Knowing where to turn for a COVID-19 vaccination continues to be surrounded with uncertainty.
“I can’t imagine being a resident of the community and trying to figure this out right now, when those of us who are working in it are challenged in trying to keep it all straight in our heads,” Olmsted County Public Health Director Graham Briggs told county commissioners Tuesday.
With vaccines coming into the county through state and federal sources, he said tracking specific groups that have been vaccinated can be difficult.
As of Sunday, the state reported 686,210 residents have received at least a single dose, with 240,027 receiving both doses, but the reports don’t give details about who was vaccinated beyond gender and age.
“It’s an ongoing challenge that we spend a lot of time talking about, which is how we can tie all of this together knowing there are multiple places that the vaccine is coming through,” Briggs said.
To address the issue, he said the county has been working with health care providers to establish guidelines.
Briggs said Mayo Clinic, Olmsted Medical Center and Community Health Service have largely been focused on their oldest patients in recent weeks, starting with those 80 and older.
“We’re right on the cusp of moving into the 75-plus crowd because demand is starting to wane for the 80-plus crowd,” he said.
That leaves public health efforts focused on employment-based priorities, using state guidelines.
“Where we are at right now is child care and education,” he said, adding that the majority of licensed child care facilities in the county have been offered vaccinations and the county is reaching out to in-home child care operations.
Additionally, Briggs said the county is making headway on reaching out to schools.
“We’re about halfway through offering vaccines to everyone working in education across the county,” he said.
Of the 400 doses of vaccine Olmsted County Public Health received this week, he said 300 will go to county residents working in education, with the other 100 doses going to people in higher priority groups who were missed in earlier rounds.
The county’s ongoing vaccination effort received a $154,679 grant from the Minnesota Department of Health, which was part of $6.9 million allocated for local public health agencies throughout the state to aid in the rapid administration of COVID-19 vaccinations.
Meanwhile, Briggs said local pharmacies continue to get vaccine doses through a federal program, and most are using established waiting lists to reach residents 65 and older.
Briggs said the combined effort means 41.5 percent of Olmsted County residents older than 65 have been vaccinated, and 24.2 percent of all county residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
The county rate is double the statewide rate that has 12.1 percent of Minneotans receiving at least one dose, according to the Department of Health.
Briggs said 13.3 percent of county residents have received both required doses, compared to 4.3 percent throughout the state.
“We’re moving along, but we really have a lot of work ahead of us,” he said.
While he stopped short of saying it was fueled by the increased vaccinations, Briggs did highlight improved numbers related to the spread of the virus, which saw a 6.6 percent positivity rate in testing last week.
The county reported 179 active COVID-19 cases Tuesday, down from 245 a week early and 425 a month ago.
He said precautions are still needed due to vaccine limits and uncertainty about potential spread, but said efforts appear headed in the right direction.
“The light at the end of the tunnel is getting much brighter as our cases go down and our vaccination rate goes up,” Briggs said.