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Got your COVID-19 vaccination card? Don't post it online, experts say
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EAU CLAIRE — After getting your first COVID-19 vaccine, you were probably handed a small paper card, issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, bearing evidence that you received the shot.

Tuck it in your wallet, store it with your medical records, even laminate it if you wish, local experts say — just don’t post it on social media.

“You certainly don’t want to have your name and birth date and some of your personal identifying information out there where someone could take that information,” said Pamela Guthman, a UW-Eau Claire assistant professor of community, public and population health.

Your vaccination card likely lists your name, date of birth, the date of your COVID-19 shot and the lot number of your vaccine.

People will receive their card at their first vaccine appointment, and should bring it with them to their second appointment.

But though experts say you should keep your card off of Facebook, it’s still important to keep it around.

“It may be helpful to keep a photo copy also in a safe place, or take a photo on your phone as a backup if needed,” the Eau Claire City-County Health Department wrote in a statement to the Leader-Telegram.

Guthman encouraged people to keep their card with them if they’re traveling, or with their health records when they’re not.

People can get their cards laminated, but they may not want to quite yet, since COVID-19 booster shots might be recommended later, Guthman said. Drug makers Pfizer and Moderna, creators of the two most prevalent COVID-19 vaccines being used in the U.S., have said it’s likely people who got their shot will need another booster shot at some point.

“Since we’re still learning so much about COVID-19, and now we have variants that have surfaced, you may want to hold onto it and not necessarily get it laminated at this point in time,” Guthman said.

Vaccination cards aren’t a new idea in public health, Guthman added.

“Before we had significant databases, (vaccination cards) were always a medical record, so to speak, of your vaccines,” she said.

Before health records were stored online, people used vaccination cards to record their vaccines, such as their tetanus, polio or measles-mumps-rubella immunizations, she noted.

“Vaccination cards are certainly nothing new to us,” Guthman said. “They’ve always been used as a health record.”

Why return, at least temporarily, to using physical cards as evidence of COVID-19 vaccination? Guthman attributes it to the vaccines’ relatively speedy timeline, coupled with potential trouble with mass data entry, considering the huge volume of Americans getting vaccinated in 2021.

“The cards are a way to have something in your hand, something you have the ability to access at the moment,” she said.

Card-related scams

The Better Business Bureau warned that if people post their vaccination cards online, scammers can take advantage. Fake and counterfeit vaccination cards have been found for sale online, the bureau said, adding: “Posting photos of your card can help provide scammers with information they can use to create and sell phony ones.”

If someone loses their card or didn’t get one at their vaccine appointment, they should call the site where they got their vaccine to request a new one, the Health Department said.

People can also print off a version of their vaccination card at the Wisconsin Immunization Registry’s website, the Health Department said. To access the WIR online, visit dhfswir.org.

The WIR keeps a record of Wisconsin residents’ immunizations, including COVID-19 shots. People can access their vaccination record at its website.

‘Vaccine passports’ a hot debate

The Biden administration has indicated it won’t require so-called vaccine passports, a way to provide evidence that someone has received a COVID-19 vaccine.

At a news conference in early April, Andy Slavitt, acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said he considered them a project for the private sector, not the government.

Airlines and the tourism industry, hard-hit by the pandemic, have called for a way to certify people’s vaccinations.

But the idea of vaccine passports has met with criticism from Wisconsin Republican lawmakers.

Wisconsin GOP legislators have drafted several bills that aim to prohibit requiring vaccine passports in the state, the Capital Times in Madison reported. Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson also criticized the concept of vaccine passports last week in an interview with a conservative talk radio host, saying, “I certainly am going to vigorously resist any kind of government use or imposing of vaccine passports.”

President Joe Biden has said the government is considering federal guidelines to steer the process surrounding vaccine passports. Among its concerns: Not everyone who would need a passport has a smartphone; passports should be free and in multiple languages; and private health information must be protected.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Evers signs compensation bill for emergency responders
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MADISON — Gov. Tony Evers signed a bipartisan bill Tuesday that makes it easier for emergency responders suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder to file worker’s compensation claims.

Right now, police and firefighters can claim worker’s compensation for PTSD but must prove the condition was caused by unusual stress compared to what their co-workers regularly experience. Under the bill, a police officer or firefighter needs only a diagnosis from a licensed psychiatrist or psychologist and the diagnosis doesn’t have to be based on the employee suffering greater stress than his or her co-workers.

The bill limits compensation to 32 weeks, however, and allows responders to make only three such claims in his or her lifetime.

Police and firefighters have been pushing for the changes for several years, saying it could help prevent employee suicides. The bill failed in the Senate during the last legislative session. This time the Senate, now under control of new Republican Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu, passed the measure unanimously in February. The Assembly passed it on a voice vote earlier this month.

Rep. Jodi Emerson, D-Eau Claire, was a lead author of the bill.

“The time has come to take the mental health needs of our first responders seriously,” Emerson said in a statement. “Exposure to traumatic events has been linked to psychological distress and many frontline workers experience these traumas on a daily basis. The news is full of examples of what happens when people who aren’t mentally healthy hold other people’s lives in their hands.

