By Rick Hiduk
(Exclusive to EndlessMtnLifestyles.com readers)
Though not part of the regular agenda for their Jan. 14 public meeting, the Bradford County commissioners and county planning and safety director provided as much information as possible about where the county stands with COVID-19 testing, vaccinations and prevention. Rapidly changing protocol passed down to the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) by the federal government is still being absorbed.
“It’s still influx as to how it will be facilitated,” commissioner chair Daryl Miller said in response to questions. “I wish we had some more solid information as to how that will be handled.”
According to planning and safety director Matt Williams, 1,429 people in Bradford County had received the first of two shots of the coronavirus vaccine. The county is working with the DOH and PEMA to coordinate the vaccinations, while Guthrie Sayre administers a different program, and long-term care facilities with federal pharmacy partnerships follow their own guidelines.
“Four LTC’s in Bradford County have been vaccinated,” Williams related, noting that shots began on Dec. 18. “That is a different pool of people. We are also working with Guthrie to make sure that no vaccines go to waste.” Guthrie has received both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines because they have the cold storage capabilities.
One matter of contention derives from the fact that the federal government has been routinely redefining who belongs in which phase. PA health secretary Rachel Levine said yesterday during a webinar hosted by Sen. Gene Yaw that Phase 1A has been further defined to identify specific healthcare providers.
“This includes non-hospital affiliated healthcare workers, mental health professionals, children & youth services, and first responders that have direct response obligations,” Williams explained.
According to Levine, Phase 1B has been modified to include essential workers and people 75 and older with significant health risks, making it a much larger portion of the population to be vaccinated next that earlier anticipated. Levine admitted on Wednesday that there are not currently enough doses available to the state nor qualified healthcare workers to administer them. Phase 1C includes essential workers not included in group 1A or B, pregnant woman, and citizens 65-74 with significant health risks.
“1B is coming very quickly, and now is the time to consider whether you will want a vaccine or not,” Williams cautioned. “As the pool of people who are eligible expands, you may be left out.” He encouraged employers of essential workers to start polling their staff to see who wants the vaccine and to contact his office if they need guidance or forms. “Unfortunately, we are at the mercy of the DOH. We are not a vaccine distributor or supplier. We are working through them.” Williams encouraged the general public to seek details at www.health.pa.gov.
Levine made it clear during Yaw’s webinar that she is not against vaccines going into the arms of people in Phase 1B if there is any chance of the doses expiring because administrators don’t have enough 1A people to inoculate. “I don’t have a moral objection to moving on to the next category. If you don’t have someone with 1A in front of you, give someone the vaccine, Don’t waste it,” she stated. “You don’t have to finish one to start the other.”
Free COVID testing is in its third day in Bradford County and public officials are discouraged that only 223 people have taken advantage of the service so far. Miller maintained that the testing does more than let an individual know if they have a positive or negative result. “It gives the DOH an idea of how widely the virus has spread in parts of our community. They are trying to determine how prevalent it is, if in fact it is happening any place in the Commonwealth,” he stated. “Whether you suspect that you’ve been in contact with someone, are symptomatic or not, you should get tested. The line is moving very smoothly and very quickly.”
“It’s a good opportunity,” Williams agreed. “We wish we had more people showing up to be tested.”
“Don’t be afraid to get tested,” Commissioner Doug McLinko stated. “It is not invasive.” McLinko suggested that he may be the most-tested employee in the courthouse, having tested negative seven times.
Testing continues through Saturday, Jan. 16 at the Bradford County Airport. (Read more here: http://www.endlessmtnlifestyles.com/drive-thru-covid-19-testing-planned-in-bradford-county/)
In the meantime, Williams and the commissioners urged everyone listening to continue to observe safe-distancing practices, keep hands and surfaces sanitized and to wear masks. “This virus is here and it is prevalent,” Williams said of the 15 percent positivity rate and 50 to 60 people currently hospitalized in Bradford County. “That number is very alarming, and there is still a high opportunity for a lot of bad things to happen if we let down our guard.”
“Front-line workers go in our hospitals every day knowing that there is a virus there,” McLinko added. “We have to get back to normal, but we have to do it together.”
After the meeting, Williams provided some additional details as to how the rest of Phase 1 of the vaccination might play out. “The current state vaccination plan calls to implement these through local healthcare organizations and retail pharmacy partners once we move into Phase 1B,” he explained. “There is concern about mass vaccination clinics for a couple of reasons. First would be staff capacity and storage requirements of the vaccines. Second is the logistics of what has transpired in some other states that would not be palatable here. We don’t want to have people waiting for hours in line during the winter months in northern PA as they have in some of the southern states.”