TRAVERSE CITY — Thirteen health care workers and EMS personnel on Beaver Island were vaccinated Tuesday as part of an effort to protect those who deliver frontline medical services from COVID-19.
The Beaver Island Rural Health Center is the only medical facility on the island.
“They do everything, so it’s really important that they get vaccinated,” said Lisa Peacock, heath officer for the Benzie Leelanau District Health Department and the Health Department of Northwest Michigan.
While the two-person team from the Health Department of Northwest Michigan was on the island, residents of an assisted living facility were also offered the shot.
Though there have been national reports of delays in administering doses, Dr. Christine Nefcy, chief medical officer for Munson Healthcare, said she hasn’t seen any of those issues locally.
“Certainly, we have some unique situations that somebody in Detroit or Chicago would not have to worry about, but we also live here and work here all the time and are used to dealing with some of these regional considerations,” Nefcy said.
They just require more driving, Nefcy said. Or in the case of Beaver Island, a helicopter or airplane.
Munson reported Tuesday at a press conference that 4,971 health care workers including contracted staff have been vaccinated or are scheduled for vaccination. The number represents about half of all staff.
Munson also reported that as of Tuesday there were 46 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 across the healthcare system, with 34 of them at Munson Medical Center.
Last week Munson reported 66 inpatients system-wide, with 43 of them at the Traverse City hospital.
This week cases have also dropped to 379 cases per 100,000, down from 523 per 100,000 last week.
Nefcy said the region has benefitted from adherence to guidelines set by the state, which has resulted in the downward trend. She does not know whether there will be another surge related to Christmas.
“It’s really hard to know what will happen and whether people followed those guidelines or not over the holidays,” Nefcy said.
Daily monitoring of cases will continue and if the trend begins to climb plans are in place to prepare for increased hospitalizations, Nefcy said.
Gwen Williams, director of programs for Northwest Michigan Health Services Inc., said the agency will receive its first shipment of vaccines this week and is gearing up to get out into the community to serve the most vulnerable people.
NMHSI, which has been providing much of the COVID-19 testing during the pandemic, received one of two mobile health clinics that will be used to distribute the vaccine, Williams said.
“We’re getting it kitted out and fitted up so that we can hit the road and be able to meet the needs of those who are really vulnerable, especially in those rural communities where it may be difficult for them to get to us for the vaccine,” Williams said.
Details of whether people need to sign up, make an appointment or can drive up as they did at testing sites have not yet been worked out, Williams said.
“We’re a little early in the game to figure that out yet as we haven’t received our vaccine and we’re still in that early priority group,” she said.
Vaccines are currently being given to those in Tier 1A, which includes health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities.
Tier 1B includes essential workers who play a key role in keeping society functioning – educators, police officers and firefighters, utility workers – and people 75 and older.
Tier 1C includes high-risk adults, with the general population in Tier 2.
Nefcy said she gets a lot of questions about how people will know when they can get vaccinated.
“When we are ready to move to that next tier we will absolutely get information out on our website as well as through various media sites,” Nefcy said.
A recent change has added young people 16 and older with underlying conditions to Tier 1C. Those high-risk conditions include kidney disease, diabetes and asthma.
Initial studies done on the vaccine did not include children, Nefcy said, so the Food and Drug Administration is recommending that the Pfizer vaccine can be given to those 16 and older and the Moderna vaccine to those 18 and older.
Until further studies can be done, the vaccine program does not include children younger than 16, Nefcy said.
Health departments are sharing information and using targeted outreach to get the message to employers about when their employees can be scheduled. They are encouraged to visit their websites and fill out a survey, Peacock said.
“That is a great way for us to know that you’re out there and what sector you feel you fall into,” Peacock said.
The employer will be contacted when it’s time to schedule their employees for the vaccination, she said.
Some people may feel they are at higher risk because of their particular job or living situation and may think they should be moved up in the vaccination schedule.
They will not be, said Dr. Jennifer Morse, medical director for District Health Department No. 10.
“Everyone’s situation is unique, but if we took everyone’s situation into consideration, we’d never have time to vaccinate people,” Morse said. “For fairness and ethical distribution of vaccines we really need to follow the book as much as possible.”
Some people may have legitimate reasons to be moved up and get the vaccine a week or two earlier, but committees have had these deliberations so that they don’t need to be done on an individual basis, she said.
“If we bend in one area, we’re going to have to bend in another and another and another ... For the sake of society as a whole we really need to follow the guidelines and use our time as best served and just continue vaccinating”
State-level officials also discussed the COVID-19 vaccine rollout Tuesday.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Dr. Joneigh Khaldun talked about the progress Michigan has made in the two weeks since the first vaccines were given, as well as their expectations for coming days and weeks. The two said they were cautiously optimistic.
Almost 71,000 vaccines have been administered across Michigan and nearly 500 clinics are scheduled at long-term care facilities.
“Our numbers are better than all of our Midwestern neighbors,” Whitmer said.
The governor warned it will take time for the vaccines to become widely available and implored Michiganders to continue the safety protocols: wear a mask, physically distance and practice enhanced hand hygiene.
“This pandemic will not be over just with the beginning of a new year,” Whitmer said.
Khaldun, the state’s top medical executive, said the metrics by which public health officials determine progress in the fight against the pandemic are showing encouraging trends.
Michigan’s case growth rate currently is at 279 per million people and has been falling for 38 days, she said, though that’s still four times the rate at the beginning of September. The statewide testing positivity rate is 8.4 percent and has been decreasing for multiple weeks, but remains three times September’s rate, Khaldun said.
She reported 13.8 percent of Michigan’s inpatient beds are being used for COVID-19 patients, down from 16.5 percent last week. About 107 Michiganders are dying from the disease each day this week, down from 123 per day last week, she said.
“While Michiganders are doing a great job bringing our cases down, that progress is fragile,” Khaldun said. “It only takes one gathering for it to spread through multiple households and their close contacts.”
The goal is now to keep COVID-19 cases low as medical workers strive to inoculate the population.
“This is the most massive vaccination effort that we’re ever undertaken in this country,” Khaldun said.
The Leelanau County Probate Court is urging people to make sure they have taken the steps to give vaccination consent for family members who live in nursing homes or assisted living facilities and are unable to give consent.
Many residents have a patient advocate or guardian in place to make decisions on their behalf, but families should contact the facility to make sure no further action is needed, Probate Judge Marian Kromkowski said in a press release.
“The court wants to make sure that there are no delays in vaccinating vulnerable populations,” Kromkowski said.
Local nursing homes are also being asked to check patient records to make sure information regarding third party consent is up to date. If a court petition is necessary, the court will schedule prompt hearings, the release stated.