County hopes to open Griffiss vaccine site in days

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A new Oneida County-run COVID-19 vaccination site could be opened as soon as this coming weekend at Griffiss International Airport in Rome, though with vaccine supplies limited that’s no guarantee everyone eligible will be able to immediately get one.

The county is working on setting up its second vaccine distribution point at Griffiss, a county owned facility, after one opened late last week at Mohawk Valley Community College’s campus in Utica, County Executive Anthony Picente Jr. said Wednesday. It would be a drive-through point similar to the state-run COVID testing conducted there since the spring.

The limiting factor, however, is getting vaccine doses from New York state, which is apportioning doses received in turn from the federal government. Nearly 1,400 people in the first three groups of eligibility have received a dose so far at MVCC, and the county has about 2,900 doses remaining.

About 270 doses a day are being given at MVCC, Picente said.

But appointments go fast, with slots taken up almost immediately once available, and the concern is making sure there are doses for appointments.

New York is getting about 300,000 doses a week in its federal allocation, according to the staff of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The county-administered vaccines are in addition to those given by other entities, primarily hospitals, but also pharmacies, federally qualified health centers and some physician and urgent-care practices. Rome Memorial Hospital has given 2,476 vaccines through Wednesday, and the Mohawk Valley Health System 6,707, according to Picente. The hospitals began giving doses to frontline healthcare workers in December.

The county itself is getting 1,300 a week, and Picente urged patience. Adding all state residents age 65 and older, as federal authorities recommended Monday and New York state did then, adds another rush of people.’”We certainly want to get those most vulnerable their shots,” Picente said. “The healthcare workers and the 1as are still not there. We want to get that group finished off.”

Among groups added this week are teachers and other workers in education and child care, transit workers, first responders, and certain people in public works and other jobs deemed essential.

But concern over when more doses will be available is not holding up work on opening a site at Griffiss.

“I can open up Griffiss and I still have close to 3,000 doses on hand because we’re doing about 270 at MV, so if can open Griffiss as well and do anywhere near that, I’m still increasingmy capacity and my numbers,” Picente said.

The county reported 234 newly identified COVID-19 cases in the 24 hours ending at midnight Tuesday, for 6,699 known active cases.

Three COVID-19 related deaths were reported, including one related to a nursing home. In all, 277 county residents are known to have died with COVID-19.

New COVID hospitalizations continue to decline, to 177, down from 183 Monday, and the county and Mohawk Valley positive-test rate are down, to 8.5% and 9.5% respectively when averaged over a week. Picente said both are good signs but noted that hospital bed and intensive-care capacity remain alarmingly low, at 22% and 19% on a weekly basis.

Earlier Wednesday, chief executives at hospital systems in the region told a virtual town hall meeting organized by the Chamber Alliance of the Mohawk and the civic and business organization Genesis Group that COVID has hit their staffing and finances hard.

Top executives from Rome Memorial Hospital, the Mohawk Valley Health System, Oneida Health and the Bassett Healthcare Network based in Cooperstown said they have been hurt by staffing shortages caused in part by workers getting sick or exposed, but also because of lost revenue from postponed or reduced non-critical procedures and costs of protective equipment.

MVHS Chief Executive Officer Darlene Stromstad told the group that 208 people were COVID positive in St. Elizabeth’s and St. Luke’s hospitals, or 56% of current patients as of earlier Wednesday. Both hospitals were over their rated capacity, with some patients held in emergency department space. Year to date, MVHS admitted 1,179 COVID patients, of which 517, or 43%, were admitted in just last four weeks, Stromstad said. Of 188 COVID deaths in the hospitals, 81 happened since Dec. 15.

MVHS has called on its traveling nurse contractor but is competing with cities across the country; 625 staff members have been out from being positive for COVID or because of a direct exposure, Stromstad said.

“Our predictive analytics indicate based on past trends as well as the number of people going through our respiratory tents that the end of January will be the worst time. So it’s going to get a little rougher before it gets better.”

A bright spot, however, has been increased communication among hospitals that often compete, Stromstad and other administrators said. For example, just Tuesday night, ambulances took patients to other facilities, including 24 to Rome, seven to Little Falls, six to Oneida, one to Hamilton, all to “give us some breathing room to help patients,” Stromstad said.

Similarly, Rome Memorial Hospital CEO Mark Murphy said that while his hospital and its long-term care facility have suffered, staff at all levels have stepped up. Cases peaked around Easter and the ICU hit its maximum capacity earlier in the year, but surgery facilities and staff have been managed so that elective procedures may continue, and hospital personnel and the medical staff volunteered with vaccinations for staff and many first responders, Murphy said.

“The medical staff, clinical staff, ancillary staff really rallied. We continued to i think use our workforce as our advantage.”

Seventy-five people who do not normally work in clinical areas volunteered for retraining, Murphy said. “Even though the COVID pandemic has been challenging, It’s been encouraging to see the character and integrity of the Rome workforce and medical staff come together to serve the community.”

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