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Mercyhealth begins vaccinating Janesville health care workers for COVID-19


A round of applause broke out after the first health care worker at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center, Janesville, received his COVID-19 vaccine Tuesday.

A long-awaited moment arrived for hundreds of health care workers as vaccines began being administered at about 2:30 p.m.

The line for people waiting to get the vaccine snaked down and around a long hallway. By 4 p.m., 184 employees had been vaccinated, according to a news release.

Imdad Ahmed, an electrophysiologist, was the first to get the vaccine in Janesville. And while the event was historic and much anticipated, it took only a few seconds before he could continue on his day.

“Today is a historic day for us all,” Ahmed said.

Anthony Wahl 

A nurse administers a COVID-19 vaccine to another health care worker at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center on Tuesday.

Mercyhealth received 1,950 doses of the vaccine created by Pfizer, the first to be approved by the federal Food and Drug Administration.

Those doses had to be shared among Mercyhealth facilities. Of the 1,950 doses, 375 were sent to Mercyhealth Hospital and Medical Center-Walworth.

A hospital conference room was transformed in a matter of hours into a vaccine hub Tuesday, said Trish Reed, spokeswoman.

The Janesville hospital had the benefit of being able to mimic vaccine processes from its sister hospitals in Rockford, Illinois, which began vaccinating staff last week.

Vaccines are expected to be given through Thursday in Janesville, Reed said.

Steve Kravick, a Beloit resident, was among the first to be vaccinated Tuesday. He has worked as a maintenance mechanic at Mercyhealth for 43 years, he said.

Anthony Wahl 

Nurse Victoria Schiro administers a COVID-19 vaccine to Steve Kravick, a maintenance mechanic, at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center in Janesville on Tuesday. The first round of vaccines have been dedicated to frontline health care workers.

Kravick learned he could get the vaccine about an hour before he got it, he said, and he did not hesitate to get in line.

As a maintenance worker, Kravick has as much risk as many health care providers to being exposed to COVID-19, he said.

Kravick is regularly in and out of hospital rooms to make fixes to beds or other equipment, he said.

Since the pandemic started, Kravick has worried about getting the disease and spreading it to his loved ones, he said.

Steve’s twin brother, Stan Kravick, also has worked doing maintenance at Mercyhealth for 43 years, Steve said. He hopes Stan will get the vaccine soon, too.

Anthony Wahl 

A medical worker holds a vial of the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine used to vaccinate healthcare workers at Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center in Janesville on Tuesday.

Minutes after being vaccinated, he said he felt completely fine.

Mark Mounajjed, infectious-diseases specialist at Mercyhealth, was vaccinated last week at the Rockford campus and said he had no issues after getting the vaccine.

Mounajjed said he is relieved to have gotten vaccinated and cannot wait for the rest of his family to do so.

COVID-19 vaccines are prioritized now for frontline health care workers and residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

Mercyhealth has prioritized vaccines within the system for workers who work in “high-priority, patient-facing areas such as the emergency department and medical intensive care units, and areas where health care workers are at a higher risk for COVID-19 exposure,” according to the news release.

The state learned Monday it would be receiving about 100,000 doses of the vaccine created by Moderna, but local health care systems do not know yet when or if they will receive an allotment of Moderna vaccines.

After receiving the shot, health care workers Tuesday were given stickers and information about receiving their second doses.

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two doses about three weeks apart. It is crucial that people who get vaccinated receive both doses to build proper immunity to the disease, experts say.

Health officials nationwide predict vaccines will not be available to the general public until spring or summer 2021.

Advisers to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday recommended adults ages 75 and older and frontline “essential workers” be the next groups to receive vaccines.

State officials say they will likely use that guidance moving forward, however, the definition of “essential workers” is in flux.

Anthony Wahl 

Those who have been given the Pfizer-BioNtech COVID-19 vaccine were encouraged to grab stickers and wear them on their name badges.

CDC advisers include first responders, people in the education sector, those who work in food and agriculture, those in manufacturing, corrections workers, U.S. Postal Service workers, public transit workers and grocery store workers as essential workers in their phase 1b planning.

