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Laquesha Staples, of Kankakee, helps paint a storefront window in downtown Kankakee on Thursday afternoon in support of the Kankakee High School football team and its journey to the state championship. Staples’ son, quarterback Tomele Staples, will lead the Kays in Saturday’s IHSA Class 5A semifinal game against Morton at 3 p.m.

Under 5% of 5- to 11-year-olds have been vaccinated

KANKAKEE — At the Kankakee County Health Department’s first pediatric COVID-19 vaccination clinic last Saturday, 158 kids received their first dose out of 300 available slots, according to health department administrator John Bevis.

However, there was high turnout to the health department on Thursday for walk-in vaccinations, according to the department’s Facebook page.

Bevis said he is hopeful more kids will turn out to upcoming Saturday clinics.

“School is in session right now, so it’s difficult for people on a Monday through Friday to pull their kids out to come to the health department to get vaccinated if they’re 5 to 11,” Bevis said.

A little under 5 percent of the county’s 5- to 11-year-olds have gotten their first dose, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health as of Thursday, compared to 11.5 percent across the state.

Bevis said that supply for the pediatric doses is available and many pharmacies and providers now have them in stock.

“Parents who are on the fence in terms of deciding whether or not their children should be vaccinated, I just encourage them to please read the information that’s available from reputable sources,” he said.

He added that children are continuing to make up around a third of the county’s cases, though their cases are usually not as severe as adults.

“So the thing here is that we’re trying to do what’s right for everybody,” Bevis said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 data tracker reported Kankakee County’s case rate per 100,000 people to be 286.72, considered high transmission, and positivity rate to be at 5.06 percent as of Thursday. The positivity percentage has nearly doubled since Halloween, Bevis said, but rates are not as high as they were in September.

Part of the rise may be because the dropping temperatures are pushing people indoors, Bevis said. He recommended people stay home if they feel sick and continue taking precautions.

“I have a fear that people are beginning to tire of hearing that message and we’re just going back to that same old you know what, ‘It’s just my sinuses, It’s just a cold, I’m fine’ and people have COVID that don’t even know it. And they’re making their family sick.”

COVID numbers

The hospital bed availability seven-day rolling average in Region 7, which includes Kankakee and Will counties, dropped under the threshold of 20 percent during November for the first time since January 2021. The average number of COVID-19 patients in the hospital has increased for a continuous 16 days in the region, according to IPDH.

Kankakee County has 18,960 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 281 COVID-related deaths, according to the health department as of Tuesday.

Kankakee is 44.56 percent vaccinated overall, and 8,374 people have received booster shots, according to IDPH.

The seven-day rolling average of daily vaccinations has been steadily in the 300s in November, higher than it was for most of the past four months, as boosters and Pfizer’s pediatric vaccine has become available.

“I believe that the numbers are showing that individuals who had already been vaccinated originally have been very receptive,” Bevis said regarding boosters.

As Thanksgiving week approaches, Bevis said social distancing and masking are recommended for indoor gatherings, especially around older, vulnerable people.

“Don’t let the politics and the attitudes of the vaccinations or the masks, you know, interfere with the camaraderie of getting together for the holidays, but people just need to be safe,” he said.

Many families have some people vaccinated and some unvaccinated, he added.

There also may be traveling protocols to comply with this Thanksgiving, Bevis said.

“If you’re traveling by boat or plane, you may be asked to provide proof of vaccinations, you might have to provide proof that you’ve been tested negative for COVID,” he said. “So make sure that you have all that taken care of ahead of time.”

Laquesha Staples, center, and Keli Hodges, right, and her son Jaden, a sophomore, all of Kankakee, help paint a storefront window in downtown Kankakee. MORE PHOTOS

Bill Yohnka, left, Kankakee High School’s community engagement specialist, and Allison Beasley, assistant director of the Kankakee Public Library, help paint a ‘Go Kays’ sign downtown Kankakee on Thursday afternoon in support of the Kankakee High School football team and its IHSA Class 5A semifinal game Saturday against Morton at 3 p.m.

Drug ODs in Kankakee County in 2021 decrease

KANKAKEE — The number of opioid drug overdoses in Kankakee County is down from a year ago.

With two weeks remaining in the 2021 fiscal year — the time frame used by the Kankakee County Coroner’s Office when collecting data so that it coincides with the county’s budget — there have been 38 confirmed overdose deaths with four cases pending. For the 2020 fiscal year, which runs from Dec. 1 to Nov. 30, there were 50 confirmed OD deaths.

That was the highest rate since 2017, when the county recorded 56 OD deaths. Nestled between was a two-year dip, with 29 in both 2018 and 2019. Coroner Bob Gessner said the use of Narcan could be a reason for the decrease this year. Narcan, or naloxone, is used to reverse an opioid overdose.

“The number of saves by Narcan is up in emergency rooms, [and with] EMS and police,” Gessner said.

Heroin, cocaine, fentanyl and carfentanil continue to be prevalent in the toxicology results of overdose victims, he said. Officials are finding more users are now taking these in pill form rather than injecting it. The pill is broken up and either snorted or smoked, Gessner explained.

“We are seeing more rolled-up dollar bills on tables at [overdose] scenes,” he said, indicating that snorting was the victim’s method of choice.

Grim statistics

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report this week that found more than 100,000 Americans died from drug overdoses from March 2020 to April 2021. It is the most overdose deaths ever recorded in a one-year period.

While it’s not an official count — it can take months for death investigations involving drug fatalities to become final — President Joe Biden called it “a tragic milestone” in a statement after the report was released.

The report and its stark findings are the first insights into what effect the COVID-related stay-at-home orders had on drug usage and, subsequently, drug overdoses.

Provisional data provided by the CDC showed Kankakee County had 43 overdose deaths during that span. Data for Iroquois County was unavailable on the CDC’s website.

Experts say stay-at-home orders closed down treatment for recovering addicts, while prolonged isolation played a role as well.

The new data shows many of the deaths involve illicit fentanyl, a highly lethal opioid that five years ago surpassed heroin as drug most often involved in overdose deaths. Dealers have mixed fentanyl with other drugs — a reason that deaths from methamphetamines and cocaine also are rising.

Drug cartels in Mexico are using chemicals from China to mass-produce and distribute fentanyl and meth across America, said Anne Milgram, administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Bond set at $2 million in slaying of Kankakee man

KANKAKEE — Bond was set at $2 million for a man charged with shooting and killing Jess Hackney, of Kankakee, on Thursday.

Anthony Kendrick, 39, of Kerrville, Texas, was charged Friday with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm.

Kendrick is accused of shooting Hackney and two other men while at a bar in the 200 block of West Broadway Street in Bradley.

The preliminary cause of death for Hackney is multiple gunshot wounds, Kankakee County Coroner Bob Gessner said.

Bradley police responded to a report of shots fired at the bar at 11:58 p.m. Wednesday.

Police found three gunshot victims outside the bar upon arrival, Kankakee County Assistant State’s Attorney Jonathan Watson said Friday during Kendrick’s bond hearing.

Hackney and the other victims were transported to a local hospital for treatment of injuries. Hackney was pronounced dead at 12:42 a.m.

Based on information from witnesses at the scene, officers were able to locate and take Kendrick into custody, Watson said.

The identities of the other two victims are not being released.

Homicide stats

Hackney’s death marked the 15th homicide in Kankakee County in 2021. This year has had the most homicides in at least the last 10 years, according to the coroner’s office.

Ten homicides occurred in 2016, which was the year that previously had the highest number of homicides in recent years, according to coroner’s office data.