by CHRIS ROGERS
While demand still far outstrips supply, the pace of local COVID vaccinations is picking up, and Winona County is making progress.
Over the last three weeks, the number of people receiving their first shot in Winona County rose from less than 600 a week in mid-January, to over 1,100 in late January, and over 1,500 this past week, according to Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) data. From Jan. 30 to Feb. 6, another 1,544 Winona County residents received a shot, bringing the total number of people who have received at least one dose to 5,289 — more than 10 percent of the county’s total population.
This comes in an environment where health care providers, pharmacies, state-run vaccination sites in a few cities, and county health departments are all running simultaneous efforts to get limited supplies of vaccines into as many arms as possible, each with separate, differing signup systems.
Representing just one piece of that network, Winona County Public Health is currently receiving approximately 300 doses a week from the state, according to Public Health Supervisor Melanie Tatge. One hundred of those doses are specifically earmarked for pre-K-12 educators and child care workers —with each school in the county getting a portion of the week’s doses based on staffing levels. In addition to its own 300 doses a week, Winona County Public Health has also been helping Gundersen Health System and Winona Health — which have been intermittently getting their own allocations of vaccine — administer shots to over-65 patients, Tatge said.
“This Wednesday is going to be one of the largest and longest clinics that we’ve held so far, being seven hours, and we’re looking to vaccinate anywhere from 450-700 individuals,” Tatge stated.
The county is virtually done vaccinating people in phase 1A — the first priority phase, including health care workers and long-term care residents — with a few remaining people in that category still trickling in, Tatge reported. Last week and this week, the county focused on vaccinating people in congregate living settings — in particular, large public housing and subsidized housing developments such as Winhaven, Winona Arms, and the Winona Housing and Redevelopment Authority’s properties, she said.
The county is also vaccinating small numbers of the general public age 65 and older. Tatge said her department has used two means of finding eligible citizens to whom to offer shots: first, relying on Winona Health and Gundersen to refer 65-plus patients, and second, tapping participants in a county social services program for seniors.
What about local people 65 and older who may not be on any of those lists? Tatge responded that later this week or next week the county would launch a new signup system. It would include an online vaccination interest form eligible people could fill out to be placed on a waiting list, as well as a telephone-based option for individuals without internet access. “Once we have enough vaccine available, we’ll have individuals contacting them,” Tatge said.
State officials and local health care providers have encouraged citizens to watch for alerts from their health care providers when those providers are able to offer them vaccines.
The state is still moving through a lottery-based waiting list for state-run vaccination clinics in Duluth, the Twin Cities, and Rochester. The wait list is currently closed. State officials said they would open it again sometime, but haven’t said when.
Essential workers are on deck to receive shots in the next phase of vaccine rollout, phase 1B, but that may be a while, with health officials estimating that vaccination of 65-plus citizens will take at least a few months. More optimistically, Tatge said, “I would expect it would be another one to two months. That all depends, of course, on the vaccine logistics, including whether we continue to get consistent shipments of vaccine. We have the location. We have the staff. We just need the vaccine.”
Meanwhile, new COVID infections were steady to falling across the local area this week.
For the past two weeks, new cases in Winona County have been their lowest levels in months. In the last seven days, there were 60 new cases and no new deaths, according to MDH.
In Trempealeau County, infections rose slightly this week, with 43 new cases as of Monday, up from 33 cases last week. There were no new deaths.
In Buffalo County, infections fell for the third straight week, with 22 new cases and no new deaths, down from 35 cases last week.
Positivity rates — the percentage of COVID tests that are positive — remained high in both Trempealeau and Buffalo counties, a sign that there may be many undetected infections circulating in local communities.