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With Region 5, which includes Massac County, being moved to Tier 2 mitigation status, Harrah’s Casino reopened its gaming floor on Saturday. The hotel reopens today.

In this age of COVID-19, have you wondered what a contact tracer does?

That is one of the topics Southern Seven Health Department will be educating the community about over the next few weeks.

The department is collaborating with businesses and organizations on a three-week information campaign series in the Metropolis Planet and in The Southern Scene.

“We know how concerned residents are about the impact of COVID-19. Southern Seven is working to increase education regarding COVID-19 in our region,” said Shawnna Rhine, Southern Seven’s community outreach coordinator. “We are hopeful through this effort we can ease their concerns by giving them more information and resources.”

Harrah’s reopens under Tier 2

With Region 5 moving to Gov. JB Pritzker’s Tier 2 mitigation status, Harrah’s Casino is reopening.

The hotel is slated to open today while the gaming floor opened over the weekend.

“Our first customers came back on Saturday. We’re very excited to be open again,” said Chad Lewis, the casino’s advertising & public relations representative. “We’re easing back into it. The big thing is getting our employees back to work and getting the economy stimulated again.”

The casino floor is now open at its normal business hours — 8 a.m. until 6 a.m. daily.

The in-house dining service and bar opened for dine-in on Wednesday. Carry-out service is still available as a dining option.

“We are taking very high precautions cleaning everything to make sure everybody’s safe,” Lewis said.

That means masks are required at all times for employees and patrons to enter and once inside the facility. Sanitizing stations are located throughout the premises.

“We have a clean team that’s on a schedule going around wiping down everything, making sure machines are clean, making sure anything that is touched by anybody is constantly cleaned,” Lewis said.

Over the course of the pandemic, Harrah’s has been fully closed twice — the first lasting almost four months from mid-March 2020 to early-July 2020; and the second lasting two months from just before Thanksgiving 2020 and its reopening on Saturday. In the weeks five months during the pandemic that Harrah’s has been open, the availability of its food and beverage services was under mitigation.

“Once we get out of the next of mitigation, we can open up everything agin and be fully operational. That’s what we’re waiting on to get that tax money generated again,” Lewis said. “We’re ready to hit the ground running once we get back open fully.”

Southern Seven enters next phase of vaccination program

Southern Seven has entered Phase 1B of the COVID-19 vaccination schedule, opening vaccines to a wider group of individuals living within the Southern Seven region — Alexander, Hardin, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Pulaski and Union counties.

Phase 1B of the COVID-19 vaccination program includes people 65 years of age and older along with essential workers, which include: first responders (firefighters, police, EMS, etc.); teachers (including support staff and daycare); food and agriculture; public transit workers; grocery store employees; transportation & logistics; and utilities (energy, IT and communication, water, wastewater, etc.)

“COVID-19 vaccines are still in very limited supplies,” said Nathan Ryder, outreach coordinator for Southern Seven’s Contact Tracing program. “As we are notified of how many vaccines will be delivered to us each week, Southern Seven will call and schedule appointments for vaccination clinics throughout our seven counties.”

These appointments will be scheduled utilizing the information submitted to Southern Seven’s vaccine registry. A link to the registry has been posted on Southern Seven’s Facebook page and on its website at www.southern7.org or directly at https://form.jotform.com/203635536921153.

“It’s important to note that this is not a reservation form, a vaccination appointment or a ‘wait list,’ ” Ryder said. “It is simply a way for us to maintain a list of contacts so we can keep people notified of the different vaccination phases as we move through them. We will also continue to update vaccination opportunities on our social media channels like Facebook and Twitter in addition to our print, radio, and TV news outlets in the region.

“Our phone systems have been overwhelmed with people wanting to get their names added to our registry for the COVID-19 vaccine,” Ryder continued. “If you are interested in getting vaccinated and have access to the internet, we ask that you please register online. This will help keep the phone lines open for folks who don’t have access to the internet or may not be as technologically savvy to get added to our registry. If you know of someone who doesn’t have access to the internet, we ask that you offer a minute or two of your time to enter their information into the registry for them.”

Based on current guidance from Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), Southern Seven expects to receive a weekly shipment of vaccine. These vaccines will be distributed throughout the seven counties based on guidance from IDPH and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC).

Previously, COVID-19 vaccinations were being provided to frontline healthcare workers and residents of long-term care facilities under Phase 1A of the CDC’s COVID-19 Vaccination Program.

“If you are a member of the Phase 1A group and missed your first opportunity to get vaccinated, please add your name to the registry so we can keep you notified of upcoming vaccination opportunities,” Ryder said.

Phase 1 is characterized by having access to a limited amount of COVID-19 vaccine.

“It is anticipated we will be in Phase 1 until the end of spring,” Ryder said.

There is no charge for receiving a COVID-19 vaccine from Southern Seven. However, some other providers may charge an administrative fee for the injection. If you have health insurance, the vaccine provider will bill your insurance company for this administrative fee. If you are uninsured, you will not be charged for the administrative fee.

For questions regarding COVID-19, contact Southern Seven at 618-634-2297 or visit on Facebook or online at www.southern7.org.

COVID-19 mitigations rolled back in 9 regions

SPRINGFIELD — Nine of 11 regions in the state’s COVID-19 mitigation plan have seen mitigations lifted in the past week, with two moving all the way back to Phase 4 restrictions.

Region 5, which covers southern Illinois, moved to Phase 4 mitigations on Monday. Under Phase 4, gaming and casinos, hotels, indoor fitness classes, offices and cultural institutions are able to reopen without tier restrictions.

Test positivity rates must remain below 6.5% for three consecutive days, staffed hospital and ICU beds must reach 20% or higher for three consecutive days and there must be a sustained decline in COVID-19 patients in the hospital for seven out of 10 days.

“We are pleased to see most of our regions move out of Tier 3 mitigations with this change, and it is critical that we maintain this progress,” Illinois Department of Public Health Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a news release. “With new variants of COVID-19 spreading, it is more important than ever to follow public health guidance that keeps people safe.”

Massac County breaks 1000 in total COVID cases

The total number of COVID-19 cases for Massac County now totals 1022.

Since the last edition of the Metropolis Planet, from Jan. 13-19, there have been 42 new cases — two below 5 years old; five teenagers; five in their 20s; five in their 30s; nine in their 40s; six in their 50s; six in their 60s; two in their 70s; and two 80 or above.

Of the 1022 total cases, 794 are recovered and 202 are active.

This is the third week in a row there were no deaths in Massac County confirmed as the result of COVID-19. Southern Seven has confirmed 26 deaths due COVID-19 in Massac County since August.

Southern Seven reports 76 deaths in the region — Alexander, Hardin, Johnson, Massac, Pope, Pulaski and Union counties — since the start of the pandemic. There have been 5744 cumulative total cases in the region .

As of Tuesday, according to the IDPH, there were 4318 new individuals with COVID-19 identified in the state, bringing the confirmed total to 1,076,532 individuals with 18,291 deaths.

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