Vaccinations underway as death toll rises

The Twin Counties are administering COVID-19 inoculations to people in Phase 1A of the state’s vaccination plan. Courtesy of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Office

Vaccinations for COVID-19 are underway in Columbia and Greene counties as the local death toll rises.

Columbia County had one additional death Friday morning, bringing the county’s total to 52 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Greene County has had nine COVID deaths since the beginning of this year, for a total of 37.

Vaccinations are only available for those in Phase 1A at this time, according to a state order. Health care personnel, first responders in medical roles such as emergency medical services providers, medical examiners and coroners, funeral workers, ambulatory care providers and people living in and working in long-term care facilities including congregate settings are included in the group.

Essential frontline works and those 75 years old and older can be vaccinated in Phase 1B. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Friday that scheduling for vaccinations for people in Phase 1B can begin Monday.

Other essential workers, those 16 years and older with high-risk medical conditions and people 65 years and older can be vaccinated in Phase 1C.

Vaccines are available by appointment only through an online portal through the state, Columbia County Department of Health Director Jack Mabb and Greene County Legislature Chairman Patrick Linger, R-New Baltimore, said.

There is no hierarchy of which employees are prioritized within the 1A group, Linger said.

Columbia Memorial Health feels confident in their capacity to care for community members with the virus, spokesman William VanSlyke said Friday in a statement.

“We continue to see considerable volumes of COVID-positive patients,” VanSlyke said. “It’s a good reminder for all of us to wear masks, social distance and hand wash — all the things we know work to stem the transmission of the virus. We are working with our regional hospital partners to balance patient load, and at this time we feel confident we have the capacity necessary to meet the community’s needs.”

Columbia Memorial Health has received the vaccine and is inoculating staff members, Mabb said.

“I don’t have an immediate count, but I am certain that just about every staff member eligible who indicated has been vaccinated,” VanSlyke said Friday. Neither Mabb nor Linger know of anyone being required to take the vaccine.

“Encouraged, yes, requiring, no,” Mabb said.

Columbia County had 52 COVID-19 deaths as of Friday afternoon, with one additional death Friday morning when a man in his 60s died of the virus, Mabb said Friday.

There were 62 new cases in Columbia County as of 3 p.m. Friday, making 2,072 cases in the county to date, with 393 active cases and 366 individuals in mandatory quarantine. Twenty-five county residents are hospitalized because of the virus and one is in the intensive care unit.

The Columbia County Department of Health requested and received 100 doses for the first week of administering vaccinations, the week of Dec. 28, Mabb said. Vaccinations were given at Columbia-Greene Community College. The vaccine vials were overfilled, so the county was able to administer 10 additional vaccines with that batch.

The department requested and received 300 vaccines for the second week of January, all of which will be administered Jan. 9, Mabb said. He is expecting 330 doses to come from the vials if they are overfilled like the first tranche and all will be used, he said. All appointments have been booked.

The department requested 500 doses Thursday for next week, Mabb said.

“We’re feeling more comfortable now,” he said. “We feel very good about being able to do it.”

The department makes requests based on how many vaccines they are able to administer and it is not guaranteed they will get all they ask for, depending on vaccine availability, Mabb said.

Most emergency medical service workers in the county who want the inoculation have gotten one, Mabb said.

Sixty-five percent of eligible EMS workers in Columbia County received their vaccine and 90% of eligible EMS workers in Greenport received theirs, Mabb said. Some who opted out may eventually get the vaccine, he added.

CVS and Rite Aid were under a contract with nursing homes to get the vaccines, Mabb said. The department will be making sure nursing home workers who want the vaccine but haven’t gotten it yet will be able to.

Residents and employees at Ghent Assisted Living, the county’s only assisted-living facility, have been vaccinated.

“Residents and employees who consented to it [the vaccination] received it yesterday,” Ghent Assisted Living Administrator Meghan Kelley said Friday. “They will get their second dose Jan. 28.”

Phase 1B, which includes essential workers and individuals 75 and older, will be a huge category for the county, Mabb said. There are different definitions of who is an essential worker, and it will be up to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Mabb added.

“Until the time comes when he actually lays down that criteria, we won’t know who we can do and who we can’t,” Mabb said.

There have been 20 deaths at The Grand Rehabilitation and Nursing at Barnwell and 12 deaths at Pine Haven Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, and the rest of the deaths have been community members.

“We haven’t had a nursing home death in quite a while,” Mabb said. “It has been community members now.”

Mabb emphasized people should not show up at the college expecting to be vaccinated and there are sanctions for counties that violate vaccination procedures.

“People need to wait to the time the vaccine is going to be readily available,” Mabb said. “I think we’re not doing more vaccines because the supply is not there.”

Mabb is optimistic the vaccines will be available for the general public earlier than May or June, he said.

The recent surge in cases was due to Christmas and New Year’s gatherings, Mabb said. “If we hunker down a little bit, I think we can push the numbers down again,” he said. “I’m hopeful for that. It has gotten to be incredibly big incredibly fast in Columbia County in terms of the numbers.”

Greene County has seen nine additional COVID-19 deaths since Jan. 1.

The county has 400 active positive cases of the virus as of Thursday afternoon, for a total 1,620 positive cases, according to the Greene County Public Health Department. Forty of the positive cases were reported Thursday. Thirty Greene County individuals are hospitalized and 476 residents are under quarantine. There have been 37 deaths in the county.

Out of the active positive cases, 37 are in correctional facilities and 107 are in adult-care facilities, according to the department.

The seven-day rolling positive rate for the county is 11.6%.

The Greene County Department of Public Health received its first shipment of vaccines and began administering them Thursday.

Thursday’s clinic lasted four hours and 222 vaccines were administered, Linger said. Vaccinations continued Friday at the senior center in Catskill.

Half of the staff at Home Sweet Home on the Hudson Assisted Living Facility, in Catskill, have been vaccinated and the residents will be vaccinated Jan. 19, Administrator Susan Hotaling said Friday.

The Pines at Catskill Center for Nursing and Rehabilitation residents and staff will begin to get the vaccine Jan. 11, and will receive the second dose Feb. 1, Director of Admissions and Marketing Kathleen Roop said Jan. 4.

“I know there has been some who did not want it within this group, but I don’t know that I’ve heard anybody mandating it for their employees,” Linger said.

The vaccines are being administered by Greene County Public Health workers and Greene County Emergency Medical Services paramedics, Linger said.

So far, the county has had the volunteers needed to administer the vaccines, Linger said. About 11-12 volunteers staffed Thursday’s distribution.

“But that being said, it was just our first clinic yesterday; it’s our second today,” he said Friday. “I can tell you the planning for yesterday’s clinic went very, very well.” There are about 2 million people in the state who qualify for Phase 1A in New York state and about 900,000 available for them, Linger said. Both vaccine options require two doses.

“They’re lining up more facilities, more agencies to be able to vaccinate as the supply increases,” Linger said. “Right now we’re just simply supplying the vaccine. There is not enough to go around for everybody who wants one right now, including Phase 1A.”

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