O'Brien County updated on vaccine rollout

O’Brien County Emergency Management Agency coordinator Jared Johnson provides COVID-19 updates Tuesday as board of supervisors member Dan Friedrichsen listens. Friedrichsen and the other supervisors asked Johnson how the vaccination efforts were going.

PRIMGHAR—The O’Brien County Courthouse’s coronavirus mitigation strategies will stay in place for the time being.

Jared Johnson, the emergency management agency coordinator, told the board of supervisors Tuesday, Feb. 16, that department heads support keeping the building’s mask policy and other COVID-19 measures intact.

“We’re hoping that the positivity percentage stays low and we don’t see any type of increase in COVID activity,” he said. “There’s talk among different states with the new kind of COVID-19 variants, which they have seen one of the variants in Iowa.”

Johnson will follow up with the departments in about a month to review the policies and see if there is a stronger desire to change them then.

He also spoke about the COVID-19 vaccinations and answered questions the supervisors had about how they have been progressing.

Parts of the state are still in Tier 1 of Phase 1B of the vaccine rollout, which prioritizes those 65 and older, first responders, K-12 staff and child-care workers. If eligible people wish to get vaccinated, they should call the public health office and request their name be added to a list.

“Then as the vaccine becomes available, they’re pulling from that list. So they’re looking at the eligible tiers, trying to get the elderly first,” Johnson said.

The public health office has been visiting schools to administer the vaccine on-site to staff who want it and set up clinics at sites around the county for other eligible groups.

Johnson noted the mass vaccination clinic Wednesday, Feb. 17, at Crossroads Pavilion event center in Sheldon for people who had set up appointments; such clinics do not accept walk-ins.

Supervisor Dennis Vanden Hull asked if there had been similar clinics in southern O’Brien County communities such as Paullina, Primghar and Sutherland.

Johnson said there had been, however, the public health office is considering keeping just a few primary clinic sites in the county rather than having to keep moving to several spots. That also would allow public health workers to more quickly set up clinics and call eligible recipients each time the office receives a new shipment of vaccine doses. O’Brien County receives 200 doses of the vaccine a week.

Supervisor Dan Friedrichsen asked how much advance notice the office gets before a new shipment arrives. Johnson said it can sometimes be just days, since the state likewise has limited notice before it gets its own shipments from the federal government.

“Down the road, we could start to see other opportunities for vaccine availability open up,” Johnson said. “Some pharmacies that want to be a vaccine provider — once public health kind of finds out more about when that’s going to happen or if we start to see stuff released from the local pharmacies — we could push that out to people as well as another potential option.”

County auditor Barb Rohwer asked if Johnson knew when the vaccine would be open for the general public. Johnson was not sure but said a lot of public health agencies are hoping by summer because that’s when more events and activities tend to occur.

“It’s kind of a wait-and-see type thing,” Johnson said.

The county public health office has a secondary phone number — 712-957-3193 — specifically for eligible residents who want to get vaccinated. That number goes to a voicemail and lets people leave a message with information such as their name, date of birth, residence, occupation and phone number. Johnson said the number of people who had called as of last week was more than 1,500.

Supervisor Sherri Bootsma said she has heard concerns from people about giving personal information into a voicemail.

Johnson said it is just public health workers and volunteers in the office who listen to the messages, confirm who is eligible and organize the list based on the order of who called in first.

Bootsma also pointed out that Iowa has ranked toward the bottom of states in terms of percent of population that has been vaccinated and asked Johnson if it is improving.

Johnson said the state has asked the federal government to find out why its allocation of doses has been lagging but he was not entirely familiar with what that process involved.

“That’s also why they’re pushing hard locally as well to, as soon as you get it, try to get something set up within that week to get that pushed out,” he said.