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Jefferson County receives only a third of the COVID-19 vaccines it was expecting

PAT KRUIS/MADRAS PIONEER - Jose Ramirez swabs his nose to test for coronavirus at a testing clinic held at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds Jan 14. Jefferson County Fire District No. 1 will host a drive-thru testing clinic Feb. 5 from noon to 7 p.m.

Public health workers cannot get the vaccine out fast enough to people in Jefferson County who want it.

"I'm frustrated." County Public Health Director Michael Baker says he's not getting enough vaccine. "We've received less vaccine this week than we expected. A third less."

Public Health received 100 doses this week, but partners Mosaic Medical and Madras Medical Group received none. They each received 100 doses the prior week.

"We've been designated a high risk community, an extreme risk community, one of the highest COVID rates in the state, yet we're still limited to such a small allotment of the vaccine."

The Oregon Health Authority (OHA) requires the county to give the vaccines in order of priority. Jefferson County is still working through Phase 1A of the priority list, which includes health care workers, first responders, and people in nursing homes.

"We are not to move past 1A until everyone from 1A is completed," says Baker. "And wait before moving to 1B to make sure we don't need to reallocate vaccines to allow other counties to catch up."

Directors like Baker have to keep up with rules that update at a whiplash pace.

"We get announcements of change with very little advance notice that these changes are occurring."

Friday, Jan. 15 Gov. Kate Brown announced the state will not receive allotments promised by the federal government, forcing counties to revamp the entire schedule for vaccine priorities.

The OHA just expanded the priorities of Phase 1B. That phase included educators, but now also includes school staff, people age 65 and older and people with underlying conditions.

Baker says those categories together makes up about a third of the population of Jefferson County. "If you're not in one of those categories, that pushes your availability out even further."

Jefferson County has resolved to not waste a drop of the vaccine, which opens up an opportunity to people in the general populations who want to take a cut in line. The vials each hold 10 doses. The doses need to be used within six hours of opening. If they have doses left over and no priority candidates, nurses will call people on the waiting list.

"The only draw back is that list has expanded to over 200 individuals, so it will take a while to get through the excess doses before we get through that list," says Baker.

With the vaccine moving so slowly, Baker says testing is vital. "The availability of the rapid testing for people who are asymptomatic is probably the biggest change that really helped."

More testing catches the infection before people have symptoms and gets them in quarantine before they unknowingly spread the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines have cut quarantine time for people without symptoms from two weeks to seven days. "Staying home for only a week it's easier to manage," says Baker,"and people are more likely to complete the one week quarantine, rather than the two weeks."

Baker says with all the community-wide testing, most of the testing takes place at the St. Charles Emergency Room because people are reporting with symptoms. He wants more people to get tested before they show symptoms.

The Jefferson County Fire District is hosting a drive-thru testing clinic Friday, Feb. 5 from noon to 7 p.m.

Those who want to get tested before February should contact Jefferson County Public Health directly or follow the department's Facebook page for any testing clinics that happen before then.

Sidebar

County COVID death count at 26

As of Monday, Jan 18, the death count from COVID reached 26, which includes the Saturday death of an inmate from the Deer Ridge Correctional Institution. While the county saw an increase in the number of people infected due to holiday gatherings, it was not as large an increase as public health leaders expected.

Most of the cases clustered in households rather than individual cases scattered across the county.


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