By Tom Robb
The Journal has learned more about the COVID-19 vaccination site at New Trier High School’s Northfield Campus scheduled to operate Wednesday, Feb. 24, and Monday, March 1.
New Trier Township High School Dist. 203 board members approved a site use agreement for the school at their Tuesday, Feb. 16 meeting. Dist. 203 officials released that agreement to the Journal later that same week, in response to an Illinois Freedom of Information Act order to produce public documents.
Cook County Commissioner Scott Britton (D-14th) said the site would be used to inoculate frontline essential workers, including teachers and first responders, allowed to be vaccinated in the 1B category, but would not include those 65 and older with underlying medical conditions, also eligible to receive the vaccine in the 1B group.
Vaccinations would be administered in New Trier High School’s Northfield Campus gym, with available parking designated at the nearby west parking lot.
Although only two dates have been set in the short term for use of the site by Cook County health officials, the term of the agreement is for one year, meaning it is possible the site could be used again. During the Dist. 203 board meeting, board members discussed the fact that Cook County health officials had already held a similar vaccination event at the school, which had gone smoothly.
Many mass vaccination sites in Illinois are being staffed by members of the Illinois National Guard. Although the agreement’s termination clause says, “CCDPH may terminate this agreement immediately in the event National Guard personnel are recalled from the Site,” senior county health officials said National Guard troops would not be deployed to New Trier, but fire department and other municipal staff from surrounding communities would be deployed to the site.
“The site will be staffed by personnel from participating municipalities within MABAS (Mutual Aid Box Alarm System) Division 3, Cook County Department of Public Health and Cook County Department of Emergency Management and Regional Security,” Dr. Rachel Rubin, senior public health medical officer and co-lead for the Cook County Department of Public Health, said in a written statement.
MABAS is a statewide organization made up of regional divisions, which coordinates regional fire department response, including specialized units. The officers of MABAS divisions are usually either local fire chiefs or senior officers from communities within that division.
MABAS Division 3 includes Glenview, Northfield, Northbrook, Niles, North Maine, Park Ridge, Prospect Heights, Morton Grove, Glencoe, Wilmette, Winnetka-Kenilworth, Skokie, Evanston, Deerfield-Bannockburn, Highland Park and Lincolnwood fire departments.
Rubin said, “MABAS divisions are expected to ensure that all non-clinical roles are filled; and provide PPE (personal protective equipment) and equipment for vaccine transport and storage, technology equipment, administrative and medical supplies, and furniture for clinic operations.”
Britton said other personnel from MABAS Division 3 communities, outside fire departments, were expected to assist at the New Trier site.
The agreement says, with Dist. 203’s consent, the Cook County Dept. of Health “may arrange for police protection with local law enforcement agencies including, but not limited to, municipal police departments and the Cook County Sheriff’s Department.”
The agreement with Dist. 203 says, “In the event that Entity (Dist. 203) incurs any additional costs or expenses as a result of CCDPH use, including but not limited to overtime required for additional Entity personnel hours, such costs and expenses shall be the responsibility of CCDPH.”
One area fire chief said he hoped to see any additional expenses from the use of his firefighter-paramedics, reimbursed by federal aid.
Senior MABAS Division 3, municipal, and Dist. 203 officials all referred questions back to Cook County health officials as did municipal officials in several MABAS Division 3 communities.
Britton said he worked with a few other area county commissioners for about six weeks to see the site set up after he said MABAS Division 3 officials began pushing hard to see this site stand up.
Britton said his constituents have called, frustrated there were no vaccination sites in northeastern Cook County or the North Side of Chicago. He said a Cook County Health facility in Arlington Heights is too far west for some.
Britton said the limited availability of vaccines could hamper how many are vaccinated at the site.
Gov. JB Pritzker and Cook County Board President have said the amount of vaccine made available to the state and county is limited, asking those in the 1B group to be patient.
Recent reports have also said vaccine shipments due into Illinois within the last week have been hampered by the extreme weather hitting not only Illinois but many other parts of the nation as well. President Joe Biden has vowed to see vaccine production and distribution ramped up nationally.