Lane County Public Health aims to vaccinate 5,500 residents over the age of 80 by the end of this weekend.
The county “leveraged some existing doses and came up with 5,500 doses that public health can get into the arms of our 80-plus folks as soon as possible,” Jason Davis, county spokesperson said during a press conference on Tuesday. In addition, LCPH this week will receive 3,200 total vaccine doses, with 2,000 designated to the 80-plus population; 770 to public school educators and staff; 30 to private school educators and staff; and 400 for medical staff and skilled care residents and staff.
There are about 15,000 people in that 80-plus category in the county, and Davis said that while he doesn’t know exactly how many, a chunk of that population has already been vaccinated because they live in long-term facilities and qualified in an earlier phase.
“We have roughly 6,000 individuals who are 80-plus that were pre-registered on our pre-registration system, and those individuals will be getting their vaccines; about 5,500 of them hopefully we will be getting the vaccines this week,” Davis said.
While the 80-plus population are now qualified to receive the vaccine, a broad swath of people in the earlier qualified groups are still waiting their turn. About 14,000 in the first three groups have yet to be vaccinated.
“While we were able to do an initial push for the bulk of that population, the doses have really slowed down. We are trying to get as many doses … to that population and understand that those folks are critical to keeping us healthy,” Davis said. “We’re just not getting the doses that we need to be able to vaccinate that remaining 14,000 at an expedient pace.”
LCPH will host a booster clinic on Saturday for people who already received their first dose. Qualifying people will receive a letter in the mail. It will also host an invite-only mass vaccination clinic on Sunday to distribute vaccines to 1,500 people, Davis said, and about 2,000 LCPH doses to healthcare providers in the community.
Jeannie Marr, owner of HealthMart Pharmacy in Creswell and Eugene, said the pharmacy has ordered vaccines and anticipates doses may be allocated to and arrive at the pharmacy sites late this week. She doesn’t know how many the pharmacy will receive yet, but the vaccine administration will be scheduled for those on the waiting list once Marr confirms vaccine dose allocation.
“We continue to jump through a ton of hoops and red tape … just taking it moment by moment,” Marr said.
That waiting list, which is managed by RX Clinical Services, is growing by the hour. “Our phones at our RXCS are ringing off the hook,” Marr said, and suggests emailing [email protected] to get on the list to be vaccinated.
Dr. Damon Armitage said that Camas Swale Medical Clinic in Creswell has been approved for a vaccine administration site, “but has received no word as of yet about inbound vaccines.”
The voice message for Creswell BiMart’s pharmacy states that while it is working with the state to be an “eventual distribution area for the vaccine,” pharmacists will not answer any questions around the timeframe, scheduling or dose allotment.
Davis said case numbers are “dropping pretty dramatically” in the county – from 150 cases a day a few weeks ago, to 25 cases a day. He said the county is “meeting the spirit” of lowering the risk level from “extreme” to “high,” which would allow for a small capacity of indoor dining.
But that downward trend in case numbers may not last.
“It is good to keep in mind as we are looking at seeing this nice downward trend, that might not last … we don’t have a crystal ball and I can’t tell you what’s going to happen with our case counts,” Davis said. But there is a possibility that with a more infectious new strain, we could see those case counts start to go back up.” Aggressive variant strains from the United Kingdom, California and South Africa has been identified.
“While folks are really eager to get back to some normalcy … to open up some businesses, to prevent businesses from shutting down …. one of the things that is in the back of our minds is to what effect some of these new virus strains might have in our overall situation,” he said. “With some help from some community partners we have been doing some gene sequencing around some strains, we’ll hopefully have some information around that very soon,” he said.
While health officials work to ramp up vaccine distribution efforts, business owners continue to take a beating.
Lane County remains in the “extreme risk” category for the spread of the virus, which means that restaurants can only offer limited outdoor dining and take-out. However, Gov. Kate Brown last week signed an order allowing people to go inside restaurants to play the Oregon Lottery video machines, infuriating some restaurant owners.
Kelly Coughlin, owner of the Round Up Saloon in Creswell, said this new order is “a slap in the face to business owners,” and puts the state’s financial interests above public health.
“I met with my staff … and we all arrived at the same conclusion. We won’t be reopening our doors until it is safe for all of our customers to have equal access indoors,” he said.
On the other end of the block, Pazzo restaurant and chef Scott Pisani can relate.
“It’s painful to keep pivoting in a circle to try to match what our government is asking of us,” Pisani said. Nothing has changed for his business. Pazzo can seat up to 25 indoors, no current outdoor dining, has no lottery machines, and is restricted to take-out only.
“I’m still spinning on the ludicrous and clear path to politics and money over the decision to allow lottery in restaurants but not food or drink,” Pisani said. “It makes us that have followed the rules throw our hands up and question it all.”
In addition to it being the local watering hole, the Round Up is also a restaurant; pre-Covid, it hosted specialty nights like build-your-own taco nights and served food like burgers and personal pizzas regularly. Customers had the option to sit outside on the covered porch, at the bar or in the dining area that adjourns the gambling and game area.
The county’s “extreme risk” classification doesn’t “magically protect those brave souls willing to gamble inside, while the rest of my customers would have to sit out in the cold,” Coughlin said. “Giving special privilege to a select few is best described as discrimination and putting financial interests above public health is a slap in the face to business owners that have put their businessess at financial peril by the necessary but highly subjective state-mandated closures.”
“How is the lottery more essential than an industry that pumps a huge amount of stable, well-paying jobs into the economy? How is the lottery more safe than dining with your family?,” Pisani said. “Open our restaurants – by number of seats, by city, by whatever means necessary … All of the restaurants in our community are seeing a downturn in revenue and most won’t make it back. If you want to stimulate the economy, let us bring our employees back. Let us bring our patrons back.”