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State health officials merge four Phase 1 groups, opening the door for vaccinating multiple groups of locals

 - Vaccines first arrived in Central Oregon on Dec. 30.The COVID-19 vaccine is beginning to be delivered around the nation and to Oregon counties, and Crook County received their first allotment on Dec. 30. Distributions have started and will continue as the vaccine continues to be available.

Projected vaccination schedule

During the next two months, officials will focus on Phase 1a of distribution, with vaccines going primarily to health care workers and high-risk patients. Those people have been divided into four subgroups, all of which are concurrently eligible to receive the vaccine.

Group 1 includes hospital and urgent care personnel, skilled nursing and memory care facility health care providers and residents, tribal health programs, emergency medical service providers and other first responders.

Group 2 features other long-term care and congregate care facilities and congregate care sites, including health care providers and residents. Also on the list are hospice programs, mobile crisis care and related services, individuals working in a correctional setting, and personnel working at group homes for children or adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Outpatient settings serving high-risk groups comprise Group 3 as do personnel and patients for in-home care, day treatment services and non-emergency medical transport. Group 4 recipients will include health care personnel working in other outpatient and public health settings, and school staff was recently added to the group.

"Once we get all of the teachers in our county vaccinated, then we will move on to Phase 1b," said Vicky Ryan, Crook County's emergency preparedness coordinator.

Phase 1b and 1c are projected to launch in March and April and will focus on vaccinating high-risk populations, such as the elderly and people with underlying health conditions, and essential workers in six different tiers. The tiers are yet to be determined, but Gov. Kate Brown has recently advocated for teachers and child-care professionals to receive priority.

"OHA will determine what those tiers are," Ryan said.

Health officials anticipate launching Phase 2 around May and expect it to continue into August. Vaccinations during this phase will go to critical populations and then general populations after that.

A third phase is projected to begin in August and last through December, during which time health officials are planning a continuation of the previous phases.

Vaccine availability

The state has so far allocated 100 doses to Crook County per week. The number of doses is based on county population.

"The first few shipments that came to each county went to the hospitals," Ryan said. "St. Charles announced (last Tuesday) that they have vaccinated 2,200 employees in Central Oregon."

The Crook County Health Department has begun administering vaccinations and is scheduling a minimum of 20 per day. Ryan explained that because of handling restrictions, they must schedule vaccinations in groups of 10.

"Once we open a vial, it's only good for six hours," she said. "We don't want to waste any of it."

The number of weekly Crook County doses could soon increase. Ryan was told last week the state was considering a higher allocation, although counties won't find out for sure until sometime this week.

"It is all dependent on when the state gets their allocation," she said.

Stick with the masks and social distancing

While health officials continue to receive and administer vaccines in the weeks ahead, Ryan stresses that a return to pre-pandemic life is still several months away.

"These next few months will be difficult, and it will take a lot of work to continue to follow the guidance for keeping ourselves and our community safe," she said. "It is understood that everyone is ready to get back to daily lives, but this may not happen for quite some time as cases continue to increase in Crook County and across the state."

So, at this time, she urges people to "stay the course and continue protecting ourselves and those around us by following the guidance released by the state and suggested by the experts in the Oregon Health Authority."

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