Kane County Board wants mass vaccination site to stay open, Dems trade blame

With the surprise announcement last week that Kane County's COVID-19 mass vaccination site would close this week, county board members scrambled to keep the shots flowing Tuesday.

But in county board Chair Corinne Pierog's attempts to hold one member of the county board responsible for the closure, fellow Democrats delivered a political gut punch.

The drama started unfolding late last week in two announcements by the Kane County Public Health Department, which said the mass vaccination site on Randall Road in Batavia would close this Wednesday. The doors would open only twice to provide second vaccine shots to juveniles. The doors would close for good on Jan. 5.

That decision took Pierog and most of the county board by surprise. Residents immediately bombarded elected officials with concerns about closing the clinic during a spike in COVID-19 infections and new demand for vaccines spawned by booster recommendations and expanding age eligibility.

To date, Kane County health officials have recorded more than 77,000 COVID-19 infections and 922 deaths. Pierog said there's nothing in those numbers that make her believe it's time to close the vaccine site. She said she saw a line of more than 100 people wrapped around the clinic just this past Saturday.

"I'm scared for the health of Kane County," Pierog told the board. "And yet the health department, because they are tired and didn't reach out to us for help, has unilaterally decided that they are going to shut this down. I hope you join me in saying no to that."

The county board on Tuesday unanimously supported keeping the mass vaccination site open on Wednesdays and Saturdays through the end of January. Board members need a special meeting next week to take a formal vote.

In the meantime, officials will seek a way to solve the underlying problem.

Kathy Fosser, the interim executive director of the county health department, said she has had problems both locating enough vaccine supply and finding enough people trained to administer the vaccine. In recent weeks, she's pulled nurses from other crucial health projects like lead poisoning and the county's high-risk infants program to help.

That can't continue, she said.

"We don't want to compromise our other clinical programs," Fosser said. "The issue isn't money; it's finding the labor. We have reached out to many resources, and we just have people that don't want to work. We are begging whoever we could get to help us."

Fosser said the county competes with every other health agency for the same pool of qualified vaccination administrators - including shot clinics at Elgin schools or other area locations.

County board members had no immediate solution for that problem, instead pledging to vote next week on keeping the clinic open.

Pierog didn't stop there.

She called for the removal of county board member Jarett Sanchez as the chairman of the board's public health committee and the American Rescue Plan committee.

In recent weeks, Pierog has expressed growing frustration with the committee overseeing the $103 million in American Rescue Plan funds. Discussions last week indicated the county is in jeopardy of not hitting its goal of getting at least $4 million of that money to local homeless shelters, food pantries and mental health providers before the end of the year.

"I'm telling you, Mr. Sanchez, this is not a Republican decision," Pierog said. "It's not a Democrat decision. It's a decision made per skill and work."

Both Pierog and Sanchez are Democrats. Multiple board members said they didn't want to make any judgments about Sanchez before having at least 30 days to think about it. And several Democrats, including Myrna Molina, rebuked Pierog's public shaming of Sanchez.

"We all need to take into consideration that it does not just sit on the committee chairperson's responsibility to take action or create policy or to direct our staff," said Molina, who is the chair of the board's Judicial and Public Safety committee. "It's everyone's responsibility in this room. You are throwing a person under the bus to make yourself look better. I'm really disappointed in your actions right now."

Sanchez withheld a response to Pierog in the belief that the answer lies in the board finding a way to address Fosser's staffing problems.

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