Local vaccine totals unchanged after federal distribution error

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds said Tuesday the state's COVID-19 hospitalizations are approaching pre-November levels, and at least 8,400 health care workers in Iowa have been vaccinated so far. She said the state's overall expected share of COVID-19 vaccines recently dropped due to an error in the federal government's vaccine distribution plan. However, officials with Lakes Regional Healthcare said they received their initial shipment of 300 vaccines as expected. Hospital officials said the vaccines arrived shortly before noon Tuesday and staff members were soon being vaccinated.

Lakes Regional Healthcare President and CEO Jason Harrington spoke during the governor's Tuesday press conference and said another 200 doses of the recently-approved Moderna vaccine are expected next week. He reiterated the first doses will be given to local health care workers like doctors, nurses and even hospital housekeeping or reception workers who come into direct contact with patients. Local health officials then plan to give vaccines to other area health providers like ophthalmologists, pharmacists and dentists outside the hospital. The emphasis will then shift to hospital staff who do not regularly come into contact with patients.

"Our hope is that by next week, if we've vaccinated the vast majority of health care providers in Dickinson County, it then can move on to phase two which, to my understanding, would include firefighters, teachers and law enforcement," Harrington said.

Reynolds said Iowa is among a number of states whose vaccine allocation totals have changed after General Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, took responsibility for an error in distribution plans for some states.

"There are bound to be some bumps in the road as we head down this path and move forward," Reynolds said Tuesday. "So it's important I think to keep in mind that, while receiving less vaccine than originally estimated is disappointing, it doesn't change the fact that at this very moment Iowans are being vaccinated, that two vaccines are now available in the U.S. changing the course of the pandemic as we speak and that, in a matter of just a few more months, vaccines will be more widely available and life will begin to return to normal."

She went on to say that the decrease in expected vaccines has prompted the loosening of some requirements for distributing vaccines to long-term care facilities. Iowa Department of Public Health Director Kelly Garcia said the state will no longer be required to have half of the necessary vaccines on hand before administering them at the care facilities. She said the program is still slated to begin next week through partnerships with a number of pharmacies. Harrington said many of Dickinson County's COVID-19 statistics are trending downward, but inpatient populations are still seeing an increase due to virus activity within nursing homes. Dickinson County Emergency Management Coordinator Mike Ehret said the state recently pushed distribution of personal protective equipment to long-term care facilities, which he said will hopefully see most facilities through the holidays. Ehret's office distributed 17,400 such items to Dickinson County's three nursing homes he said more than 150,000 items have been distributed to care facilities, schools, LRH and other locations in the county since March.

Ehret also said the hospital's seven-day average showed, of the patients staying in the hospital, those with COVID-19 outnumbered those without by about 11-9 a new development, he said. Lakes Regional Healthcare had 11 patients who were positive for COVID-19 on Friday, according to Ehret bringing the total of local residents hospitalized with the virus to 105 so far. While about 1,483 of the county's total 1,625 cases have recovered, Ehret told county officials Tuesday morning the county has now recorded 21 deaths related to the virus. He noted the state coronavirus tracking website which shows only 13 deaths in Dickinson County is lagging behind in its reporting by at least two weeks.

"We're kind of seeing a bump in hospitalizations and deaths following the bump we had in positive cases in November," Ehret said. "We were pretty high in November. Fortunately that's waning, but now we're seeing the hospitalizations and deaths come a few weeks later."

The county's active case and its rolling, two-week positive test rate peaked around Nov. 20 with 247 active cases and a positivity rate of 22 percent. Statistics from Ehret's office and LRH showed about 124 active cases of COVID-19 in Dickinson County as of Friday, and the county's rolling two-week positivity rate was measured at 16.3 percent continuing a four-week downward trend.

Gov. Reynolds said Iowa was fortunate in that it has not seen a major spike in virus activity following the Thanksgiving holiday. She credited Iowans with scaling back their traditional gathering, and asked them to do the same for their upcoming Christmas celebrations. She also encouraged Iowans to continue following health recommendations like using face coverings in public, avoiding large gatherings and staying home when ill.

"We've proven that adjusting our behaviors to align with public health guidance makes a difference and is more than worth the effort," Reynolds said Tuesday. "Now we have an opportunity to continue this trend and keep virus activity at a level we can live with while ensuring our hospitals are stable, our business are open and our children can return to their classrooms after the holidays."

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