“Healthy first responders lead to healthy departments. Healthy departments lead to healthy communities. Early identification, intervention, and referrals to mental health providers are critical in helping to treat PTSD and decrease the incidence of anxiety, depression, substance abuse and suicide in first responders”

Evers signed the bill at a Madison fire station. Democratic and Republican lawmakers who sponsored the bill attended the signing along with police and firefighters.

“We know the toll post-traumatic stress can take on our first responders might otherwise go unseen, but today we’re going to help make sure it doesn’t go unheard,” Evers said. “We’re saying today that we want to dismantle that stigma around post-traumatic stress and mental health — we want our first responders to know that we see these effects, we’re going to call it like it is, and there’s no shame in talking about it or getting help.”

Eau Claire City Council will appoint new member
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EAU CLAIRE — Not desiring one of its 11 seats to stay empty for nearly a year, the Eau Claire City Council will fill the vacancy by appointing a city resident during the next couple of months.

In a 10-0 vote during Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council decided it will seek applications from people interested in filling the at-large seat that Mai Xiong resigned from early this month.

“I think it’s imperative we try to select an 11th council member,” council Vice President Catherine Emmanuelle said.

Without an appointed member, the position would be vacant until the April 2022 election, she noted.

Councilman Jeremy Gragert agreed, saying that the council is in a position now where only a few absences could prevent decisions on items that require supermajority votes.

“We need to make sure we have more voices at the table for those difficult decisions,” he said.

Gragert added that the council could run into situations this summer with multiple members absent as they satisfy their “pent-up” desire for travel after postponing vacations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

A timeline for filling the vacant seat shows applications from adult residents will be accepted until mid-May, followed by interviews in front of the council later that month. Candidates will then have a last chance to make their case for the position at the June 7 council meeting before the council votes the following day on its choice. The winning candidate would then be sworn in and take office on June 21.

Xiong, who had been in office since the April 2020 election, resigned the post earlier this month due to responsibilities of a new job and serving as vice chairwoman of the state’s Equity and Inclusion Council.

Brush site fees delayed

Fees for disposing of grass clippings, dead leaves and small brush will not be charged until May 15 at the city’s Jeffers Road Brush Site.

On Tuesday the council unanimously voted to open the brush site today(Wednesday), but hold off on imposing fees that will be higher than what residents paid last year.

The council also voted 9-1 — Councilman David Klinkhammer cast the lone dissenting vote — to reduce the increase planned to the fee for disposing of large bags of yard waste. Initially planned to jump from 50 cents per bag to $2, the council instead decided that $1 was reasonable.

“This is an option we should probably keep as accessible as possible,” Gragert said of the per-bag fee, adding it is for people who seldom use the brush site.

A season pass for unlimited use of the brush site will be $45 — up from $35 charged when Boxx Sanitation previously ran the operation. Emptying pickup truck beds full of yard waste cost $5 to $10 under Boxx’s management, but is rising to $15 to $20 as the city is now running the operation.

Emmanuelle defended the fee increases as affordable to provide a “high-value” service to residents.

“I happen to think the price is an incredible value,” she said.

Even with the increasing fees, Community Services Director Renee Tyler said Tuesday that financial projections for the site show it could still run a deficit of about $49,000.

For the past five years, Boxx has run the site at 5710 Jeffers Road through a contract with the city. The Eau Claire-based refuse hauler declined to renew the contract in fall and the city received no interest from other private operators when it sought proposals in February.

When the city does begin requiring fees at the site in mid-May, only credit cards or checks will be taken at the brush site. Residents who use cash can pre-pay during weekday business hours at the city’s Central Maintenance Facility, 910 Forest St.

Other business

Also during Tuesday’s meeting:

• After a failed attempt to postpone a decision, the council voted 10-0 to sell a small lot on International Drive in the Sky Park Industrial Center for $27,000 to Hulke Properties for the construction of a crematorium building.

• A budget for Eau Claire’s use of $866,908 in annual funds from the federal Community Development Block Grant and related HOME program was unanimously approved by the council. Along with the yearly allocation, the city also received a one-time $331,145 CDBG allocation funded by federal coronavirus relief legislation. The council approved allocating those one-time funds to Sojourner House for the expansion of its downtown Eau Claire homeless shelter.

• A tax increment financing district that would provide funds for public improvements along Menomonie Street by the planned Sonnentag Centre gained the council’s unanimous support. The plan for Eau Claire’s TIF District No. 14 now goes to a panel of city, Eau Claire County, Eau Claire schools and Chippewa Valley Technical College representatives for approval.

• Eau Claire’s first water rate increase since 2014 was unanimously approved by the council, largely to pay for recent and current improvements to the city’s Water Treatment Plant. Taking effect May 1, the quarterly water bill for an average Eau Claire home will rise $8.37. A second rate hike will add another $2 to that quarterly bill, but won’t be enacted until plant improvements are finished sometime next year.

• Land for multiple new housing developments ranging from single-family lots to a 28-unit apartment building was rezoned through unanimous votes of the council. The only project on the agenda that did not move forward was a twin home development planned along Folsom Street that the developer withdrew from consideration.