Montgomery County, Maryland, officials on Wednesday unveiled a new website that will let residents find out where they fall in the pecking order of who gets a coronavirus vaccine.
Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles, in the weekly media briefing, was quick to point out that the site, part of the county’s COVID-19 website, won’t let you register to get a vaccine, or find out when you can get one — not yet, anyway.
That depends on how many doses the county gets allocated by the state, which in turn is determined by how much the state gets from federal officials.
“All of us are kind of in this waiting line,” County Executive Marc Elrich said.
But you can find out what priority group, and what tier of that group, you are in, and you can sign up for email or text notifications on how many doses have been given out, which groups are currently getting the vaccine and what group you fall in.
Gayles said it’s hard to predict when the vaccination queue will move on to a new group because the county finds out their weekly allotment from the state on the weekend for the coming week, and the state only finds out a week in advance what they’re going to get.
The vaccine news comes while coronavirus numbers in the county are still high, the officials said. The county recorded 531 new cases of the virus on Wednesday, about 10 times the daily number from August.
“This is not a good number,” Elrich said.
Neither were the positivity rate, at 8.4%, or the 39.1 cases per 100,000 residents in the county.
Even though a vaccine is on the way, “the virus is still very much with U.S.,” Elrich said. “We are still in the midst of a major public health crisis,” and “it will be a while” before the general public can get the vaccine.
Dr. Earl Stoddard, of the county’s emergency management agency, said he was “still incredibly concerned about the numbers,” adding that 20% of EMS calls on Monday involved people under suspicion of having COVID-19.
Gayles added that two of six hospitals in the county are at capacity in terms of staffed ICU beds. “We cannot stop doing what we’re doing to keep people safe,” Gayles said.
While hospitals have beds, Stoddard said, hospitals don’t have enough capacities, for example, for every patient in them to be on oxygen — such shortages are being seen in Los Angeles County.
Stoddard added, “We’re not happy with where we are, but we’re not worried that we’re going to blow out the system” like they feared about a month ago.
Gayles said that about 94% of the doses they’ve gotten so far — 4,047 out of about 4,300 — have been given out. The county got 8,600 doses on Tuesday, and hopes to have 5,500 of those administered for a total of 9,500 doses given out.
That’s “not enough to cover everyone who is eligible,” Gayles said, adding that that number is between 40,000 and 50,000 — the number of people who are in Priority Group 1A, Tiers 1 and 2 who aren’t getting vaccinated through long-term care facilities or hospitals where they live or work.
Still, Elrich pointed out that Gov. Larry Hogan recognized Montgomery County as one of five places in Maryland that is “moving doses at a good pace.”
“When it comes in the door, we already have plans for getting it out the door,” Elrich said.
Gayles added that the county is not going to wait to confirm that the 50,000 people in Tier 1 are vaccinated before they move on. They’ll look at the trend of how many people in the top tier coming in.
The health officer also said of the vaccine, “I got it two weeks ago; I haven’t grown a second head; I haven’t grown or shrunk 6 inches.”
He understood that some people are resistant to the vaccine for a host of reasons, saying that even his relatives told him, “We’re going to wait and see what happens with you.”
The school department has a target date of Feb. 1 for students to move into hybrid learning, with some classes being held in school buildings. The numbers are currently well above the target, and Gayles said, “I think it’s going to be challenging” to reach the goal, although teachers and staff are able to get vaccines, “that does maybe change the conversation a little bit.”
He added that he and other officials supported the moving of educators into a higher tier.
“I do not think that by Feb. 1,” there will be enough people vaccinated to start hybrid learning, Gayles said. “At the minimum, we will see people getting their first doses. But as always we will continue to study the literature and engage in best practices.”
Elrich saw signs of hope for 2021, hoping the federal government under the incoming Biden administration will have a “greater willingness to spend the money it takes to make businesses and families whole … I certainly feel we have a better federal partner.”
Elrich added, “There are lots of reasons to be optimistic that this year will be better than the last.”
It’s still time to follow the rules — wear masks, keep distance, wash your hands and get tested. He said 536,000 people, 51% of the county’s population, had been tested so far, with a total of 1,083,000 tests conducted.
Still, Elrich said, :A clean test is only as good as your next encounter.”
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