A Madison County Board member pushes for masks. The chairman pushes antibody treatment instead
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.
A Madison County Board member says the lack of mask-wearing at county board meetings is inappropriate while COVID-19 is still spreading through the community.
County Board Democrat Michael “Doc” Holliday asked the board Wednesday night why so few board members were wearing masks during meetings of the board, reminding them that the state still mandates them while indoors.
“It looks like we’re just in defiance of the whole idea of wearing masks,” said Holliday, who asked county officials to add signs at entrances to county buildings as a reminder of the mandate.
As of Sept 3, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed Executive Order 21-22 requiring all individuals over the age of 2 to wear a face-covering when in indoor public places. Madison County State’s Attorney Tom Haine said in August his office is not “willing or able” to enforce the mask mandate with criminal charges.
County Board Chairman Kurt Prenzler, who did not have his nose and mouth covered during the meeting, did not directly respond to Holliday, but said people are free to wear a mask if they’d like while in the county building.
“I see a number of officials that, as far as I can see, don’t have a mask on and I think that’s what it is Mr. Holliday,” Prenzler said. “I think it’s fine if people decide to wear a mask, that’s their choice, and you’re choosing to do that and I respect that.”
Of the 23 board members present at the board meeting, Prenzler estimated 95% weren’t wearing masks.
“I think that people should have freedom to choose,” Prenzler said in an interview Thursday. “Some people are wearing masks and some people aren’t. I think frankly people have lost track of all the edicts, it’s become too much to keep track of.”
At the meeting, Holliday argued that the county board, which also serves as the Board of Health for the county, should be doing more to slow the spread of COVID-19. He said just recently he lost a close friend to the virus.
“We as a county board of health should be looking after all citizens of Madison County,” Holliday said.
According to the most recent statistics reported by the Illinois Department of Public Health, Madison County has a weekly COVID-19 positivity rate of 3.2%, the second-lowest in the region just behind St. Clair County’s 2.4%. A region’s positivity rate is calculated by comparing the number of positive tests with the number of total COVID-19 tests taken in a given time frame.
Madison County also reported 315 new cases from Oct. 14-20, down from the 468 cases reported the prior week. The county, however, reported a big uptick in deaths from two from the week of Oct. 7-13 to 10 this past week.
As of Wednesday’s data, Madison County had reported 39,505 cases and 597 deaths since the pandemic began.
Prenzler pushing for drug cocktail treatment
Prenzler said the county has been pushing a treatment known as monoclonal antibody injection treatment. Former President Donald Trump was administered the treatment after he was diagnosed with COVID-19 last year and it has recently been popularized by podcast host and comedian Joe Rogan.
“Probably the most important thing we’ve done — if you’ve been paying attention to the board of health — we have spoken up and publicly announced that a very important treatment is available,” Prenzler said during the meeting.
The chairman has been calling monoclonal antibody injections a “life saving” treatment for months.
“We’ve been working hard to let people know about that,” he said.
Prenzler said he’s not advocating the treatment be used as a preventative measure against COVID-19, nor is he calling on citizens to be vaccinated against COVID-19 because, he says, it’s a personal choice.
He declined to say whether or not he was vaccinated against the virus, calling the question “inappropriate.”
Prenzler said he personally knows people who have received the monoclonal antibody injection treatment and said it saved their lives.
According to the World Health Organization, the monoclonal antibody treatment should be used on COVID-19 patients with a high risk of being hospitalized or who are not producing antibodies to fight off the disease. The WHO panel cited data that showed the treatment likely reduces the risk of hospitalization for patients who are likely to get much worse, including unvaccinated, immunocompromised and older individuals.
However, the WHO also reported that lower-risk patients with less serious symptoms were unlikely to have “meaningful” benefits from the therapy and warned of its demand could “exacerbate health inequity and limited availability of the therapy” for those who need it most.
The organization has urged Regeneron and Roche, two makers of the treatment, to reduce the price of the treatment and make it more widely available. According to Healthline, the cost of the drug cocktail can range from $1,250 to $2,100 per infusion. Additionally, A doctor must approve the use of the treatment.
No action was taken by the board on mask-wearing after Holliday’s request.
Kavahn Mansouri is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.