It is likely because of demand that there will need to be prioritization within each phase of vaccine rollout.

US deaths in 2020 top 3 million, by far most ever counted


This is the deadliest year in U.S. history, with deaths expected to top 3 million for the first time—due mainly to the coronavirus pandemic.

Final mortality data for this year will not be available for months. But preliminary numbers suggest that the United States is on track to see more than 3.2 million deaths this year, or at least 400,000 more than in 2019.

U.S. deaths increase most years, so some annual rise in fatalities is expected. But the 2020 numbers amount to a jump of about 15% and could go higher once all the deaths from this month are counted.

That would mark the largest single-year percentage leap since 1918, when tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers died in World War I and hundreds of thousands of Americans died in a flu pandemic. Deaths rose 46% that year compared with 1917.

COVID-19 has killed more than 318,000 Americans and counting. Before it came along, there was reason to be hopeful about U.S. death trends.

The nation’s overall mortality rate fell a bit in 2019, due to reductions in heart disease and cancer deaths. And life expectancy inched up—by several weeks—for the second straight year, according to death certificate data released Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But life expectancy for 2020 could end up dropping as much as three full years, said Robert Anderson of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC counted 2,854,838 U.S. deaths last year, or nearly 16,000 more than 2018. That was fairly good news: Deaths usually rise by about 20,000 to 50,000 each year, mainly due to the nation’s aging and growing population.

Indeed, the age-adjusted death rate dropped about 1% in 2019, and life expectancy rose by about six weeks to 78.8 years, the CDC reported.

“It was actually a pretty good year for mortality, as things go,” said Anderson, who oversees CDC death statistics.

The U.S. coronavirus epidemic has been a big driver of deaths this year, both directly and indirectly.

The virus was first identified in China last year, and the first U.S. cases were reported this year. But it has become the third leading cause of death, behind only heart disease and cancer. For certain periods this year, COVID-19 was the No. 1 killer.

But some other types of deaths also have increased.

A burst of pneumonia cases early this year might have been COVID-19 deaths that simply weren’t recognized as such early in the epidemic. But there also have been an unexpected number of deaths from certain types of heart and circulatory diseases, diabetes and dementia, Anderson said.

Many of those, too, might be related to COVID-19. The virus could have weakened patients already struggling with those conditions or could have diminished the care they were getting, he said.

Early in the epidemic, some were optimistic that car crash deaths would drop as people stopped commuting or driving to social events. Data on that is not yet in, but anecdotal reports suggest there was no such decline.

Suicide deaths dropped in 2019 compared with 2018, but early information suggests they have not continued to drop this year, Anderson and others said.

Drug overdose deaths, meanwhile, got much worse.

Before the coronavirus even arrived, the U.S. was in the midst of the deadliest drug overdose epidemic in its history.

Data for all of 2020 is not yet available. But last week the CDC reported more than 81,000 drug overdose deaths in the 12 months ending in May, making it the highest number ever recorded in a one-year period.

Experts think the pandemic’s disruption to in-person treatment and recovery services might have been a factor. People also are more likely to be taking drugs alone—without the benefit of a friend or family member who can call 911 or administer overdose-reversing medication.

But perhaps a bigger factor are the drugs themselves: COVID-19 caused supply problems for dealers, so they are increasingly mixing cheap and deadly fentanyl into heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, experts said.

“I don’t suspect there are a bunch of new people who suddenly started using drugs because of COVID. If anything, I think the supply of people who are already using drugs is more contaminated,” said Shannon Monnat, a Syracuse University researcher who studies drug overdose trends.

Janesville Parker’s Cadden Kazee and Janesville Craig’s Jose Chavez compete against each other at at 113 pounds during a dual meet at Janesville Parker on Tuesday, Dec. 22.

Obituaries and death notices for Dec. 23, 2020

Joseph A. Almburg Jr.

