Madison County’s COVID-19 infections have been trending downward lately and if Public Health County Nurse Elizabeth Allen has anything to say about it, with vaccines now finally becoming more plentiful, that trend will continue.
Meanwhile, Gov. Brian Kemp announced Tuesday that all Georgians age 16 and older will be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine starting this Thursday, March 25.
“This is our ticket back to normal,” Kemp said. “We’re getting closer to that point every single day.”
Speaking at a news conference, Kemp said Georgia expects to gain another bump in vaccine doses next week from the federal government – though he was not sure yet how much more the state will receive.
So far, Georgia has distributed roughly 3.2 million vaccine doses to groups that have gradually become eligible since mid-December.
Vaccines were administered to all Madison County school employees who wanted them earlier this month.
Allen and staff members from the Madison County Health Department administered 370 vaccines to school system employees on Friday, March 12. And while that’s less than half the school system employees, Allen hopes as time goes by more school staff, as well as more of the population in general, will consider getting the vaccine.
“Hopefully as more people know more people who’ve been vaccinated, it’ll be the ‘cool thing’ to do,” Allen said.
Emergency Medical Services (EMS) Director Bobby Smith and a couple of paramedics showed up to help out as did all the nurses from each school.
“Those nurses really showed up and showed out,” Allen said. She said she also wanted to recognize her clerical staff, who worked late into the day to get everything documented.
“It takes a lot of prep work and team work to pull something like that off,” Allen said. “And we had it.”
Allen said they are also administering about 150 vaccines on Tuesdays and Fridays (by appointment only) at the health department in Danielsville each week.
“We hope to ramp that up to 250 vaccines per week going forward with a new nurse coming onboard,” Allen said. The newly opened category of ages 55 and up, along with anyone with a chronic health condition, has greatly expanded the individuals eligible to be vaccinated.
The best way to sign up for a vaccine at the health department right now is to call the department directly at 706-795-2131 and speak to the receptionist who will get your information and either put you on a waiting list or set up an appointment for you if they are caught up.
Allen said that hopefully over the next few weeks, folks will be able to go to publichealthathens.com, click the vaccine portal and sign themselves up for a vaccine appointment.
“I feel like we have a good hold on the county right now,” Allen said. “With these vaccines in hand, we want that two-and a-half month downward trend in COVID infections to continue.”
She said she encourages everyone to get a vaccine when it’s their turn.
Vaccines are also available through Medlink, which has a clinic and its corporate offices located in Colbert. To schedule a vaccine there, go to MedlinkGA.com and click “the schedule a vaccine” tab. You can also call Medlink at 706-788-2127 and press 8 (after the language prompts) to schedule a vaccine by phone.
Most of the smaller pharmacies in the area are not offering the vaccine, with the exception of The Medicine Shoppe in Danielsville, which held a clinic last Saturday afternoon to administer doses of the Moderna vaccine.
“We are approved to receive and administer the vaccines but are never sure what (or if) we are going to get any until we get the shipping confirmation,” pharmacist Brad Kirk said last week. He said they received 200 doses of the Moderna vaccine that week so they set up the clinic to administer as much of that shipment as possible. As of Friday morning, they had already set up about 150 appointments. He said they would set up more clinics as more vaccine becomes available to them. To make an appointment or to get on the waiting list, call the pharmacy at 706-795-0920.
Kirk said he would also encourage everyone looking for a COVID vaccine to get on as many waiting lists as possible.
“That way you have more opportunities to receive the shot,” he said.
A representative at the Walgreens in Danielsville said the pharmacy there is performing about 60 vaccines a day there, but you must schedule an appointment by going to their website walgreens.com.
A representative at CVS Pharmacy in Hull declined to answer any direct questions about the vaccine, but referred those seeking an appointment to go to CVS.com website to check for availability and referred any questions to the corporate office (1-800-SHOP-CVS). The website does not show any availability in the Athens or surrounding area.
Comer Nursing Home
Comer Nursing Home was a participant in the Federal Pharmacy Partnership for Long Term Care Program, which partnered with CVS and Walgreens pharmacies to distribute and administer the vaccine to patients and staff of long-term care centers.
“Both doses of the vaccine were made available to our patients as well as our staff,” Director of Communications Amy Abel said. “We are delighted to report that we have currently not had any positive COVID cases at Comer Health and Rehab since February 9. While we are encouraged by this, we continue to remain vigilant by maintaining strict measures for infection prevention.”
Abel said the Governor’s Shelter-in-Place order for medically fragile and elderly Georgians is still in effect through March 31.
“We have also recently received additional re-opening guidance from DPH (Department of Public Health) and are currently working through the task of ensuring our center complies with this and CDC, CMS guidance,” she said. “We look forward to the time we will be able to welcome family members back to visit loved ones (and) in the meantime, we are preparing for the day when we can safely welcome family members and guests by using this time to get our center ready. In anticipation of the SIP being removed, we would also like to encourage everyone to do their part and to take the necessary precautions to stay well through diligent hand washing, practicing appropriate distancing and, when possible, by getting vaccinated. Together, we will get through this challenging time.”
Abel said that for the present, nursing home officials encourage families to share “window visits” with their loved ones, video chats and phone calls.
“We would also like to remind families to take advantage of our new ‘hug bubble,’” she said. “The hug bubble allows patients and their families to visit and hug through a safe plastic barrier which can be disinfected between visitors.”