Health Department draws crowd as COVID-19 vaccinations begin for people older than 75

Published 12:10 am Thursday, January 7, 2021

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — A crowd of cars carrying locals flocked to the Rowan County Health Department on Wednesday, patiently awaiting an injection in the arm as county health officials moved to phase 1b of COVID-19 on Wednesday.

In starting phase 1b, the county vaccinated nearly 500 locals aged 75 and older.

“I’m ready to take my life back,” said Melanie Walker, who works in the pharmacy at Trinity Oaks Health and Rehab and compared the shot to her annual flu vaccination. “I’m definitely very excited. It’s a great day for me.”

A total of 9,816 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Rowan County since March, with 3,924 of those currently active. A total of 178 lives have been claimed by the virus locally, and 29 Rowan Countians are being hospitalized.

Since the week of Christmas, county health officials have vaccinated more than 500 health department workers, first responders and law enforcement officials, who were included in phase 1a. Health care workers are being vaccinated by Novant Health Rowan Medical Center staff, while CVS and Walgreens are distributing the vaccine among long-term care residents and staff as part of a federal partnership.

Todd Goodman, a spokesperson for the W. G. (Bill) Hefner VA Medical Center in Salisbury, said that as of Wednesday, approximately 100 veterans who are inpatients or residents of the Community Living Center have been vaccinated. However, more than 1,000 employees have been vaccinated since the VA received doses of the vaccine days before Christmas. Beginning Monday, VA staff will move to the next phase, which includes primary care teams reaching out to veterans aged 75 and older.

The county originally planned to begin vaccinating those in phase 1b on Monday, Jan. 11. But due to a lull in vaccine acceptance among those who qualify in phase 1a, the county health department began mass vaccination on Wednesday following the guidance of county leadership, said Amy Smith, the county’s health education specialist and wellness coordinator.

Group one of phase 1b includes adults aged 75 or older, regardless of health status or living situation, as well as any remaining phase 1a-eligible individuals.

The West End Plaza, located at 1935 Jake Alexander Blvd. West, will serve as the point of dispensing site for mass vaccination, but Wednesday’s and Thursday’s “soft launch” of mass vaccination is being held at the Rowan County Health Department, located at 1811 E. Innes St.

Smith said 496 Moderna COVID-19 vaccinations were administered Wednesday at the drive-thru event, and county health officials will continue vaccination on Thursday at the health department, from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m., or whenever vaccinations run out. No appointment is needed.

The county anticipates another shipment of vaccine doses by the end of the week, but it’s unclear when the shipment will be received; it is contingent upon federal and state government guidance.

Carl and Mary Arthur were among the 496 locals who received the first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine Wednesday. The couple said they felt “very anxious” and “happy” to receive the vaccine and that they were glad to get it out of the way.

For Ray Adams, however, receiving the vaccine is normal protocol — like the flu shot — since he spent 20 years in the U.S. Army. Adams added that he would feel more comfortable receiving the vaccine if “we knew more about it” and the virus, but “we’ve got to start somewhere.”

As vehicles weaved through the several lanes marked by traffic cones, locals were asked to verify their age, answer a few questions either on paper or on a tablet and provide insurance cards if they had them. The vaccine is free to everyone, but public health workers are filing insurance for administrative costs. If someone does not have a form of insurance, they will still receive the vaccine at no cost.

Smith said most locals experienced about an hour-and-a-half wait between arrival and injection. And after locals were injected, they were directed to “stand by” in another location as local emergency management services staff monitored any resulting symptoms or reactions.

On Wednesday, there were no adverse reactions reported. Locals were told, however, to expect a tenderness or soreness in the arm for a few days after receiving the vaccination.

Both the Moderna and Pfizer brands of the vaccine require a second dose, either 21 or 28 days following the first injection. Those who were vaccinated 0n Wednesday received a reminder card with a date to receive their second dose in 28 days.

“We’re one step closer to us stopping the spread,” Smith said. “I’m anxious to get back to some sort of normal.”

Phase 1b includes two other groups, but dates have not yet been set to vaccinate those individuals in Rowan County. Group two of phase 1b includes any patient-facing direct health care workers not vaccinated in Phase 1a and essential frontline workers over the age of 50. Group three of phase 1b includes all other patient-facing direct health care workers not vaccinated in Phase 1a and frontline essential workers of any age. There is no requirement to have certain qualifying chronic conditions for either group.

Smith said health officials ask all locals to remain patient as they continue to receive limited supplies of the vaccines. The ultimate goal is to vaccinate all of those who want to be vaccinated.

As a reminder, even those who have received the first dose are asked to continue practicing the three Ws of wearing a mask, washing hands and waiting 6 feet apart since so few people have received the vaccine so far. Additionally, like the flu vaccination, it will take two full weeks for our bodies to reach full immunity to the virus, she said.

With cases currently at their highest yet across the state, and the full effects of the holidays yet to be seen, health officials urge everyone to continue practicing the three Ws, receive the vaccine when it’s their turn and stay at home when possible, said North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen during a news conference on Wednesday.

A total of 582,348 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed across the state since March after completing 7.19 million tests, with 6,952 of those reported on Wednesday. A total of 3,893 North Carolinians are currently being hospitalized and 7,076 have died.

Cohen and Gov. Roy Cooper announced on Wednesday that 84 of North Carolina’s 100 total counties are currently categorized “red” for critical levels of spread, while 12 counties are orange for significant spread. On Dec. 22, 65 counties were in the red while 27 were in the orange.

Rowan County is among those 84 counties as it has reported a rate of 1,214.7 cases per 100,000 residents over the last 14 days as well as a 14-day percent positive rate of 17.8%. The impact on hospitals locally, however, remains low.

As a result of the growing number of cases, positivity rate and hospitalizations, Gov. Roy Cooper extended the current modified stay-at-home order until Jan. 29. That order requires North Carolinians to stay home between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. unless conducting essential business like going to and from work or picking up groceries or prescriptions.

Cohen issued a secretarial directive instructing North Carolinians to stay home except for essential activities and avoid gatherings, especially indoors, with people who don’t live within the same household.

“There is an alarming amount of virus everywhere in our state. We are in a very dangerous position,” Cohen said. “Every single North Carolinian needs to take immediate action to save lives and protect themselves and each other.”

Cohen also said more than half of North Carolinians are at high risk for serious illness caused by the coronavirus, adding that studies are also finding some people with mild illness are experiencing symptoms for weeks or months following infection.

The CDC on Wednesday reported an additional 227,692 cases and 3,541 new deaths across the U.S., totaling 20.96 million cases and 356,005 deaths since January, with an average of 65.7 daily cases per 100,000 residents over the last seven days.

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246. 

About Natalie Anderson

Natalie Anderson covers the city of Salisbury, politics and more for the Salisbury Post. She joined the staff in January 2020 after graduating from Louisiana State University, where she was editor of The Reveille newspaper. Email her at natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com or call her at 704-797-4246.

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