More people qualify for vaccine

State expands to those over 65, school staff but supply an issue

by Tom Coombe
Phone lines were swamped across the state Tuesday, as thousands of Minnesotans angled for a place in line to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Mt. Iron is home this weekend to one of nine pilot vaccination sites around Minnesota, after the state opened up vaccinations to anyone age 65 or older.
Just 6,000 slots were available statewide this week for the expanded initiative, after health officials reported that roughly 250,000 Minnesotans - health care workers and nursing home residents - had received at least one dose in what’s been dubbed Phase 1a.
Meanwhile, the state is also offering vaccinations to school teachers and staff, including five doses offered this week for employees of Ely School District 696.
The developments come amid shrinking COVID growth after a precipitous November spike.
Statewide, there were just over 11,000 active cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday, down nearly 80 percent from a Nov. 20 peak of 51,118.
Locally, there were just two new cases reported in the last week, bringing the cumulative total to 165 within the 55731 zip code.
The local case rate, used to guide education models, has also plummeted from a high of 91.8 in late-November to 9.66 this week. That’s below the threshold of 10 recommended to return to in-person learning for all grade levels.
Vaccine update
St. Louis County Public Health, along with area hospitals and pharmacies, continue to administer COVID-19 vaccines to those in the Phase 1a priority groups.
According to a Thursday news release from the county, officials are “striving to have all individuals eligible for Phase 1a registered for a first dose of the vaccine by the end of January.”
Public Health asks that any employer whose staff qualifies for vaccines during the Priority 1a phase - who has not already been contacted by St. Louis County Public Health or by a hospital or pharmacy - to register online at stlouiscountymn.gov/vaccineregistration by no later than January 25.
Those in Phase 1a Priority 1 or 2 include EMS-certified personnel, as well as staff in urgent care facilities or dialysis center, plus residents and staff of skilled nursing facilities, long term care and assisted living facilities.
Late last week, the state expanded its definition of eligible EMS personnel, so that it now includes those who provide direct patient care working in law enforcement, fire, ski patrol and mine safety.
Organizations that are categorized as Phase 1a Priority 3 include: adult foster care, ambulatory clinic, community residential setting, correctional setting, dental office, emergency shelter, funeral home, group home, home health care, intermediate care facility, mental/behavioral health setting, pharmacy, public health clinic, residential care facility. Other EMS personnel not already included in Priority 1 and school nurses also fall within this category.
Phase 1a Priority 3 vaccinations are for staff at organizations in these categories who are unable to telework.
St. Louis County Public Health and healthcare systems will subsequently prepare to administer vaccines to the much broader categories in Phase 1b. Anyone in a Phase 1a priority group will still be able to receive a vaccine at a later date, however there is less certainty of when that would be an option due to continued limited availability of the vaccine.
“The vaccine rollout remains a challenge due to the extremely limited amount available,” said Amy Westbrook, St. Louis County Public Health Division Director. “We remain encouraged to see the strong demand for the vaccine because every dose we administer moves us a step closer to putting this pandemic behind us.”
St. Louis County is following the guidance of the Minnesota Department of Health in identifying priority groups.
Local and state public health teams in Minnesota are working in coordination to ensure vaccine roll-out and distribution is as equitable as possible.
More information about the vaccine, including safety information and how it’s being distributed, can be found on the MDH website. Additionally, St. Louis County has added a section to its website on frequently asked questions about the vaccine. The section also addresses some of the myths and misconceptions about the vaccine. A link to this can be found at stlouiscountymn.gov.