If you get your Covid vaccine at the Rock Island County mass vaccination clinic in Milan between April 14 and May 20, there will be something special that’s literally music to your ears.

Legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma gave an impromptu performance March 13 at Berkshire Community College’s gym in Massachusetts, after receiving his second Covid shot.

Taking inspiration from famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s recent impromptu performance during his Covid vaccine observation period, the Rock Island County Health Department and the Quad City Symphony Orchestra (QCSO) are partnering to bring live music to the mass vaccination site at Camden Centre in Milan.

“Vaccine Variations” is an initiative that arranges for one-hour performances by QCSO musicians starting April 14 in the patient observation area of the vaccination clinic. Due to Covid precautions, the performances will feature string musicians only.

All musicians will be masked and socially distanced during their performances. As a thank you for their decision to vaccinate, patients will receive a discount code valid for upcoming QCSO performances.

“We have given up so much of what makes life joyful because of the pandemic,”  Janet Hill, chief operating officer of the Rock Island County Health Department (RICHD), said Wednesday.

“We hope these performances will bring back some of that joy and beauty through live musical performances. We also expect music will help

Janet Hill is chief operating officer of the Rock Island County Health Department.

calm anxious patients,” she said. “We are elated that the Quad City Symphony Orchestra will share their world-class musicians with us as Quad Citians take control of the pandemic by getting vaccinated.”

Hill got the idea when she saw the legendary cellist last month perform an impromptu solo for the clinic inside the gym at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield, Mass., after Ma got his second vaccine dose.

“I know personally that one of the biggest challenges of the pandemic for me is that I don’t get to go listen to live music,” Hill said Wednesday.

“That’s just a really important part of my mental health, listening to music, and when Yo-Yo did that, I just thought what a great idea — we’ve got all of these musicians in the Quad-Cities who are not being able to do what they were put on this Earth to do.”

“We’ve been missing so much joy and you know since the pandemic started, this is just one way that we can help bring it back and we have a captive audience for 15 minutes while they’re there, waiting to see if there’s any type of really rare vaccine side effect,” she said. “We’ve had very few and all across the country, there’s been just a handful of serious side effects. Most of the time people are just sitting there, 15 minutes on their phone and we just thought it would be just a wonderful opportunity to bring a little bit of joy and culture back and we’ve been missing that for more than a year.”

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“We are thrilled to partner with the RICHD by bringing music to their mass vaccination clinic performed by musicians of our orchestra,” QCSO executive director Brian Baxter said. “The success of our local and national vaccination campaign is essential to our ability to finally

Brian Baxter is executive director of the Quad City Symphony Orchestra.

beat the Covid-19 pandemic and get back to producing large concerts, bringing the joy of full live music experiences back to the Quad-Cities.”

Marc Zyla, QCSO principal horn and director of education and community engagement, added: “As we look forward to next season, every individual electing to receive their Covid-19 vaccination when eligible is the number-one thing that will help us get back to what we do best: perform to full, live audiences.

“Using music to draw attention to this important initiative and giving back to the health care professionals that have guided our community through the pandemic is just a small token of our appreciation,” Zyla said.

Since March, the QCSO has been playing to limited-capacity audiences at the Adler Theatre, with their next concerts (of all American music) being this Saturday, April 10, at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

For the Milan clinic hour-long performances, Hill said they’re limiting to strings because Covid is a respiratory disease – which has resulted in 13,872 positive cases in Rock Island County, and 342 deaths, while Scott County has seen 18,436 Covid cases, and 233 deaths.

“We know that playing through woodwinds or brass instruments, if the musician happens to be infected and doesn’t know it, and those water droplets could be put into the air,” Hill said Wednesday. “So there are ways to do it more safely through covers of the instruments, but we discussed it and we would go with strings just to be completely safe.”

Increasing vaccine rates locally and nationally

The RICHD six-day-a-week, National Guard-assisted vaccination site is at the Camden Centre, 2701 E. 1st St., Milan. Hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Drivers must enter from the Milan Beltway and follow signs through the park. They will exit onto U.S. 67.

The county health department is averaging 4,800 vaccine doses a week at the Milan site.

Appointments must be made in advance. Online links for appointments are available on the health department’s Facebook page and website, richd.org.

The clinic is inside the Camden Centre and is staffed by National Guard soldiers, Rock Island County Health Department employees and managers, volunteers from RICHD’s Medical Reserve Corps, and medical team members contracted by the Illinois Department of Public Health. Other partners include Rock Island County Sheriff’s deputies, Village of Milan police officers, and Rock Island County Emergency Management Agency leaders.

 The clinic has been averaging administering 800 doses a day, which adds up to 4,800 a week, Hill said. They started as a mass vaccination clinic on March 8.

Including pharmacies and doctors’ offices, there have been 69,349 doses of Covid vaccines given in Rock Island County, she said. In total, more than 26,000 people in the county are fully vaccinated, representing 18% of the population.

“Now for some sobering news: We are seeing rising case counts on both sides of the river, especially in younger people,” according to the health department website. “The Illinois Department of Public Health put Rock Island County in warning status last week because of our rapid rise in cases. Right now, there are no additional mitigations in place because those are enacted on a regional level, but other counties in Region 2 also are seeing rising cases.”

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Last week, RICHD opened up vaccine eligibility to every Illinois resident 16 and older.

