In a Facebook update earlier this week, Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner described county COVID-19 case counts as stable following a previous week of up and down movement.
While he said Highland County may be reaching a plateau in terms of case rates, he thinks it is dangerous making predictions when it comes to the coronavirus. He pointed out that a case chart indicates a decrease in Highland County case rates during the second week of January, with cases seeming to level off late in the month.
Warner was encouraged to see a reduction in hospitalization rates, and cited a chart from the Ohio Hospital Association that illustrated the rise in those admitted to the hospital in the county during November and December, but showed a current decrease in those rates.
Keeping up with the vaccination efforts in Ohio continues to be a sticking point with both the local health department and others in the state, as Warner related both the difficulties in getting registered for vaccination and the limited availability of the vaccine itself.
“Adding five years of eligibility each week is not going to help us keep up with the number of people interested in a vaccine,” he said. “I ask everyone to understand this, to have reasonable expectations, and to be patient with this vaccine rollout. Unless something significant changes, it is going to be quite a while before Phase 1B is finished.”
Warner said he doesn’t have the staff necessary to handle the number of incoming calls and still perform their other tasks, adding he was certain that when the 65 and older age group becomes eligible the week of Feb. 8, it would again overwhelm an already stressed system that is struggling with call volume combined with the lack of available vaccine.
Gov. Mike DeWine Tuesday outlined steps that Ohio has taken and will take to address inequities in health care as they relate to vaccine accessibility.
“There are Ohioans who simply do not have equal access to health care,” DeWine said. “We have worked hard to address these gaps, especially in our efforts to roll out the vaccine, but there is still more to do.”
Instead of offering what has been referred to as “mega vaccination sites” being seen in other states, the governor said Ohio’s vaccination plan will focus on ensuring that there are multiple vaccine providers in every county in the state.
He said that more than 700 providers across the state were receiving the vaccine to help ensure that Ohioans have access to it closer to home.
He added that Ohio was working with federally qualified health centers, faith-based communities and local health departments to pilot pop-up vaccination sites in at-risk communities.
A news release detailed efforts by the Ohio Department of Health to work with the Ohio Department of Medicaid to provide transportation options for those who want to receive the vaccine, but face transportation barriers.
The ODH said that local health departments are prioritizing underserved populations by partnering with organizations that work to serve Black, Hispanic, Latino and other underserved populations to provide education and offer opportunities for vaccination when vaccines become available.
Warner had advice for those waiting for more COVID-19 vaccine to arrive.
“For those of you who have already completed an online survey, or who have left a message with the call center, your spot is saved. You are on our wait list,” he said. “You do not need to contact anyone again. When vaccine becomes available, we will be contacting you to try to fill our available spots. We generally do not know our vaccine allocation rates until mid-week the week before vaccine arrives. This can make it very difficult to do advanced planning or scheduling.”
All the clinic spots for Highland County’s 70 and older population were currently full, with a wait list of over 200 for that age group that are in line for the vaccine, he said.
“This week we will be working with our Board of DD to vaccinate some of their highest risk clients,” Warner said. “The week of Feb. 15, we are also planning to provide some vaccine availability for non-Board of DD clients who meet specific health risk factors.”
He addressed discussions regarding cutting vaccine doses in half for the 18 to 55 demographic, citing some studies that seem to indicate that two separate doses at half the amount produced identical immune responses.
Noting that it would effectively double the amount of initial Moderna vaccine doses, Warner felt it was worth further scientific investigation, but admitted it could be nothing more than wishful thinking.
Something that may give a more rapid response to the presence of COVID-19 is the BinaxNOW rapid antigen tests, which he said is in the process of being deployed to some community partners.
“These rapid antigen tests are not perfect, but they are fast and they are free. It is possible that our active case counts will increase if we suddenly start doing a large number of free rapid tests,” Warner said. “If we do see a spike in cases due to increased testing, we need to remember that these tests are only revealing something that was already there.”
New coronavirus cases statewide totaled nearly 4,000 Wednesday, with the 3,991 new cases bringing the state’s cumulative total to 906,727 since last March.
Of those cases, the ODH reported that almost 800,000 have made a full recovery.
Case counts dropped in two of the four leading indicators Wednesday, with total cases and hospitalizations trending downward, while 94 additional deaths and 36 new patients admitted to hospital intensive care units were increases when compared with the 21-day rolling average.
Locally, Warner’s Monday update showed Highland County with a cumulative total of almost 3,000 cases since last March and a little over 2,700 recoveries.
Active local COVID-19 cases totaled 186, with 390 being observed for symptoms in quarantine and 2,065 vaccines started.
Warner said the health department will be closing at 2 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4 due to an off-site vaccine clinic, and would re-open Friday, Feb. 5 at 8 a.m.
Reach Tim Colliver at 937-402-2571.