Susan Burdick-Balli

Archibald Robert Cunningham

Dawn Marie Drysdale

Myra Jean (Kobs) Heller

Robin Lynn Kohlhagen

Stewart “Stu” Peterson

Joyce Elaine (Michelson) Rohrbacher

Joan (Hamus) Rotar

Karen B. Rousseau

Ruth Weber

Linda (Zuleger) Welch

Earl G. Welsh

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Janesville church to reenact procession from 60 years ago


Hundreds of cars paraded through Janesville on Dec. 4, 1960, as an expression of faith and growth in a local church.

Members of Cargill United Methodist Church plan to mark the 60th anniversary of that event by doing it again in an act that highlights the great changes in Christian churches and in Janesville over that time.

The procession is set to start near the site of the old church, near the downtown YMCA, at 6:30 p.m. Thursday. The fact that it’s Christmas Eve is significant. That was the date of the first service in the sanctuary of the new church, according to a history compiled by the current pastor, the Rev. Steve Scott.

Church member Nancy Sonntag, who came up with the idea for the re-enactment, has heard excitement from church members, past and present, including some who live out of town or have not been to church for a long time.

No street blockages are expected, as there were in 1960. Sonntag has checked with the city and was told the procession is OK as long as drivers abide by traffic rules.

The event is a reaction, in part, to the pandemic and other difficulties of 2020.

“I think it’s been a rough year for people, and people I talked to in the church were feeling very stressed and saddened that not only could we not celebrate Easter in the church, and now we’re not going to be able to celebrate Christmas in the way we knew,” Sonntag said.

Like some other churches, Cargill has not had services in its building since March.

More than 500 cars were involved in the original procession to the new church, built in an area surrounded by farm fields.

Janesville now extends about 5 more miles to the northeast, reaching almost all the way to Milton. The city’s population has grown from 35,000 to about 65,000.

The telephone company told planners most growth in the years ahead would be on the city’s east side, and it was.

The move no doubt helped Cargill—known for decades as the biggest United Methodist congregation in the state—accommodate the population growth of the 1960s and beyond.

But in recent decades, Methodists and other mainline Protestant denominations nationwide—such as Lutherans, Baptists, Congregationalists and Presbyterians—have lost membership.

Cargill now has about 800 members and is still among the larger United Methodist congregations in the state, Scott said.

The 1960 procession came in the midst of the Baby Boom. It was so long, according to police, that as the first cars arrived at the new church, cars were still leaving the old one about 2 miles distant.

This year’s procession will not be nearly as big as the original.

“We may have 30 cars, and we may have 150 cars. We’ll just have to wait and see,” Sonntag said.

The congregation was getting too big for the old church in 1960. The building was 54 years old and needed work, according to church records. Still, the move was controversial.

The building committee voted 12-12 on the idea of building a new church. The church council voted 21-21. The congregation had the deciding vote, 591-540, according to a video Scott produced to mark the anniversary.

The video can be seen on the church’s Facebook page.

When the procession reaches the building Thursday, plans are for people to remain in their cars while pastors conduct a service from the parking lot through a low-wattage radio transmitter.

At the end of the service, people will step outside their cars and sing the traditional Christmas Eve hymn “Silent Night” while holding candles, flashlights or glow-sticks.

“We are trying to balance the deep need for connection—to God and one another—with our mandate to do no harm and follow Jesus as a healer,” Scott said in a news release.

It will be a cold night, noted Robbyn Haynes Novak, who was nearly 10 when her family rode in the first procession.

Novak remembers a sense of excitement and anticipation in the congregation then. She plans to be in Thursday’s event, as well.

Church member Ramona Hohenstein was a young mother in 1960. Her strongest memory from that time is the scent of evergreens that decorated the new church’s narthex—an entryway—on Christmas Eve.

“The narthex was filled with joy and excitement,” Hohenstein recalled.

“When I read Cargill was going to do it, it just made me cry, such a wonderful thing,” Hohenstein said of the re-enactment. “I’m sorry I’ll miss it.”

Hohenstein has decided to stay home, in part because of the expected cold, where she will light candles, read her Bible and other special readings, and pray before joining her daughter for the evening.

“Christmas comes,” Hohenstein said, “whether you are at church or not.”