by CHRIS ROGERS
Numerous organizations are now offering very limited supplies of COVID vaccines to local residents 65 and older. Health clinics, county health departments, and some pharmacies are all running vaccination operations. There is no unified waiting list or signup system for those different venues, so vaccine seekers may have to hunt for open slots.
The Winona Walmart is one of many Minnesota Walmart pharmacies now offering limited supplies of COVID vaccines. “To check availability and schedule an appointment, visit: www.walmart.com/COVIDvaccine,” the company advised.
La Crosse and Eau Claire, Wis., stores are among the 178 Wisconsin Walgreens locations that received some vaccines from the federal government, according to the Appleton Post-Crescent and Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). Walgreens’ appointment system — www.walgreens.com/findcare/vaccination/covid-19 — showed La Crosse and Eau Claire locations as being fully booked for the time being.
Some Minnesota Walgreens are currently offering COVID vaccines to members of the public 65 and older, though not the Winona store, according to the company’s website. The nearest location publicly offering vaccines is in Rochester, according to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).
Most health care systems are telling vaccine seekers, don’t call us; we’ll call you. Winona Health said that eligible Winona Health patients will receive a phone call when a vaccination appointment slot is available; they don’t need to do anything to sign up. People who are not Winona Health patients can join the waitlist by visiting www.winonahealth.org and clicking “COVID-19 Vaccination Wait List” or by calling 507-457-7619. As the number of available doses increases, Winona Health staff said they will start notifying patients through the web-based MyWinonaHealth portal, as well as by phone.
When a shot is available to its patients, Gundersen Health System said they would receive a message in Gundersen’s web-based MyChart portal or a phone call. That includes anyone who has been seen at a Gundersen location in the last three years; Gundersen isn’t currently offering vaccinations to people outside its existing patient population, Administrative Director of Minnesota and Iowa Operations Chuck Johnson said. “We ask you [to] refrain from calling or emailing Gundersen about COVID-19 vaccine appointments or about vaccine availability or eligibility and urge you to return to this page for the latest information,” Gundersen Health System told patients on its website.
Local public health departments are also running vaccination clinics. Winona, Buffalo, Trempealeau, Fillmore, and Houston counties all have online vaccine signup systems where eligible residents of those counties can join a waitlist.
Winona County's registration form is available at form.jotform.com/winonaco_em/over65. Residents without internet access may call 507-457-6375 on weekdays from 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. to sign up. Individuals must be Winona County residents and age 65 or older to qualify. "As vaccine supply permits, staff will randomly select from the list and call or email to make sure you can receive the vaccine and schedule appointments," Winona County officials explained in a press release. More details are available here.
Trempealeau County’s signup form is available at hipaa.jotform.com/210336562588157. “If you do not have internet access, ask a family member or friend to help you fill it out or leave a message at 715-538-2311 ext. 220,” the Trempealeau County Health Department advised.
Buffalo County’s is at form.jotform.com/210135164180140.
Fillmore and Houston counties’ signup forms are at hipaa.jotform.com/210288047948060 and hipaa.jotform.com/210168093702046, respectively. Fillmore County residents without internet access may sign up by calling 507-765-2601, Tuesday through Thursday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Asked last week if the state had any plans to create a universal vaccine signup system, MDH Commissioner Jan Malcom acknowledged the frustration of many vaccine seekers. She highlighted the state’s vaccine finder — which features a list of local vaccine sites mn.gov/covid19/vaccine/find-vaccine/locations/index.jsp — but didn’t announce any plans to create a universal signup system. On Feb. 18, the state launched a new system designed to give Minnesotans alerts whenever they are opportunities to register for local vaccination sites. That system, the Vaccine Connector, is available online at vaccineconnector.mn.gov or by phone by calling 833-431-2053. More information is available here.
As a whole, Winona County continued its over-1,000-shots-a-week pace. Another 1,262 people received their first shot between Feb. 7 and Feb. 14, bringing the total number of Winona County residents who have received at least one dose to 6,551 or 13 percent of the population, according to MDH.
Infections keep improving
New COVID infections in Winona County fell to their lowest level since last summer. There were 28 new infections this week, down from 57 last week, and 124 four weeks ago, according to Minnesota Department of Health (MDH)
In Buffalo County, new infections were steady this week after falling to their lowest level since last October. There were 16 new cases this week, on par with 17 last week and dramatically down from 93 cases in one week a month ago, according to DHS data.
Infections in Trempealeau County have been up and down this month after falling dramatically in January. There were 38 new cases this week, compared to 49 cases last week and 28 the previous week.
There were no new COVID deaths in Winona, Buffalo, or Trempealeau counties.
MDH leaders cheered the low levels of transmission, while saying they were monitoring the spread of new, more infectious variants of the coronavirus with concern, urging people to continue basic precautions including masking, social distancing, quarantining, and testing.
While the original strain of COVID is still the most common, MDH Infectious Disease Division Director Kris Ehresmann said, “We are seeing an uptick with the number of cases associated with the variant originally identified in the U.K.” The U.K. variant, also called B.1.1.7, spreads more easily, and there’s some evidence that it can cause more severe disease, Ehresmann said. There have been at least 40 cases of it in Minnesota, according to MDH.