turning back over $252,000 to the general fund at the end of this year after budgeting high in case the state COVID relief funding did not come through as expected.