Pa. coronavirus update: Montco gets its largest vaccine allotment; 2 new clinics open Friday

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine at a community clinic

Medical workers are vaccinated against COVID-19 at a clinic set up in the gym at Montgomery County College in Blue Bell, Pa on Jan. 6, 2021. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Updated 4:08 p.m.

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Amid a worrying climb in COVID-19 case counts, there is good news on the vaccination front in Montgomery County: the state sent the county its largest delivery of vaccine to date.

“For this week only, we are receiving a double shipment of the Johnson and Johnson, one-shot vaccine equaling 21,000 doses. This is in addition to the 5,850 doses of Pfizer,” said Dr. Val Arkoosh, chair of the county Board of Commissioners.

County officials believe that this will be of great help in the completion of Phase 1A vaccinations of people who are currently pre-registered.

So far, the county has offered an appointment to every individual in Phase 1A on its pre-registration list.

Hitting these benchmarks gives the county the possibility of giving people in Phase 1B appointments as soon as later this week.

And with a brand-new online registration system, people will have options at their disposal.

“Anyone who books with us will have the ability to choose their clinic location, the date and time of their appointment, and even the vaccine that they receive — which will be either Pfizer or Johnson and Johnson,” Arkoosh said.

There have been a few hiccups so far with the new system and in order to work those out, Arkoosh wants people to notify the county of any technical issues during registration.

“If you experienced longer than normal wait times on the COVID-19 hotline or a website timeout, don’t get discouraged, just come back to register at a later date,” Arkoosh said.

Montco to open 2 new clinics Friday

With the increase in supply of vaccines, the county is also announcing two new vaccination sites that are set to open on Friday, April 9: one in Lansdale and the other in Pottstown.

Additionally, the county is working on new locations in King of Prussia and Norristown. New collaborations are also leading to new efforts to vaccinate underserved communities.

“Starting today, the Department of Public Safety mobile vaccination team in partnership with Giant pharmacy is providing targeted outreach to individuals experiencing homelessness across the county, and will continue these outreach clinics for the next two weeks,” Arkoosh said. “We also plan to introduce weekend and evening hours. As our operations expand to make it more convenient for people to get vaccinated on their schedule.”

COVID cases rising in Montco

In Montgomery County, COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are also rising.

The Office of Public Health identified 1,531 new cases of COVID-19 since Wednesday, March 31 which brings the total to 52,450 since the start of the pandemic.

“Our positivity rate continues to increase, unfortunately. Along with that very high number of average daily cases. Our 14 day average positivity rate is now 7.13% As of Thursday, April 1 compared was 6.01% as of Thursday, Mar. 25,” said Dr. Val Arkoosh, chair of the county Board of Commissioners.

Additionally, five people have died from the virus since last week’s briefing. The county has now confirmed that 1,266 people have died since the beginning of the pandemic.

With that said, Arkoosh is urging Montgomery County residents who feel they need to get tested to take a trip to one of their sites.

“Our test sites are very easy to use. They do not require a doctor’s order. They do not require that you have a car. We will test people of any age, including infants. You do not have to have symptoms to be tested at one of our sites, and these sites are no cost for anyone who uses them,” Arkoosh said.

The county has administered at least one vaccine dose to roughly 35% of its entire population. For those 65 and older, that number is 75%.

“I am so happy and pleased about the amount of vaccine coming in, but we still have to get the shots into arms, and then there has to be a waiting period after that before people are fully vaccinated, so we must continue to be careful,” Arkoosh said.

Montco health officials are concerned about people letting their guards down combined with the threat of more contagious variants.

The variant first discovered in the UK has been popping up sporadically in the county. To date, 80 cases in the county have been identified as being a variant. However, most tests are not screened for such variants.

“The fact that we have 80 says to me that we probably have a pretty substantial amount of the variants in our community,” Arkoosh said.

