Frustration ruled the day Monday for seniors 65 and older trying to make appointments for a COVID vaccine shot—and health department employees as well.
It began last week at the local Health Department.
“We have never seen the phone ring like this. It is triple what we saw during COVID testing,” office manager Susan Cox told The Nugget Monday morning. “We are a small health department with two people to answer phones—sometimes only one person when we have our vaccine clinics.”
The need for the vaccine is no doubt exacerbated by the fact that COVID-19 cases have continued to increase at the highest rate since the pandemic began in Lumpkin County. As of Monday the count stood at 2,123 positive cases following an unprecedented local spike of 177 cases over a seven day period, according to the Georgia Department of Public Health.
Unfortunately the death toll increased with it as a 84-year-old Lumpkin County man, who was listed as having preexisting conditions, succumbed to the disease according to reports.
An official count shows that 23 local residents have died from the disease since the onset of the pandemic. Hospitalizations also made a jump from 180 to 201.
The Lumpkin County Commissioners Office began receiving calls late last week as well, said County Manager Stan Kelley.
Clinics began for the 65 and older Monday at the local health department. And the day started with scheduling additional appointments for that demographic at a COVID call center.
But that didn’t last long.
“Our phones, call center and website is unable to handle the volume of traffic we are experiencing,” said David Palmer with District 2 Public Health.
Busy signals or a recorded message are all callers hear on the other end of the line as of Monday afternoon.
Palmer said there was no breakdown of the system.
"It was a case of the number of calls exceeding our phone system's capacity," he said. "We have averaged 150 to 200 calls per hour. Due to the capacity of our phone system and the average call time of about 10 minutes, we can handle about 80 calls an hour.”
Those who were persistent and lucky enough to get through were scheduled.
"We have approximately 250 people per week scheduled now and are adding more as we can,” said Palmer.
In a statement issued by District 2, which includes Lumpkin County, the phone lines and website, phdistrict2.org, were “overwhelmed. We ask that everyone be patient. We understand that everyone is anxious, but everyone who wants the vaccine will be given the opportunity to get vaccinated.”
At this time, supplies are limited, but additional vaccine is being ordered as supplies are used so there will be a steady supply, the press release stated.
“We received 10,000 doses,” said Palmer. “At present we have administered about half of that and are working on second doses and first doses. More vaccine is on order."
Callers aren't the only ones suffering from frustration. Health department workers spend their days juggling normal operations and COVID related demands on their time.
“Our staff is already fatigued from the months of COVID testing. Everyone is tired and stressed,” Cox said. “We have very limited schedules for other services. Basically, we are doing nothing but COVID vaccinations at this time. But we are working together to get things done as quickly as possible. Please be patient. We are working as fast as we can.”
District 2 is adding staff and setting up partnerships with colleges and universities to make use of student nurses. Paramedics and other health care professionals are also being enlisted to help with vaccinations as more vaccine becomes available.
Special clinics in larger venues to accommodate more people are also being set up.
“Our own local Emergency Services and Chief [David] Wimpy are currently assessing our available resources to determine what we can do to assist in this effort,” Kelley said. “We certainly understand and sympathize with the frustration people are feeling right now. The BOC encourages and appreciates everyone’s patience during this time and we are hopeful that the vaccine will be made available to additional providers as soon as possible.”