Pa. coronavirus update: Suburban counties jointly decry plan for single PEMA vaccine site

Nurse Monique Bourgeois, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Diane Kay at a vaccination site set up setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., Monday, March 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Nurse Monique Bourgeois, left, administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to educator Diane Kay at a vaccination site set up setup for teachers and school staff at the Berks County Intermediate Unit in Reading, Pa., Monday, March 15, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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The four suburban counties and Pennsylvania officials have been duking it out the past few weeks over uneven vaccine distribution.

Now that the state is planning to distribute the Johnson & Johnson vaccine through a regional Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency site rather than give it to the counties directly, elected officials from Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks, and Chester counties have issued a joint statement opposing the move.

“We have reiterated our concerns about establishing a regional PEMA site for many reasons, and we remain deeply concerned that equitable distribution will be compromised at such a site,” the statement, issued Thursday evening, said.

Further, the county leaders criticized the state for taking “the advice of a Boston logistics company to establish regional sites as our local mass vaccination sites sit underutilized.”

More than 500,000 people are waiting on lists across the four counties combined, the statement said, and the counties emphasized the need for greater supply.

The statement called into question the state’s ability to equitably distribute the vaccines and handle issues of accessibility for those with technology and language barriers.

“We also remain concerned that without an allocation of single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccines our efforts to efficiently vaccinate our most vulnerable residents will be hampered. This includes residents experiencing homelessness, homebound individuals, and people within our correctional facilities,” the statement said.

In the event that the state runs two PEMA sites in the region, Bucks and Montgomery counties have agreed to locate a joint site, and Delaware and Chester counties have agreed to find one suitable as well.

“In the hope that the Pennsylvania DoH will give further consideration to our request to allow the four counties to distribute the vaccine, each county is also identifying an additional site that it is prepared to run that would be able to distribute its share of the vaccine,” the statement said.

COVID-19 rental relief program returns to Montco

Montgomery County has relaunched a relief program designed to help renters and landlords impacted by COVID-19.

The Rent and Utility Relief Program provides eligible households up to 12 months of assistance for rent and utility bills dating back to March 13, 2020. Participants can use the funding for past due rent, security deposits, as well as the first and last month of rent.

There is no limit to the amount of assistance a household can receive through the $55 million program, made possible through a combination of state and federal funding.

Applications will be accepted on a rolling basis and approved based on priority, not on a first-come, first-served basis.

“This new round of funding will allow us to expand on our previous support to renters and landlords experiencing financial hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kenneth E. Lawrence, Jr., vice chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, in a statement. “Through this program, we can provide housing stability to hundreds of low and moderate-income Montgomery County residents at risk of eviction and homelessness.”

To qualify, renters must live in Montgomery County. Participating households must also be able to demonstrate a risk of homelessness or housing instability and be at or below 80% of the Area Median Income, among other requirements.

In Montgomery County, 80% of the Area Median Income for a three-person household is $69,600. It’s $77,300 for a four-person household.

Applicants must be able to provide a lease or proof of consistent rental payments at their address, photo identification, and current income documentation for all adults in the household, among other things.

In 2020, Montgomery County distributed $4.48 million dollars in rent and utility relief to more than 1,100 households.

Pa. touts improvements to online vaccine data portal

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health has consolidated and added coronavirus vaccine-related data to its website, including which providers across the state have recently received an allocation of first doses.

During a virtual news conference on Thursday, Executive Deputy Secretary Keara Klinepeter said residents will also be able to view a list of the vaccine providers who are receiving second doses in a given week.

The goal of both data sets is to provide a real-time snapshot of where people can go to schedule vaccine appointments when they qualify under the state’s vaccine rollout plan. Pennsylvania is currently in Phase 1A of the plan, which is designated for health care workers, people 65 and older, and people with high-risk medical conditions.

Klinepeter said the state’s vaccine page will also feature a list of the retail pharmacies participating in receiving doses from the federal government. The list was previously only available as an online spreadsheet.

Additionally, the state’s website will show all of the long-term care facilities that have vaccination clinics scheduled in a given week as part of a federal pharmacy partnership program. It’s hoped the information, previously available online, will help family members know when their loved ones can be vaccinated.

“We believe this level of access to data is unprecedented,” said Klinepeter. “We are moving in this direction as part of our commitment to vaccinate every Pennsylvanian who wants it.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has also updated its vaccine provider map. Residents can now type in their address to find the closest state or federal vaccine provider. They can also view how many vaccine doses were allocated to state sites in a given week, as well as which providers have recently received first doses.

The map, which does not include Philadelphia providers, cannot be used to make vaccine appointments. “The provider is the best source for whether they have appointments available,” said Klinepeter.

The news comes as counties in suburban Philadelphia continue to spar with the state Department of Health over vaccine distribution, which they say has withheld information that’s caused confusion and led to line-skipping in neighboring counties.

The department has called the counties’ clams “false.”

Through March 17, Pennsylvania providers have administered more than 3.8 million vaccine doses, including 1.3 million second doses.

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