Arkoosh attributes both behavior and the possibility of variants as a driver of the current rise in cases.

The areas of spread tend to be small social gatherings, sports-related school events, and places of work.

“People are relaxing, and right now in our community the virus is even more contagious than it was. So you put those things together … that’s what you get,” Arkoosh said.

Ultimately, she says if people maintained mask-wearing and other preventative measures, the number of cases would not be as high.

NAACP to hold vaccine town hall

On Thursday, the Greater Norristown NAACP will be holding an informational vaccine webinar. Montgomery County Judge Greg Scott and Dr. Kareem Salaam from the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium will be online to answer questions during the free town hall.

People interested in attending can register online on the Greater Norristown NAACP Facebook page.

Your Way Home offering rent, utility assistance

There is rent and utility assistance available to Montgomery County residents via Your Way Home.

“This allows eligible households to receive up to 12 months of assistance for rent and utility bills, dating back to March 13, 2020 assistance can be for past due rent, utility payments or future rent payments, funding for security deposits, first and or last month’s rent is also eligible as part of this program, there’s no financial limit on the amount of assistance,” Arkoosh said.

Through a combination of state and federal funding, $55 million has been set aside to fund this program.

“Anyone who lives in Montgomery County, that is struggling to pay their rent or utility bill is encouraged to apply, and we’re accepting applications on a rolling basis there’s no particular due date,” Arkoosh said.

Philly’s Walk-up Wednesday clinics serving those 65+

Philadelphia’s effort to vaccinate those over the age of 65 just got a boost in the form of three new clinic opportunities at its health center sites. The Philadelphia Health Department has dubbed this initiative Walk-up Wednesdays.

Beginning today from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Health Center 3 Annex on Chester Avenue, the Berks Street Annex also known as Health Center 5, and Health Center 10 on Cottman Avenue will administer vaccinations to any Philadelphia resident over the age of 65 who chooses to drop by.

However, at the moment supply is extremely limited. Each site has the capacity to vaccinate 50 people with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine each Wednesday.

As vaccine eligibility opens to all Philadelphians over the age of 16 on April 19, the city is encouraging people to register their interest using the COVID-19 Vaccine Interest Form.

Philadelphia health officials on Wednesday announced 682 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 bringing the total number of cases to 127,441 since the beginning of the pandemic.

Additionally, the Department of Health announced 13 new deaths which brings the city’s death toll to 3,306.

490 people are currently hospitalized in Philadelphia due to the virus — 54 of them are on ventilators.

Pa. offers guidance to schools on spending COVID stimulus

Pennsylvania Department of Education officials also gathered Wednesday afternoon to discuss COVID-19 safety guidelines as more variants show up across the state.

“This is a reminder that we must continue to stay vigilant,” said Dr. Wendy Braund, the Department of Health COVID-19 response director. Pennsylvania is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, one of 5 states that report 44% of the nation’s new infections.

“Public health experts across the country are still learning about these variants,” said Braund, “but we do know that existing mitigation efforts work.” She said school communities need to continue to social distance, wear masks, and get tested when symptoms arise. An initiative to get teachers in Pennsylvania vaccinated concluded on April 2 and resulted in more than 112,500 vaccinations. All other education workers, including those in higher education, are now eligible for vaccination.

All students age 16 and older will be eligible for shots by April 19. Officials said Wednesday they are hopeful younger teenagers will be eligible by the fall.

Pennsylvania is expecting $5 billion from the federal government as part of a stimulus bill to help prepare schools for re-opening.

Department of Education Secretary Matt Stem addressed those incoming funds, 20% of which must be set aside for districts to address students’ “learning loss.”

Stem said he strongly recommends districts “provide different levels of instruction for students based on need,” including academic, and social, and emotional supports.

Stem added that districts should also use those funds to provide training for educators to properly address learning gaps.

“Now is the time to continue to expand those skillsets.”

Emily Rizzo contributed reporting.

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