County preparing for COVID-19 vaccinations

Register online to get in line and keep the process smooth

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

No one has a definitive idea of exactly when there will be enough coronavirus vaccines shipped to the area to vaccinate the approximately 18,000 residents of Gunnison County—but local public health officials are nevertheless preparing for that eventuality. A new online “vaccine interest form” is posted on the county’s COVID-19 information page and the hope is that everyone in the county will fill out the simple form and get in the virtual line for a shot.

“We are building a database of everyone who is interested in getting vaccinated so that we can efficiently and equitably administer the limited doses that we are receiving,” the county’s site states. It makes clear that who gets to the front of the line is a “moving target” based on Center for Disease Control and state guidelines. “The database will allow us to pivot quickly to the continued changes.”

Local officials say that information from the state and the feds is sporadic at best and changes in priorities are normal.

“The county is following CDC and state guidance to determine who gets a vaccine and when,” emphasized Gunnison County public information officer Andrew Sandstrom. “We have launched the vaccine interest form so that we can have a database of interested individuals ready to go as their time comes up in the phases. The sooner that we can gather information about who is and is not interested in getting the vaccine, the better we can understand the number of individuals in each phase. This is also helping in our requests to the state for additional vaccine doses.”

The county has so far received just over 1,300 initial doses of the vaccine between Pfizer and Moderna. The top priority was to vaccinate frontline health care workers, those who come in contact with COVID-19 patients and people working in the county’s Senior Center. The majority in that category who wanted a vaccine have received their first dose.

The next group priority includes other health care workers, first responders and residents over the age of 70. Following them, frontline essential workers with consistent contact with the public such as teachers, those in the agriculture or food industries, bus drivers, grocery store staff and essential government workers. People in those categories are expected to receive a vaccine sometime this winter.

Spring vaccinations are expected to include people between the ages of 65 and 69, those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes and cancer, local government officials and remaining essential workers.

The final vaccination phase will likely take place this coming summer and include everyone else between the ages of 16 and 65 without high-risk health conditions.

The county information document is collecting very basic information focused on age, employment, pre-existing health conditions and general interest in receiving a vaccine. “This will help us to schedule folks efficiently and equitably as their time comes up in the phases,” explained Sandstrom. “This information will also be used for us to order additional doses.”

Staying ahead of the game

Sandstrom said that there is no deadline to register your information but the sooner the better in order to begin the delineation process. All the information will be kept confidential and stored on a HIPPA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act)-compliant secure database.

“Once someone signs up they will receive a text message, call or email update on when they are eligible to be scheduled for a vaccine,” Sandstrom said. “Signing up does not guarantee a vaccine in a certain timeframe. Rather, it allows us to notify you when you are eligible for your vaccine. We are working on a mechanism to possibly send periodic updates about where an individual is in relation to the front of the line. There will be more to come on this as we figure out details.”

The county received an initial 300 doses of the vaccine from Pfizer and 600 Moderna vaccines. People who received those last month are preparing for their second dose of the vaccine, some of which will be given this week. Walgreens came in through the state to begin vaccinating residents of the Senior Care Center on Tuesday and with the exception of someone out of town, all the residents were given a first shot. The county also received an additional 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine that were administered to locals on Tuesday, January 5. “Beyond that, we don’t have an update from the state on when or how many our next vaccine shipment will include,” stated Sandstrom. “But we want to be ready when we find out.”

Another chance for a free test

The county will hold another community testing day next week. Free tests will be given to anyone who wants one at the Fred Field House in Gunnison from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday, January 15. Tests will be administered at the Crested Butte Community School from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, January 16.

“We encourage anyone and everyone to come get tested,” said Sandstrom. “This round will be a walk-up testing site. We are encouraging everyone to get tested as this will give us a broader picture of the prevalence of the COVID-19 infection in our communities.”

Overall, Gunnison County numbers are at 823 positives, 8,739 negatives and 93 pending tests as of January 4. The positivity rate dropped down to just above 5 percent because of the community testing events. Now that the testing events are beyond the 14-day positivity average, the county positivity is now climbing again.

“We continue to see a number of positive results across the valley and age groups,” Sandstrom continued. “Our case incidence rate is far higher than many other communities in Colorado. We continue to see positive results. There is some concern about the impact of the holidays as well as the return of students to Western. So we continue to be concerned about the continued stream of positive test results.”

While vaccination efforts are moving the local population toward a better place, the county is not there yet. “Continued efforts from the community will keep us open as we make our way toward the end of this pandemic,” reiterated Sandstrom. “So continue to wear your masks in public and stay socially distanced.”

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