DALLAS — During the county health officer’s weekly COVID-19 update Jan. 5, County Commissioners grew increasingly frustrated by an apparent lack of plans to provide vaccines to vulnerable populations.
Commissioner Mike Ainsworth at one point expressed his anger that inmates appeared to be on a faster track to receive the vaccination than some seniors on long term care.
Jacqui Umstead said as of Jan. 12, 2,745 people had been vaccinated in Polk County, more than double than previous week. However, each commissioner had concerns with a specific population that had not been immunized yet.
During the discussion, Umstead outlined the state’s priority list for groups receiving the COVID-19 vaccine in the initial Phase 1A:
1. Hospitals, urgent care, skilled nursing, memory care facilities, tribal care health programs, EMS providers and other first responders.
2. Other long term care facilities and congregate care sites, hospice programs, mobile crisis care, care transport, individuals working in a correctional setting.
3. Outpatient settings serving specific high risk groups, in home care, day treatment services, non emergency medical transport.
4. Health care personnel in all other outpatient, public health and early learning settings, death care workers.
Commissioner Craig Pope expressed his concern that seniors in long-term care facilities were still being exposed to the coronavirus. He noted the 51 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the Jefferson Lodge Memory Care facility in Dallas.
“I really thought as we got through the tenth month (of the pandemic), we’d have a good handle on long-term care facilities and medical facilities and not be exposed to the outbreaks that we are, But here we are with significant spikes of outbreaks in long term care,” Pope said. “What are we doing differently? Are we learning from this? What are we doing differently to help facilities better manage this?”
Umstead said county health checks in with long-term care facilities to make sure they are following plans outlined from OHA and DHS.
“We have conversations, group virtual meetings. We’ve done walk-throughs, make sure there’s no other ways they can be mitigating risk,” Umstead said. “I think a part of this, you look at the age group that works in long term care facilities, the staff tend to be younger, in categories experiencing most positive cases. The 20 to 29 year olds could be getting it at long-term facilities or bringing it into a long-term care facility.”
Ainsworth wanted a more “realistic” look at the situation, starting with Jefferson.
“Those people are there. They are not going anywhere. (COVID-19) has to be coming in from an outside source,” he pointed out, “As we’ve got the vaccines available now, are we looking to vaccinate those folks first? And how far along are we?”
Umstead said the plan is to have all the skilled nursing care facilities signed up with a pharmacy partner such as CVS or Walgreens.
“I spoke with Jefferson Lodge. Because they’re not considered a skilled nursing facility, they don’t have a date yet with their pharmacy for vaccinations. I’ve reached out to West Valley Hospital to help get them vaccinations sooner,” Umstead said. “We want to look at ways we can make sure that these people get vaccinated as soon as possible. Because this is a population that has the most negative outcome.”
Commissioner Lyle Mordhorst said he’s been getting messages from a lot of concerned parents about when their children will be able to go back to school now that vaccines are available. He wanted to know what role county health plays in helping school districts make that decision. Ainsworth also pointed out hearing from a number of teachers who say they’re not going back to school until they get vaccinated.
Umstead said at the commissioner’s Jan. 12 meeting teachers were moved to the top tier of Phase 1B. She added the county only provides data and trend information, leaving the actual decision reopen to school districts.
“It’s not a decision that public health makes, I’m for that. I wouldn’t want it to be my decision,” Umstead said. “I’ve met with every school district in Polk County during the last week to talk about metrics that are advisory and not mandatory. How can they open safely? They can ask for our input, but we’re not the decision maker whether they can or can’t open.”
She added that reopening is trending toward a slow roll out, targeting early grades first then adding more grades, allowing the county to track how it goes with school districts following safety measures planned since last year.
A final concern Pope had was where jail detainees fell on the timeline to get vaccinated.
“While correction staff is on the schedule, detainees are not. It appears you are all in agreement that vaccinating jail detainees can be problematic, first and foremost because we don’t know where they’re going to be in 28 days when it’s time for their second vaccination,” Pope said.
Umstead explained the county is organizing all those groups in Phase 1A for vaccines, adding that a nursing supervisor is looking at the logistics of when and how to provide vaccines within the jail. Umstead said they are hoping to start this week.
Umstead added that while they’re not making it mandatory that inmates receive a vaccination, it was important to offer it to this group because they’re in a congregate setting where illness pass quickly from person to person.
That’s when Ainsworth took exception to the appearance inmates were on a faster track to receive the vaccine than the seniors in long term care.
“I’m kind of ticked off now. We’re going to take care of somebody that’s in jail but don’t have a plan to take care of these people in a long-term care facility, which are extremely vulnerable. And we don’t really have a plan where we’re going to be in the next couple of weeks,” Ainsworth said. “In the meantime, a couple of people are probably going to die. It just irritates me that here’s someone that has broken the law but has more rights with priority put on them than someone in a care center.”
Umstead countered that long-term care facilities did come first on her and the state’s priority list.
“If there are long-term care facilities that we find that don’t have vaccines or need a vaccine, that’s where the vaccine is going to go. They are a higher priority than corrections detainees,” Umstead said.
For example, Umstead told the commissioners Jan. 12 that a strike team was able to break through bureaucratic red tape and deliver vaccines to the residents of Dallas Retirement Village on Jan, 11.
She added DHS expects to make its way through vaccinating all the groups of Phase 1A by the end of this week or or sometime next week.