As COVID-19 vaccine becomes more available, the number of people taking advantage of free injections is slowing in the Bay Area, and health officials are focusing efforts now on getting young people vaccinated.
While 89.1% of Ashland County residents over age 65 have had at least one dose of vaccine, just 13.2% of 16-and 17-year-olds have had their first injections — though they have been eligible for free shots for about a month.
The story is much the same in Bayfield County, where 27.2% of teens aged 16-17 have gotten a shot. Those aged 18-24 aren't doing much better; 34.8% in Ashland County and 38.4% in Bayfield County have been injected.
Meanwhile seniors in Bayfield County were almost as conscientious as their neighbors in Ashland County about getting their vaccinations, with 88.2% completing at least their first injection. In every age group over the age of 35 in both Ashland and Bayfield counties, over 50% have received at least their first vaccination.
Both Ashland County Health Officer Liz Szot and her counterpart Sara Wartman in Bayfield County say they understand the disparities in age groups.
"They think they are invincible," said Wartman about young people reluctant to be vaccinated
Statistics say otherwise. About 50% of Bayfield County's new cases are striking patients in the 20-to 39-year-old age group.
That's particularly concerning as the number of shots being administered now is dropping, even as supplies of vaccine are increasing. During the week of March 21, for example, Bayfield County residents got 1,619 shots. That number declined to 595 during the week of April 18, and Ashland County has seen similar declines. Szot said the danger is that young people who aren't vaccinated can be carriers of the disease, spreading it to other unvaccinated residents.
"Part of it is that they are at that age where a lot of people, they are young and healthy, nothing can stop them," she said. "Some are waiting for additional information."
Young people also tend to inhabit the digital world, where no end of false information about the vaccines has spread readily — everything from claims that the injections contain computer chips that allow the government to track residents to rumors that the shots can cause infertility in women.
Neither is true, but that hasn't stopped those and other false claims from making the rounds on social media and the Internet.
Recent cases have made it clear that the shots are as important for young people as for seniors, Szot said.
"If you've seen the news out of Minnesota, a they have had three children age 10 and under pass away related to complications of COVID-19," she said. "One was a healthy 10-year-old who died from it, having no other underlying health condition."
Szot said her department already is seeing an increase in COVID infections among younger adults and children.
"The virus isn't hitting older people because they are getting vaccinated, and it is finding homes in the younger population," she said.
Those facts led Ashland's Memorial Medical Center to combine efforts with health departments in Bayfield, Ashland and Iron counties and produce a series of social media videos aimed at encouraging people to get vaccinated.
"Our approach on social media has not just been aimed at people who are considered to be younger, but at those people who might have questions or be reluctant to get the vaccine," said Kevin Stranberg, MMC's director of strategy and patient experience.
He said the videos used community residents discussing with vaccinations with neighbors.
"They talk about why they decided to get the vaccine and why they believe it is important for other people to get it," Stranberg said.
The videos can be seen on MMC's Facebook page.
Local health officials next are preparing for federal approval to use the Pfizer vaccine in the 12-to 15-year-old age group. Wartman said "pop-up" clinics could take place over the summer if that approval comes through.
In the meantime, Wartman said there were few people on the county's waiting list to get vaccinated. That has created some logistical issues.
"The Moderna vaccine is given in groups of 10. In order not to waste any vaccine, we try to schedule 10 appointments, and we can't actually meet that right now," she said.
Wartman said Brownstone Pharmacy in Washburn has also been giving the vaccine, but has encountered the same difficulty in getting enough people scheduled so that precious vaccine will not be wasted. Her office also points patients to other providers such as Walmart and Walgreens pharmacies in Ashland places to get vaccinated sooner.
"It doesn't have to be a competition; we just want to connect people with the vaccine," Wartman said.
There is nothing quite like fresh coffee and bakery to start the day — especially if the coffee and bakery are prepared locally.
That's the idea behind Aroma Coffee Roastery and Bake Shop, located at 410 Main St. W. in Ashland.
The store is operated by the mother-son partnership of Meg and Kiel Gustafson of Ashland. The two want to provide locally roasted coffee and baked bread and pastries for residents and visitors with discerning palates who want to enjoy a little something extra on their morning java break.
Kiel is the operation's master roaster, and is also the baker.
He said a local roaster can provide the ultimate in high quality coffee, far fresher than anything roasted elsewhere and shipped to the Bay Area. The smell of steaming beans right out of the roaster — and fresh bread from the oven — inspired the store's name.
