CHIPPEWA FALLS — About 500 Chippewa County residents have received COVID-19 vaccinations so far, but more health care workers and long-term care employees should be receiving their shots in coming weeks, said Public Health Director Angela Weideman.

In her weekly press conference Wednesday, Weideman said that “1A” workers, like doctors, nurses and nursing home employees will get vaccines first. The “1B” essential workers, like law enforcement, firefighters and teachers, and those who have a great deal of contact with the public, will likely get vaccines in early to mid-February, she said. The “1C” group are adults ages 65 and older, and they will be next in line.

“It will take several months to implement,” Weideman cautioned.

The county is receiving vaccines from both drug manufacturers Moderna and Pfizer, she added. Those doses are then sent to area hospitals.

In the past week, the White House has been critical of states and hospitals for not getting vaccines to the public after they have been delivered. However, Weideman assured the public that the vaccines are being used, and not stored.

“When they are getting vaccines, they are giving them immediately,” Weideman said.

People who receive the vaccine are given a card, stating which brand of vaccine they received, and dated with when they need to return to obtain their second “booster” shot.

At the same time Weideman is working on getting the vaccine program rolling, she also is working with her staff on promotional plans to encourage the public to take the vaccine; recent polls indicate perhaps a third of Americans are hesistant or resistant to taking it.

Weideman also is encouraged at seeing continued improvement in COVID-19 numbers in the county. In the past week, 138 people tested positive for the virus. However, the positivity rate remains high among those tested, at 38.7%.

For two months, Chippewa County has been classified as being at a “severe risk” level. Weideman announced that the county has dropped to the “high risk” level, which means that the recommendation is indoor gatherings limited to 15 people and outdoor gatherings limited to 50 people. At a severe risk level, the recommendation was only people residing within the household to gather.

“It’s a significant difference,” Weideman said of the lowered risk level. “I’m very happy to see our numbers come down. I’m definitely feeling optimistic. I feel hopeful.”

There are currently just eight county residents hospitalized, down from a high mark of 25 two months ago. About 73% of hospital beds in the northwest Wisconsin region are in use, including about 78% of ICU beds. A total of 178 Chippewa County residents have been hospitalized at some point in the past 10 months.

In the past week, two more people have died from symptoms related to the virus, bringing the county’s total to 67 deaths.

In other good news, all six elementary schools in the Chippewa Falls school district reopened on Monday. Weideman said most of the elementary schools in the county are now open for in-person learning.

While Weideman is enthusiastic about the decline in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths, she urged people to continue to be vigilant, practice social distancing, and wear masks around others. On Tuesday, a record-high of 3,775 people died nationwide from the virus. Weideman pointed to Los Angeles County, where on average, four people are dying every hour from the virus.