Marshall County’s active COVID-19 count dipped to 37 cases Monday but testing again was on the increase early this week, said county health department director Sue Rhodes.
Rhodes said the case count likely dropped because fewer people with symptoms were tested over the long New Year’s holiday weekend. Also, many local residents were released from 10-day quarantines over the weekend.
Four people were hospitalized with the virus and 17 tests were pending by late Monday, and the total number of deaths remained at 21.
Rhodes said she’s seen no sign locally of the faster-spreading variant of COVID-19 reported at a few spots across the U.S.
“I imagine it will eventually reach here,” she said.
That’s why a vaccination plan is very important, Rhodes said, expressing frustration with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment for the slow release of a detailed vaccination plan that counties are expected to follow. KDHE is also sending vaccine to county health departments, but so far with little advance notice.
By Tuesday, Marshall County Health Department had vaccinated its staff and all of the county emergency medical services, as well as dentists, pharmacists and eye doctors who wanted the shots.
“We received 70 vaccines, and we’ve used them all,” Rhodes said. “We have no word yet on when the next doses will arrive.”
She said KDHE is expected to let her know by late this week the plan on the order of groups to be vaccinated and possibly when the next shipment of vaccine will arrive.
Many local residents are calling, Rhodes said, “which is OK. When someone calls in, we’re telling them to call next week when we may know more.”
The department won’t keep a list of those asking to be vaccinated, she said, because her staff isn’t large enough for that.
“We’ll just let people know when the state lets us know,” she said. “We don’t know when we’ll get vaccine until 24 hours in advance. It’s a little frustrating.”
Community Memorial Healthcare began giving another round of COVID-19 vaccines to staff on New Year’s Eve after receiving its second shipment last week.
Local nursing homes are also in the process of vaccinating staff and residents as the vaccine arrives.
About 65 of CMH’s frontline medical staff received their first shots in mid-December with the Pfizer vaccine. Those staff will get a second shot to complete the required two-shot regimen by mid-January.
Another shipment, with the Moderna brand vaccine, was delivered to CMH by FedEx on Dec. 30, allowing more initial shots for more employees. A CMH news release said the hospital received 10 vials of this vaccine with 10 doses each.
“This is quite a few more doses than were received in the first shipment of vaccines from Pfizer,” the release said.
“For the most part, our staff is very eager to have either vaccine,” said CMH pharmacist Emily Dunsing. “Between when we finished administering the first round of Pfizer vaccines until now, we have had people every day coming to ask us when they can get on the list. Staff and the public have asked if they should wait to receive one brand versus the other. I would not recommend waiting for one over the other.”
Both the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are made from a vaccine technology that’s been in development for other vaccines for years, said Paula Winkler, CMH pharmacy director.
“If you look at the studies, both vaccines are very similar in their makeup. One of the biggest differences is in storage before shipment.”
Since CMH and many Kansas hospitals do not have ultra-cold freezing capabilities the Pfizer vaccine must be administered within five days of receiving a shipment, and the Moderna vaccine can be administered over a 30-day period from regular pharmaceutical vaccine refrigeration, Winkler said.
“The other difference is that the Moderna vaccine was only tested and approved for adults 18 years of age and older. So any of our staff who is under 18 does not qualify for that version,” Winkler said.
Both vaccines are administered in two parts. The Moderna vaccine is a 28-day repeat dose process. The Pfizer vaccine is a 21-day repeat dose process.
Those staff who received the first doses of the Pfizer-brand vaccine here will be receiving their second dose by the end of this week, said Dunsing. Staff receiving the Moderna vaccine will receive their second dose at the end of January.
After receiving last week’s shipment of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine, the CMH vaccine team hoped to have enough for all remaining frontline staff who qualified for and who wished to receive the vaccine. This includes hospital floor nurses and aides, unit secretaries, clinics, surgery, registration, pharmacy, radiology, home health, and lab staff.
The team also plans to cover a majority of housekeeping staff, maintenance, on-site therapists (physical, occupational, and speech therapy), dietary staff and some administrative staff who have more limited patient exposures.
“We are working closely with the Marshall County Health Department to make sure that all qualifying health care workers who wish to receive the vaccine have access to it,” said Deb Hedke, infection prevention specialist and employee health nurse.
Dunsing said in the news release that reactions so far have been minor.
“The most common symptom was minor soreness at the injection site, and those that experienced any symptoms reported that they went away within 24 to 48 hours,” Dunsing said.
“We are excited to continue this vaccination process to protect our staff so they can continue to provide the highest level of care,” Winkler said, “and we are anxious to start on vaccinating the public, because they really want it!”
CMH start lists
CMH has started a list of those signing up for a vaccine among the general public. Beginning on Wednesday, a hotline voice inbox was available to the public to call to add their name to a vaccine priority list, Hedke said.
“Placing your name on this list will not guarantee a person’s place in line, but will help us to gauge public interest, and help us to plan on how best to address public vaccination once they become available,” she said.
“We do not have a date or a timeline from the state of Kansas at this point on when we can begin to address persons on the list, but we’d like to be prepared to know the amount of population who is interested in receiving a vaccine at a point when it has been made available,” Hedke said. “We do not know at this point if the hospital will receive vaccines for public vaccination, or if they’ll be distributed through the county health department, or both, but this will help us to continue to shape a plan so we can be prepared when the time comes.”
Those interested in placing their name in the registry can call 785-562-4474.
“You do not have to be a CMH patient to call this hotline. You will be asked to leave a voice recording with your full name, date of birth, phone number and the name of your primary care physician,” Hedke said. “This is a secure line that can only be accessed by credentialed CMH staff. Placing your name on this list does not guarantee you a vaccine, but will help us to create a plan for our next steps in vaccinating the public.”
Community HealthCare System at Onaga began vaccinating staff in mid-December. CHCS has a clinic in Frankfort and treats some residents of southern Marshall County.
“We are working closely with the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Kansas Hospital Association to get timely information, but the vaccine rollout is still in development,” said CHCS administrator Todd Willert.
According to Willert, KDHE is working on a prioritization plan. CHCS and other hospitals and health care providers around the state are eager to learn more, but they have no choice but to wait as state authorities work with the federal government to finalize logistics.
“We are grateful to have received doses for our frontline workers and other staff, and we’re pleased that vaccinations in long-term care and assisted living facilities are proceeding. We know many of our patients want to know when they can receive the vaccine, but we just can’t answer those questions right now,” Willert said.
He said CHCS is ready to enter a new phase of fighting COVID-19.
“In northeast Kansas, we love our football, and it offers a ready analogy. For the past eight months, we’ve been playing defense. We’ve been reading and reacting. On Dec.17, arrival of the vaccine meant we finally got to hold the ball, and we aren’t letting go. It’s exciting to finally be on offense. Now we have the tool we need to beat the virus. As one of our providers told me later, ‘this is the best Christmas present ever,’” he said.
“We can’t wait to give that gift to our communities,” Willert said.