"For me it's a big thing, because our freshly roasted coffee is single-origin. That means it comes from different countries," Kiel said. "You can get different varieties, coffee from Ethiopia, coffee from Mexico, Columbia, Brazil, whereas if you go to the store and grab a can of Folgers or something along those lines, typically it is just cheap coffee that they get — just random stuff that they can throw together and roast to a single profile to get one specific flavor out of it. With my coffee, with specialty coffee in general, in roasting it I am trying to get the flavors of its origin, where the coffee is grown."
Kiel said his goal is to do justice to the beans. The same holds true for the bread and pastries he bakes.
One of his specialties is real, live culture sourdough bread. He makes several different sourdough loaves and is working on creating a sandwich loaf.
"There really is no end to it," he said.
Aroma's baked goods also include white bread, pastries, cookies, bars, muffins and cupcakes.
The operation started up in December after debuting at the Ashland Farmers Market the previous summer. Currently the store is open from 8 a.m. to noon, Tuesday through Saturday.
"We both have jobs away from the store, so we are operating in the mornings only, although we may expand those hours as business picks up," Meg said.
The store uses the Northland College kitchen lab both to produce baked goods and roast coffee. The facility is available to the public for a rental fee and is used to prepare foods that can be sold to the public.
"It is a shared kitchen concept, so if someone needs to do a small catered event and they need a big commercial kitchen, they have all the bells and whistles at the college kitchen lab so they can rent it out and do what they need," Kiel said.
The duo already is planning for a post-COVID world, with an espresso machine and an espresso grinder coming soon. The shop is open for take-out orders of bakery, coffee beans, custom-ground coffee and teas, but seating and tables are already installed, awaiting the day when the shop will open for on-premises customers.
"Before, you had to go up to Bayfield to get locally roasted coffee," Meg said. "But now we are here, we are local, we are using as much local product as we can."
Customers can call 715-29231878 in advance with special orders. The store also can be reached at email@example.com.
Northland College and Friends of the Apostle Islands are trying to create a next generation of island ambassadors with a program for local kids this summer.
Stewards of Tomorrow will take 50 kids between the ages of 14 and 17 on four-day excursions through the islands, where they will learn about their cultural history, environment and importance the area.
"We know the Apostles Islands National Lakeshore is hard to access and the Friends have accessibility as one of their goals," said Katherine Jenkins, Northland College's youth outreach educator. "And for local students, that's a real issue. Do they even know the park is here? We want them to come away with an understanding of the deep history of this land, its culture. It really can be a transformational experience."
The program is aiming to engage 50 kids as part of the park's 50th anniversary this year, and no one will be turned away if they can't afford to attend, Jenkins said.
Participants — 40 will camp in the park and 10 slots are designated for kids who want to return home each day — will spend one day kayaking sea caves, one day on Raspberry Island exploring its history and culture, one day sailing on a Lake Superior tall ship and additional time with local artists, culminating in each student creating a project that will be displayed as part of the anniversary celebration.
"So the last day we'll end up probably at Little Sand Bay, somewhere on the mainland in the park, working on a final project," Jenkins said. "At the heart of the program is the idea of stewardship – how do we care for the park, the land, the water? In the evenings, for the groups camping, we'll meet with artists and poets who have been inspired by the islands, then they will do their own art project about how they want to be stewards in the future."
Those projects will be displayed as part of the yearlong anniversary celebration.
"They will all have the same medium – garden flags," Jenkins said. "AdventureUs in Washburn is preparing 50 flags so each participant will have a blank slate. They can write, draw, paint, they might want to use natural objects and weave them into the flags. It's up to them."
Erica Peterson, chairwoman of the Friends board, said Stewards of Tomorrow is intended to pick up where the Island School left off when it had to be cancelled for COVID.
"We've gotten thousands of students out into the islands over the years through the school," she said. "It gives them the opportunity to experience why we have that national park. I think it changes their world view and perspective, and really changes their lives from that point on and encourages them to become more than appreciative of the islands. It gets them to be stewards.
Their (the islands') presence influences the entire community – our weather, economy, cultural history. If we can create those connections and roots with local students, we can get them out there experiencing the islands and not just looking at them on the horizon."
To apply for the Stewards of Tomorrow program, visit https://www.northland.edu/centers/soei/youth/youth-offerings/