La Crosse County Health Department director looks back on busy and not-so-easy year in 2021

LA CROSSE, Wis. (WKBT) – It’s been a busy year for the La Crosse County Health Department.

On top of getting a new director, health leaders had their own share of challenges and successes in 2021.

During this time more than any other, we heavily rely on information to get us through our day.

The job of La Crosse County Health Department leaders is keeping the community educated about COVID-19, something director Audra Martine says is a huge challenge.

“Everybody is going to have different opinions about data,” Martine said.

Information about the virus was, and still is, constantly changing.

When cases dropped, fully vaccinated people were told they could take off their masks.

But when they climbed again, and especially right now, health leaders again recommend most people mask up in public settings.

Some people agree with the guidelines. Others don’t.

“I can totally understand why people are very passionate about their opinions,” Martine said. “And yeah, the criticisms are hard. But I hope people understand, too, people are doing their jobs.”

The health department is also dealing with another constant change — staff turnover.

“We’ll do just like everyone else and try to work smarter,” Martine said. “We aren’t always going to have more.”

But what Martine deems as a success in 2021 was the health department’s ability to work together with several organizations on COVID-19 response.

That includes healthcare systems, businesses, and schools.

“As the pandemic changed, they need different things from us,” Martine said. “Sometimes, it’s quick and informative. Sometimes, it’s more hands-on access to supplies.”

And as the calendar changes, Martine hopes enough people get vaccinated or develop immunity against COVID-19.

A chance that 2022 will be the last year of this pandemic.

“I think that’s yet to be seen,” Martine said. “But hopeful. Always hopeful.”

Martine says the Omicron variant is more transmissible compared to the Delta variant.

However, early studies suggest that most cases of Omicron are not as severe as Delta.