Week in Review: Notable local stories from the past 7 days

COVID-19 vaccinations begin locally

A shipment of 195 vials of the first U.S.-authorized COVID-19 vaccine arrived at UnityPoint Health-Finley Hospital in Dubuque on Thursday morning, several days before health officials previously anticipated.

Generally, FedEx workers are not greeted at the hospital by top-level administrators, but when two deliverymen arrived shortly before 8:30 a.m., about 10 staff awaited them.

Nurse Jan Pacholke, Finley’s house supervisor, was the first to receive the vaccine. The 70-year-old has worked at the hospital since 1969.

“I was very excited,” she said. “This is a shot of hope. This is what we need to stop this pandemic.”

COVID-19 numbers declining

For the second straight week, the numbers of newly confirmed and active COVID-19 cases in Dubuque County have dropped — a positive departure from the expectations of local officials.

“We haven’t seen that spike that we were sort of worried about,” county Supervisor Ann McDonough said during a meeting last week.

The trend of new cases in Dubuque County reversed course just before Thanksgiving. After more than one month of cases, hospitalizations and deaths surging upward — at a rate local health care workers feared would overwhelm them — those measures decreased slightly ahead of the holiday.

But members of the Dubuque County COVID-19 Incident Management Team warned against too much celebration at the time, saying the lower figures could be partly attributable to people not wanting to be tested before Thanksgiving.

The team also worried about Thanksgiving, which for many typically involves gathering with groups beyond their household, and whether local residents would be willing to modify their traditions in light of the pandemic. They anticipated that a surge in new COVID-19 cases could follow.

WD event feeds 1,100

EPWORTH, Iowa — Colorful lights flickered through the windows of the Western Dubuque High School cafeteria as Sandy Reeg readied herself to greet the long line of cars in the parking lot.

It was her third year volunteering for the Bobcat Community Christmas event, and every year she finds herself entranced by the energy created by those around her. It’s what keeps her coming back.

“The thing I enjoy the most is the excitement that’s in the building, and everyone is helping, and they are happy,” said Reeg, a special education consultant with Keystone Area Education Agency. “The people getting the meals are happy. Everyone is in a very festive mood.”

Western Dubuque High School on Wednesday held its third annual Bobcat Community Christmas, which feeds hundreds of local families. The school partners with the nonprofit Resources Unite to hold the event.

To keep staff and residents safe during the COVID-19 pandemic, organizers decided to hold a drive-through event this year, rather than their usual practice of having guests dine inside the high school.

Resources Unite seeks more county money

Faced with escalating need in the community, the organization responsible for Dubuque County-funded rent, utilities and burial assistance is close to running out of money.

Resources Unite oversees the county’s general assistance program. Executive Director Josh Jasper told the county Board of Supervisors last week that increased need in the community has led the organization to use nearly all of its county-given allocation for the fiscal year.

Resources Unite was allocated $128,000 for the fiscal year that runs through June 30. But Jasper said the organization has had a significant increase in requests for rent and utility assistance from those impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic devastation.

Jasper proposed another $130,000 to finish out the fiscal year — effectively doubling his original budget from the county.

Supervisors have planned another work session with Resources Unite and other area nonprofits regarding assistance.