REGIONAL- State officials warned on Tuesday that bitter cold temperatures and winter storms affecting much of the nation will likely cause a temporary setback in efforts to vaccinate Minnesotans …
REGIONAL- State officials warned on Tuesday that bitter cold temperatures and winter storms affecting much of the nation will likely cause a temporary setback in efforts to vaccinate Minnesotans against COVID-19.
“Wth the storms that are occurring across the country, and in particular in the South, vaccine shipments are delayed this week,” state Infectious Disease Director Kris Ehresmann said in a Tuesday press call. “Providers are having to reschedule appointments as they learn about the status of their shipments. So this may impact our timeliness metrics for next week, as providers are scrambling to reschedule and plan for this change in when their vaccine arrives.”
St. Louis County Public Health Director Amy Westbrook echoed those concerns in an interview with the Timberjay.
“Most people aren’t used to the winters that we have here,” Westbrook said. “So, there are a lot of delays in the shipments getting to us in Minnesota. We anticipate that our shipment is going to be delayed at least a day, maybe even two.”
The likely delay comes at a time when Minnesota has expanded the number of vaccine providers and is in sight of having administered one million doses.
“We’re now at over 927,000 total vaccine doses that have been administered to Minnesotans and reported into our immunization information system as of Sunday,” state Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “This is both first and second doses combined, and we expect that we will reach the one million milestone for total doses in the coming week. The number of people who’ve had at least one vaccine dose is now over 686,000, and 240,000 of those people have had both doses of the vaccine.”
Malcom indicated that there had been some minor glitches in getting registration systems operating for ongoing vaccinations at Walmart stores and a one-time 8,000-dose effort through Walgreens outlets, but that the issues were resolved, and vaccinations were not delayed.
Malcolm was eager to share positive news about the significant decline in COVID-19 cases in long-term care facilities across the state.
“Looking at the most recent weekly data, we had just 15 cases reported in nursing homes,” Malcolm said. “Even over the summer, when we were in a much, much better shape with long-term care, the numbers were well over this level. In fact, the last time we saw case numbers this low on a weekly basis was back in March at the very beginning of the pandemic in Minnesota. We see evidence that the vaccines are helping bring those numbers even further below where we had them.”
Residents and staff of long-term care facilities were in the top priority group for vaccinations as elderly and ill people are considered high risk for severe cases of COVID-19, and 89 percent of the state’s COVID deaths have been people age 65 and above.
Another sign of improving pandemic conditions can be found in the declining number of daily deaths attributed to COVID-19. Minnesota has reported fewer than 10 deaths on four consecutive days for the first time since Sept. 15-18. The state has reported an average of 10.3 deaths over the last seven days, which is lower than any week-long period since mid-October.
For a second consecutive week, only six new positive COVID cases were reported across the six North Country zip code areas monitored by the Timberjay.
A total of 570 cases have been reported in the combined zip codes of Orr, Cook, Tower, Soudan, Ely, and Embarrass since the start of the pandemic, and the total includes cases reported by the Bois Forte Band. There have been 15 COVID-related deaths. Thirty-four cases have been associated with long-term care facilities, although that number could be higher because employment disclosure is optional during case interviews.
Although the Ely zip code accounts for the largest number of actual cases at 156, the highest concentration of cases has been in the Cook area. When converted to a comparative measure of cases per ten thousand people, Cook’s rate of 702 is more than double that of Ely’s 307. The other zip codes range from 447 to 532.
Westbrook said that while the cases per ten thousand measure can be one useful data point among many in assessing the severity of the pandemic, it becomes less so as the size of communities shrinks.
“The rates are meant to even out the population factor, but when you have small populations, it is difficult to draw many conclusions,” Westbrook said. “Even one sort of community outbreak or congregate care outbreak in a small community really impacts the rate. It could be a true representation of ongoing trends and transmission, but it’s hard to know because the rates are so volatile with smaller populations.”
Vaccination efforts in the county are going well, Westbrook said, although supplies of the vaccine remain limited.
“It’s looking good,” she said. “We’re making the most of the vaccine we get. Across all systems that are distributing vaccine, we have close to 18 percent of our population vaccinated in St. Louis County.”
Westbrook said that she wasn’t aware of any cases in the county caused by the more-contagious UK variant of the virus but cautioned that the number of positive cases tested at the state public health laboratory is only a small sample of all tests conducted. While the number of UK variant cases identified by the lab has grown to 40 statewide, Westbrook said it’s possible the variant is present in the county but hasn’t yet been sampled.
A newcomer to the vaccination effort for the general population 65 and older is Cook Hospital, which announced this week that it would be offering community vaccination clinics as doses are made available to them.
Director of Nursing Nichole Chiabotti said that the first clinic, to be held at the Cook Community Center, is tentatively scheduled for Feb. 24, by appointment only. However, shipment issues could interfere with that scheduling, and future clinics will depend on when more vaccines are allotted to the hospital.
“We do for sure know that we are getting vaccine for next week, but don’t know if we will get any more after that,” Chiabotti said. “We have been told that we will find out the Thursday or Friday before we get a shipment, which will arrive the following Monday or Tuesday, and then have 72 hours to get vaccinations administered.”
To register for the waiting list and for more information about Cook Hospital’s vaccination clinics, go to the vaccine information webpage at https://www.cookhospital.org/community-covid-vaccine-information/ or email email@example.com.