The Illinois Department of Public Health gave local health departments the authority late last month to expand vaccination to broader groups, based upon increasing availability of the three currently authorized vaccines: Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

The eligibility expansion came as Rock Island County is saw rapidly rising Covid infections, especially in younger people.

Marc Zyla is the QCSO director of education and community engagement.

“With this expansion, we are trying to curb a recent rise in infections in Rock Island County by getting as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” RICHD administrator Nita Ludwig said March 29. “We are able to vaccinate thousands every week with the help of the National Guard.”

With this change, the department reminds everyone of some vaccine and procedural basics:

  • The vaccine supply is primarily Pfizer and Moderna. We don’t know when we will start to receive larger quantities of Johnson & Johnson. Remember that the best vaccine to take is the one offered to you.
  • Pfizer has been given emergency use authorization for those 16 and older.
  • For Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, the age is 18 and older.
  • The second dose for the Pfizer vaccine is due about 21 days after your first dose.
  • The second dose for the Moderna vaccine is due about 28 days after your first dose.
  • You must have the same brand for both doses. Johnson & Johnson is one-dose vaccine.

Hill said the FDA approval for Pfizer was because their trials included enough 16-and 17-year-olds, that showed its vaccine was safe and effective for that population. There were not enough included in studies for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, she noted.

“Studies are ongoing now and it’s looking like the FDA is going to approve vaccines for people younger than 18 across the board, and maybe even as young as 12, but it has not been done yet,” Hill said.

Across Illinois, 35 percent of the population has received at least one Covid shot and 19 percent are fully vaccinated. In Iowa, it’s 34 percent

QCSO violinist Sabrina Tabby will be the first performer at Milan’s Camden Centre starting at 10 a.m. April 14.

at least one dose and 22 percent fully vaccinated. In the U.S., 63 million people total have been fully vaccinated; Covid has claimed more than 556,000 American lives as of Wednesday.

“It’s been a horrible year for every person in this world,” Hill said. “And so I think that it’s important to remember that vaccination is an important tool and without having everyone who is eligible vaccinated, this pandemic can continue until we reach herd immunity and we don’t know what that number is yet.”

“We have a pretty good idea that it’s north of 75 percent,” she said. “We need to get people vaccinated. So now we’re grateful that the National Guard is here to help us with that and that the state of Illinois has opened up many more mass vaccinations sites across the state, because we’re going to need every one of those resources to vaccinate our state which is, you know, 13 million people.”

“If the partnership with the symphony is the deciding factor to get someone to come to the vaccination site for the joy of hearing a live performance, that’s wonderful,” Hill said. “I look at it as just a moment of joy to all Quad Citians who are eligible to be vaccinated. But if it’s the tipping point, that’s even better.” The schedule of musical performances is:

Sabrina Tabby Violin 4/14/21 10:00 – 11:00 AM
Hannah Holman Cello 4/16/21 1:00 – 2:00 PM
Janis Sakai Violin 4/24/21 2:30 – 3:30 PM
Emily Nash Violin 4/24/21 9:00 – 10:00 AM
Deborah Dakin Viola 4/27/21 9:00 – 10:00 AM
Sabrina Tabby Violin 4/30/21 10:00 – 11:00 AM
Hannah Holman Cello 5/3/21 1:00 – 2:00 PM
Jenwei Yu Viola 5/4/21 1:00 – 2:00 PM
Janis Sakai Violin 5/15/21 11:00 – 12:00 PM
Emily Nash Violin 5/15/21 8:00 – 9:00 AM
Deborah Dakin Viola 5/17/21 2:00 – 3:00 PM
Julia Kanakaras Bass 5/20/21 2:00 – 3:00 PM

 Mass vaccines until June

The Milan vaccination site is expected to be operating until early June, and expects to get higher volumes of doses before then, Hill said.

“By early June, I think that we could have the bulk of the county vaccinated, at the same time that we’re getting more vaccine, the pharmacies are getting it, and Trinity and Genesis are getting it,” she said. “So it’s just much larger supply. So we just need people to understand that while there was a phased approach and people were not able to get it at the very beginning, it’s now eligible or available to everyone.

“They can just make an appointment on our website or through our Facebook page or through their pharmacy or through their physician — and just get vaccinated. This is how we’re going to get to the other side of this pandemic,” Hill said.

The RICHD gets vaccine supplies through the Illinois Department of Public Health, which announces allocations each week for Rock Island County, what they will get the following week. The Camden Centre site rarely has any unused doses after each day, Hill said. “We work extremely hard that we do not waste a dose,” she said.

The patients in Massachusetts who heard Yo-Yo Ma and his priceless cello — after getting a new lease on life — were very appreciative, according to NPR.

“One of the other volunteers told me she just started to well up in tears,” said Hillary Beshara, a nurse administering Covid vaccines. “And it was so comforting and so healing.”

“And as he ended his last note and stood up and he kind of put his hand to his chest and made a gentle gesture forward, there was just this loud, wonderful clapping from his very appreciative audience.”

To make an appointment for the Milan vaccine clinic, visit https://richd.org or www.facebook.com/RockIslandCountyHealthDepartment.

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Jonathan Turner has been covering the Quad-Cities arts scene for 25 years, first as a reporter with the Dispatch and Rock Island Argus, and then as a reporter with the Quad City Times. Jonathan is also an accomplished actor and musician who has been seen frequently on local theater stages, including the Bucktown Revue and Black Box Theatre.