BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
LEE COUNTY – According to information from state health officials, Lee County is 16th best out of Iowa’s 99 counties in getting vaccination series started.
When combining the efforts of the Lee County Health Department, both county hospitals, and long-term care pharmacy partners, the county has given 4,103 vaccinations and has completed 938 series, which include the booster.
County residents accounted for 3,619 of those vaccinations and 913 series. The difference would be vaccinations given to employees in the state’s phased tier system who work in Lee County, but live outside the county, such as health care professionals and first responders, teachers, and correctional officers.
Conversely, there are employees who work outside the county that have been vaccinated through their workplace, but live in Lee County.
Lee County Health Department Administrator Michele Ross, said Lee County did utilize 80% of doses received last week, under a new mandate from the Iowa Department of Public Health. Counties that didn’t meet that threshold could risk getting reduced supplies.
Iowa has hovered near the bottom of the nation in vaccination efficiency. At the same time, Governor Kim Reynolds has relaxed most safety measures including mask requirements and capacity requirements for the state’s businesses.
New cases and hospitalization numbers have been continuing to fall in the state and nationwide. On Tuesday, Lee County only reported four new cases and has a 14-day average positivity rating of 10%, and a 5-day positivity rate of just 5%. On Wednesday, 12 new cases were reported with a total of 3,442 cases reported in the county.
The state currently has a 9.3% positivity rating overall with 3.7 million tests given. The percent of individual’s testing positive in the state over the past 14 days is 8.6%. Over the past seven days that percentage drops to 6.4%.
But Ross said now is not the time to shrug off safety considerations.
“As far as the Governor’s roll back on the proclamation, as public health, we are strongly encouraging and will continue to promote mask use when in public settings, social distancing where feasible and possible, and of course frequent hand washing and staying home when ill,” Ross said.
“We still have virus activity in the county and we want to encourage people to continue with these daily public health mitigation efforts to keep our positivity rates at a low level and protect our most vulnerable.”
Ross commended the many local businesses who are continuing to promote public health safety measures that help reduce the spread of the virus for both employees and customers.
“Lee County is currently on the right path for reducing our positivity rates and we would hate to see this move in the wrong direction if people stop taking the necessary steps and measures to protect themselves and our most vulnerable,” she said.
LCHD shifted its focus this week under the pressures of severe cold temperatures to vaccinating those in Tier 1 of Phase 1B, that includes educators, child care workers, and first responders. LCHD staff were on hand at Fort Madison Middle School most of the day Tuesday giving vaccinations to Fort Madison Community School District staff. Thursday they will be at Central Lee schools.
Ross said the state is recommending that 50% of all doses be used on Iowans 65 and older, while the other half be used within the tiers.
“We do acknowledge many older adults were willing to get vaccinated this week despite the weather, however we also need to balance both the 65 years of age and older group with ALL others also included in Phase 1B per state recommendations,” she said.
“We felt due to the severe temperatures this week, we could work on others also needing to be vaccinated in Phase 1B Tier 1 at their worksites reducing the need for many people to get out and travel in extreme temperatures.”
Ross said the county is planning on using all the doses expected to arrive next week for vaccinating off the current 65 and older list. More than 500 doses were administered during the two drive-thru clinics held last week.
She said next week, with temperatures still in single digits, LCHD will be vaccinating indoors. People will be contacted by the LCHD staff for appointments. Ross said there is no need to contact the department unless you aren’t on the list. The number to get on the list is 319-376-1077.
“We are planning on resuming drive thru clinics when the weather returns to safer and warmer conditions as we believe this is the most convenient and lowest risk for possible exposure for our older population,” Ross said.
She said if individuals have the opportunity to receive their vaccination by another provider, they should take that opportunity.
Lee County currently has six vaccine sites outside of the hospitals in Keokuk and Fort Madison listed at coronavirus.iowa.gov. Those are LCHD, Walgreens in both Keokuk and Fort Madison, Hy-Vees in both Keokuk and Fort Madison, and Rashid Pharmacy in Fort Madison.
Supplies are still very limited, and it is recommended to call the sites to check on appointment and vaccine availability.