Vaccines limited

Steve Wilson, a nurse at Bay Area Hospital, holds a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Each vial contains ten doses, Wilson said.

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As Coos County’s COVID-19 cases are continuing to rise, public health officials are reminding residents that getting on “the list” is the only way to get a vaccine while supplies are limited.

According to Dr. Eric Gleason, Coos Health & Wellness assistant director, hospitals and other facilities in the county have almost completed vaccinations for those in the 1A group, including health care and long-term care workers, as well as the “vast majority” of teachers and other educational staff in the county.

“I would say that we’re pretty close with 1A, based on our transition into the more elderly population,” Gleason said. “I think that we’re at a point where we can transition now to that 1B, a little bit further into that 1B. We’ve been working very diligently to get the educators.”

The main sticking point in the county’s vaccination process continues to be supply, Gleason said. Currently, vaccination events are open by invitation only to those who’ve signed up on the county’s vaccine interest list.

“As of right now, it’s basically the list,” Gleason said. “Based on the fact that we have to do mostly closed (distribution events), because we have very limited amount of supply that we get at certain times, we have to make sure that we’re targeting specifically who we can with the most efficiency for the number of vaccines we get.”

The department uses the list to contact individuals who are eligible for vaccines when vaccination events in the area are scheduled.

Those events aren’t yet mass-vaccination events, Gleason said. Instead, they’re limited events open only to eligible individuals — and only open to those who sign up on the list.

“We’ve got targeted groups we know we need to take care of,” Gleason said.

Since they’re entirely dependent on the county’s weekly vaccine allocation, vaccination events can’t be scheduled very far in advance, and will typically take place later in the week when the county has a better idea of how many doses it will receive.

“We’re not receiving that kind of number, and we’re not receiving that kind of advanced notice either,” said Katrinka McReynolds, another CHW spokesperson. “That’s why it’s short notice.”

The county may not have enough doses for mass vaccination or drop-in events until late spring, so officials are currently offering doses only to those who’ve registered on the county’s vaccination interest form.

That form, as well as additional information about the vaccine, is available at cooshealthandwellness.org. Registering online is a much better option than calling the department, according to Gleason.

“We have an influx of phone calls that is unlike anything that Coos Health & Wellness has ever seen,” Gleason said. “The vast majority of those phone calls are vaccine related.”

Online options could be a challenge seniors without access to or familiarity with the right technology, so Gleason said CHW is looking at options for getting them on the list.

In the meantime, he encouraged residents to communicate with elderly loved ones and offer to help make sure they’re on the list.

In addition, the state has launched a “Get Vaccinated Oregon” tool. It gives users the chance to answer a few questions about themselves to determine their vaccine eligibility, and users can register with the site to receive notifications when they or others in their family become eligible for a vaccination.

If a user is eligible, the Get Vaccinated site lists vaccination events in the area. It’s available online at getvaccinated.oregon.gov.

Oregon’s 211 line is also equipped to answer questions about the COVID-19 vaccine. Users can text ORCOVID to 898211, or email ORCOVID@211info.org. A call center is available between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m. by calling 211 or 1-866-698-6155, though wait times may be long.

According to the state’s vaccination timeline, individuals 80 and older are now eligible for vaccines. Those 75 and older will be eligible on Feb. 15, and those 70 and up will be eligible on Feb. 22. On March 1, anyone 65 or older will be eligible for a vaccine.

County still at extreme risk

Meanwhile, indoor dining and a handful of activities will remain off-limits in Coos County for the next two weeks due to the county’s rising COVID-19 case rate.

State health data released Monday means the county will remain in the “extreme risk” category of virus restrictions, where it’s been for most of the time the state’s operated under its four-tier framework.

Statewide, 10 counties — including those in the dense tri-county area around Portland — moved out of that category into lower categories.

As has been the case, the moves come down to numbers: Between Jan. 24 and Feb. 6, the county reported around 284 cases of the virus per 100,000 in population, well over the 200 cases per 100,000 in population needed to move down to a lower category.

The county’s test positivity rose to 11.3% during the same time period. That’s the third highest rate among Oregon’s 36 counties.

Meanwhile, Douglas County remains in the slightly looser high-risk category, which allows for limited indoor dining and broader access to gyms and indoor recreation. To the south, Curry County is one of eight in the state’s lowest class of virus restrictions.

For health officials, the restrictions aren’t a surprise. In January, the county saw its largest one-month increase in virus cases, largely attributed to community and household spread, according to Coos Health & Wellness.

Only one outbreak in the county is reporting increases in cases. That outbreak, at the Ken Ware car dealership, has been linked to 14 cases, which can include employees’ family members and other secondary contacts, according to CHW’s Becky Fairhurst.

To enter a lower category of restrictions, the county will need to have case rates lower than 200 cases per 100,000, as well as a test positivity rate below 10%. The state will release new data Feb. 16, and will next reassign restriction classifications on Feb. 23 to take effect Feb. 26.

Reporter Zack Demars can be reached at worldnews3@countrymedia.net.

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