By Jake Cantrell & Beau Evans / The Nugget & Capitol Beat New
While the initial COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Lumpkin was scattered, officials at the local and state level are said to be working toward making the vaccine experience a little more logistical.
“How can I say this gently? The state rollout of our vaccines for COVID-19 has been challenging to say the least,” said Lumpkin County Commissioner Dr. David Miller, addressing the public at January’s Board of Commissioners meeting.
Miller elaborated on the issues discussed in a call with other local officials during the meeting.
“There appears to be a lack of communication between the state and the District 2 Public Health Department with the local boards of health and County Commissions,” Miller told the public. “As our citizens know, we’ve been given incorrect phone numbers, incorrect scheduling protocols and even who is eligible at what time to receive the vaccinations. Number two, there appears to be inadequate preparation for successful supply-chain distribution channels. Questions like, ‘How do I get an appointment?’ ‘How long do I have to wait?’ ‘Am I in an eligible category?’ ‘The numbers that I’ve called are disconnected or incorrect,’ etc. etc. etc.”
In response, The Nugget reached out to District 2 Public Health Department’s Dave Palmer, who said that “Appointments can be made by calling 1-888-426-5073 or online at www.phdistrict2.org,” but also reiterated that managing the limited supply of the vaccine is difficult and requires patience.
“Vaccine supply is limited at this time,” he said. “As a result, we have to manage our appointments to match the vaccine that we have on hand.”
Georgia DPH lists a secondary line for COVID Vaccination scheduling for Lumpkin County at 770-531-5692. The Nugget attempted calls on both lines, which as of Monday were operating as planned. After getting a busy signal on the first few attempts, The Nugget was able to eventually get through to the COVID Vaccine scheduling prompts on both lines. Palmer emphasized that callers should keep trying the line until they get through.
“Due to the volume of calls to our call center, it may take a few attempts to get through,” he said.
Palmer added that people should select the county where they live or work when calling or scheduling appointments online.
As for who is eligible, Palmer explains that right now we’re in Phase 1-A, which according to the DPH includes “Healthcare workers (physicians, nurses, laboratory technicians, EMS personnel, environmental services, etc.) residents and staff of long-term care facilities, adults aged 65+ and their caregivers, law enforcement, firefighters and first responders.
Palmer said that a caregiver “can be a person who is paid to care for an individual or it can be a family member who is the primary caregiver that lives in the home, or spends a large portion of the day in the home, with the individual.”
Palmer says there’s no word yet on when Phase 1B could begin.
“That will be the Governor and PH Commissioner's call.”
Miller told The Nugget on Monday that since his briefing at the County meeting last week, “both Communication and Logistics with the Department of Public Health has dramatically improved.”
Miller also touted the efforts in our local community to escalate the distribution of vaccines locally with an upcoming event.
“With the help of UNG, community volunteers and the county staff, the Health Department and Lumpkin County are sponsoring an event this Saturday at Parks and Rec for those 65 and older,” he told The Nugget.
“Upcoming plans are to utilize County space to regularly administer vaccines to eligible citizens.”
The event will be Saturday, Jan. 30 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Lumpkin County Parks and Rec.
“Appointments for 500 people have already been made and the follow-up shot (Moderna vaccine) will be on February 27, 2021,” Miller said. “It will be staffed by trained personnel with a combination of public health staff, community volunteers, and UNG nursing students. County EMA and the Sheriff's Department will be present to manage parking and assist with logistics.”
Miller said that the event is proof that state and district officials are listening to the needs of Lumpkin County and ramping up vaccinations.
The vaccination rollout couldn’t be more crucial lately as Lumpkin County continues to see a sizable increase in COVID cases. As of Monday 139 new cases were diagnosed throughout the week. This brings the total Lumpkin County count to 2,449 cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
Sadly the death toll has surged as well with five deaths throughout the week.
This brings 13 new deaths in the past two weeks. Those who succumbed to complications from the virus were an 88-year-old female, an 97-year-old female, two 86-year-old females and an 83-year-old male. All victims of the virus were listed as having pre-existing conditions. Hospitalizations also made a sizable jump from 218 to 240 patients.
Meanwhile the Lumpkin County School System reported on Monday that four students had been diagnosed as positive and 29 students were on quarantine. A total of two teachers were positive, with no staff on quarantine.
‘FOOT ON THE GAS’
On a state level, Georgia officials overseeing the state’s COVID-19 vaccine program are awaiting word from the new Biden administration on whether more doses will head their way amid the early shortage.
Pharmacies and health clinics had given out more than 550,000 doses to Georgia nursing homes, hospitals and people at least 65-years-old as of Thursday, marking roughly half of the vaccines Georgia has received so far, said state Public Health Commissioner Dr. Kathleen Toomey.
That’s far short of the 2 million Georgians now eligible for the vaccine who will need two doses each.
Gov. Brian Kemp said officials will move “as quickly as we can” to distribute vaccines if Georgia’s current allotment of 120,000 doses per week increases with the new president.
“I can’t control the supply we’re getting,” Kemp said at a news conference Thursday. “But if we get more … we will do everything in our power to empower not only the government, but also private-sector partners to get this vaccine in people’s arms.”
Biden, who was inaugurated Wednesday, has pledged to distribute 100 million vaccines over the next three months by using the federal Defense Production Act to spur vaccine production and setting up Federal Emergency Management Agency-run vaccination centers.
“This is a federal program,” Toomey said. “All the logistics are done at the federal level.”
The governor urged Georgians Thursday to continue wearing masks, washing hands and keep distance from each other as fatigue over safety measures takes root nearly a year after the pandemic began.
“Our hospitals cannot handle another surge of COVID-19 patients on top of their current workload,” Kemp said. “This is not an all-clear signal. We’ve got to continue to keep our foot on the gas.”