Local health department reports progress in coronavirus vaccination

The director of the local health department gave the morale of Alamance County’s leaders a figurative shot in the arm earlier this week when he delivered his latest update on the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Tony Lo Giudice, the county’s health director, had plenty of morale-boosting news on the vaccination front when he appeared before the county’s board of commissioners at a regularly-scheduled meeting on Monday.

Lo Giudice told the board’s members that, as of that afternoon, a total of 17,610 people in Alamance County had received the first dose in the two-part inoculation regimen while 7,962 area residents had gotten the second injection as well. Based on these numbers, Lo Giudice estimated that about 10.39 percent of the county’s residents – and about 41 percent of those 65 years old and older – have received at least one of the two shots.

“So we are making progress,” he went on to assure the commissioners, “and when I say ‘we’ I’m not just talking about the health department. We also have partners in the community that are helping with this effort.”

The health director added that the county has been bombarded with appointment requests ever since it lifted the velvet rope for people 65 to 74 years old to receive their injections. In fact, the county’s administrators acknowledge that the county’s vaccination call center received nearly 400,000 call attempts on the first day that people in this age group could schedule appointments for shots. Lo Giudice said that the clamor for vaccination is unlikely to subside before February 24, when the state has announced that it will extend inoculation to school and childcare employees.

“It was made clear that this is dependent on the supply that we receive,” he went on to concede. “Again, demand is truly outpacing supply.”

Lo Giudice nevertheless shared his department’s tentative plan to set aside 350 to 450 doses from its weekly vaccine allocation to inoculate childcare workers and school employees. The health director said that he also has assigned some of his own staff to compile lists of these individuals so they can get expedited injections through their employers rather than compete for appointments. He added that he ultimately expects it to take about nine weeks to get through the 3,600 childcare workers and school employees expected to seek vaccination – or about 70 percent of all the area residents who work in these professions.

Lo Giudice assured the commissioners that the health department’s labors have been made somewhat easier by the efforts of various “community partners.” The health director commended the growing number of local healthcare providers who are receiving state certification to administer the vaccine. He added that, over the past week, the health department teamed up with one local pharmacy that has received certification in order to vaccinate 70 teachers and childcare workers over the age of 65. Meanwhile, another pharmacy has worked with the Burlington Housing Authority to inoculate “historically marginalized” seniors, and Walgreens has recently begun to provide shots at four area locations where it aims to inoculate 100 people a day.

Lo Giudice also highlighted Cone Health’s ever-expanding role in the administration of the coronavirus vaccine to area residents. He noted that the Greensboro-based hospital chain has even offered to foot some of the upfit expenses for a new indoor facility along Eric Lane that the health department plans to use for vaccination beginning in March. In the meantime, the health director said that county and municipal employees continue to brave the elements to inoculate residents at the department’s current vaccination site in the CTEC parking lot off of North Church Street.

“Last week,” he added, “was a cold and icy week, and their true determination and grit standing out in that weather was amazing.”

The health director’s assessment on this score was seconded by John Paisley, the chairman of Alamance County’s commissioners, who recalled that this outdoor operation was running “like clockwork” when he visited CTEC last Monday.

Lo Giudice told the commissioners that the health department’s recent strides in vaccinating residents have coincided with a steady decrease in the prevalence of COVID-19 – the deadly strain of coronavirus that’s responsible for the current pandemic.

The health director said that, as of Monday, the county had 618 active cases of COVID-19 – a decrease from the roughly1,200 active infections that he had reported to the commissioners two weeks ago. Lo Giudice conceded that, since the start of the pandemic, the county has logged a total of 15,990 positive cases – including 228 that have ended in death. He added, however, that the county has recently seen the proportion of positive test results drop from its peak of 14.9 percent at the beginning of January to its current level of about 8 percent.

Lo Giudice told the commissioners that, in 2020, COVID-19 claimed 186, or 1.68 percent, of the 11,053 area residents that it infected, although the mortality was much higher for people in long term-care facilities. According to Lo Giudice’s figures, the virus killed 109, or 21.46 percent, of the 508 long-term care residents who were infected in 2020.

Lo Giudice noted that both of these figures have fallen somewhat during the first month and a half of 2021. He said that 45, or .91 percent, of the 4,931 people who’ve contracted the virus this year have ultimately succumbed to the infection, while the virus has claimed 23, or 11.22 percent, of the 205 long-term care residents who’ve contracted it in the New Year.

Lo Giudice’s report generally seemed to go over well with the board of commissioners.
“This sounds very hopeful,” commissioner Pam Thompson said as she captured the prevailing mood of the board. “It’s getting better and better.”

Thompson nevertheless shared her concern for the virus’s victims in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, whom she ultimately compared to casualties of combat.
“We’ve got to do better by this population because they’re sitting ducks for this,” she declared. “We have got to go to war for these people.”

See Alamance County Health Department latest (and historical) figures on COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths (through Feb. 17, 2021): https://alamancenews.com/latest-alamance-county-covid-19-statistics-cases-hospitalizations-deaths-2/