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Volunteers help man COVID vaccine clinics

Positive cases continue to decline in Hamilton County

— Submitted photo Volunteers Paula Brownell and Colette Johnston work at the registration table at a recent COVID-19 vaccine clinic. Health department officials said the volunteers play a vital role in freeing up the nursing staff to administer shots and handle post-shot data entry.

With volunteer photo

— Submitted photo

Volunteers Paula Brownell and Colette Johnston work at the registration table at a recent COVID-19 vaccine clinic. Health department officials said the volunteers play a vital role in freeing up the nursing staff to administer shots and handle post-shot data entry.

Webster City and Hamilton County generally have a solid base of volunteers who turn out to help when a need is identified. That’s certainly proven to be true as Hamilton County Public Health has been hosting COVID-19 vaccine clinics.

A group of volunteers have been helping the health department with a variety of tasks at the clinics.

“Our volunteers help check people in and help with the registration process,” Shelby Kroona, Hamilton County Public Health administrator said. “There are two forms that need to be completed, so our volunteers help people get those filled out. They also copy the Medicare and insurance cards.”

Kroona said the clinics would be much more difficult to operate without the volunteers. Their work frees up the health department staff to administer the shots and to do the immediate data entry after the vaccine has been given.

She said the clinics are still closed to all but those in Tier 1B — the 65 and older age group, and certain targeted groups like teachers, daycare workers, police and firefighters.

“Everything is still by appointment, but we make those appointments from the lists of people who have called in.

The department is actively seeking to find those folks in the 65 and older age group who may shut in or homebound. They asked for help in identifying those people in a post on the health department Facebook page. Kroona said volunteer nurses can visit those people to be sure they have access to the vaccine. Call 832–9565 to identify those people in the 65-plus age group who would need a vaccine visit.

The latest vaccine to receive emergency use authorization is the one-shot Johnson and Johnson vaccine, Kroona said Hamilton County won’t be receiving any of that vaccine in the first few allocations. She said that the vaccine has been earmarked for 17 counties in Iowa.

“It will be going to counties that have large processing plants,” she said. “The state will be getting 25,000 doses a week of Johnson and Johnson vaccine.”

While Hamilton County does have some large manufacturers, there aren’t any meat processing facilities such as Tysons or IBP. Wright County, with the Prestage Foods of Iowa plant, will be among the counties to receive the new one-dose vaccine.

“We may potentially get some Johnson and Johnson vaccine, but it won’t be for several weeks,” she said.

Demand for the vaccine still outweighs the supply that the county receives, she said.

“We have used our partners — Iowa Specialty Clinic, Van Diest Medical Center and McFarland Clinic to help identify that population through their client. Each of those places were able to get some vaccine during February,” she said, adding that the clinics will be working on the second doses for patients during March.

The health department will hold Saturday clinics to vaccinate the remainder of the 65 and older people and teachers, Kroona said. Appointments will still be necessary as the clinics move forward.

Kroona said there has been a steady decline in the number of positive COVID-19 cases across Hamilton County. At the same time, there is a nationwide decline in testing, according to Kroona.

“My assumption is that people who have COVID-like symptoms are just self-isolating themselves, deciding that they will just stay home because they are ill,” she said.

With the lower testing numbers, Kroona said it was hard to speculate the level of virus in the community.

In the past seven days, there have been a total of 8 positive cases reported in Hamilton County which translates to a 5 percent positivity rate.

Even as the number of cases decline, Kroona said the public should still keep up the public health protocols that have been in place for the past year — wash hands frequently, maintain a physical distance from those not in your immediate household and wear a mask when away from home.

“We’re going to be wearing masks probably all the way through December,” she said. “Remember, herd immunity varies by disease. They are hoping that 70 percent of the people fully vaccinated would give us that herd immunity.”

Kroona said wearing masks and frequent hand washing, along with getting the vaccine, will help to keep the positivity rate down.

“The interesting thing is, we’re vaccinating those 65 and older and teachers. But we know that the illness in Hamilton County is highest in the 30 to 60 age range

“So right now we’re vaccinating the people who will potentially have the worst outcomes if they get the disease,” she said. “But we’re not yet vaccinating the ages that are spreading the disease.”

Kroona said she hoped that later this spring the vaccine would become more widely available.

“Perhaps by May, the clinics will be open to the general public,” she said.

Public health will be using software which will help with setting appointments as clinics ramp up.

“We’ll get that link out on our Facebook page and we’ll publish it in the paper,” she said. “Email links will be sent to businesses that they can forward to employees, and we’ll also take phone calls.”

Once the clinics open more widely, appointments will still be needed to handle the traffic of those wanting a vaccine, but also to ensure that the vaccine is available for a particular clinic.

“We need to have the exact number of people who will be attending a clinic. If we have 400 doses of vaccine and have 500 people register — we don’t want 500 people to show up and then have to tell 100 people that there’s not enough for them.”

“Until we have a really good steady flow of the vaccine, it will be by appointment,” she said.

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