SCIOTO — In accordance with a request from the Office of Governor Mike DeWine, local media outlets were provided the opportunity to speak with area public health experts Thursday afternoon regarding updates on the coronavirus.
During the virtual conference, moderated by Scioto County Emergency Management Agency Director Larry Mullins, the panel fielded questions regarding the spread of the virus and the rollout of the vaccine.
Reaching the 5,000 case milestone since the beginning of the pandemic Wednesday was not a surprise and a factor of community spread said Dr. David Byers, Southern Ohio Medical Center Infectious Disease Specialist.
“There was no reason to believe we would escape this,” he said, where exposure to the virus remained low locally in the earlier stages of the pandemic. “As long as people continue to gather without masks, there is still going to be a risk where we could end up right where we were in November.”
Byers said, while literally knocking on wood that Covid numbers have been improving over the last two weeks. This week, numbers have not breached more than a peak of 60 Jan. 10.
Almost half-way into the month, 784 cases have been added. December saw an increase of nearly 2,000 cases and 26 deaths.
While receiving smaller shipments than expected, Portsmouth City Health Department Public Information Officer Cathy Mullins told the Portsmouth Daily Times previously that both health departments were only receiving 100 doses each week, the rollout has been strong.
“Our local health departments and hospitals are dedicated to keeping our community healthy by using prevention, resources and education,” said Larry Mullins, adding that years of preparation from other vaccine rollouts went into its plans. “The local rollout has been well-organized and has made efficient use of the limited supply our county has received.”
Despite these challenges, the county continues to lead the state in terms of population started on the vaccine. According to the Ohio Department of Health, 4.8% of the county has received the first of two vaccines as of Friday. The state average is 3.3 % where 388,383 have started the vaccine.
Under the next phase, Phase 1-B, the goal is to get the vaccine to the most vulnerable populations- those 65 and older, or with severe medical disorders- and to get kids back in school. Starting next Tuesday, all Ohioans above the age of 80 will be eligible for the vaccine.
Here is the projected schedule for the rest of the phase, which DeWine and ODH estimate applies to a population of over 2.2 million residents:
• Week of Jan. 25: Ohioans 75 and older; those with severe congenital or developmental disorders.
• Week of Feb. 1: Ohioans 70 and older; employees of K-12 schools that wish to remain or return to inperson or hybrid models.
• Week of Feb. 8: Ohioans 65 and older.
Scheduling with the Portsmouth City and Scioto County Health Departments should be done through submitting a form if under the age of 65 or through the 740-352-7020 hotline if over the age of 65.
“We are going to get around to everyone, so there’s no need to make multiple calls,” said Larry Mullins, city Health Commissioner Chris Smith adding later that these extra calls make the job of vaccine providers more challenging.
“If you make two or three appointments and then don’t show up at those, you are causing someone else to not get that slot,” said Smith, where one call to one provider will be sufficient. “Our time is valuable, and every shot is a possible life saved.”
Further promising he said was two area Kroger locations in Wheelersburg and Portsmouth that will have the vaccine in its stores. Starting Saturday, those interested are told to call at 866-211-5320.
Once the vaccines are more widely available, which the panel believes will happen when more federal assistance comes through, a mass vaccination event being planned at Shawnee State University will take place. More details will come as that date comes closer said, Larry Mullins.
The vaccine is not required by the state, a position supported by the panel, but one it recommends as it is a proven form of protection and the quickest way for normal life to return.
Projections can only be given as to how many need to be vaccinated said Byers, who believes a range of 60% to 80% of the population could be enough to build herd immunity.
“The way we are going to get businesses and restaurants back open and enjoy all the things we love to do is convincing people to get vaccinated,” he said, the true portion undetermined as population sets share different characteristics. “If we can get to a critical point…then we can stop the virus transmission.”
“If we have to get to herd immunity through actual disease, it will be devastating for our community.”
The Times recently ran a survey, posted on its varying social media sites, to determine how many of its readers planned on being vaccinated.
The survey, where 92% of the respondents were county residents, received 231 responses and found that 77.4% said they will take the vaccine. Slightly more than 15% or 35 respondents said no, while the remaining 7% said they would decide when more research is available.
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3501 ext. 1931, by email at email@example.com, or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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