Vaccinations begin at Pa. nursing homes as COVID mitigation efforts remain in place

A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London

A nurse prepares to administer the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at Guy’s Hospital in London, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, Pool)

Ask us about COVID-19: What questions do you have about the current surge?

Pennsylvania reported 3,779 new coronavirus cases on Monday, and 4,884 new cases on Sunday, bringing the total number of COVD-19 cases since the start of the pandemic to 613,804.

There are 5,905 people currently hospitalized with COVID-19, nearly twice the number during the spring peak. Of those patients, 1,145 are being treated in intensive care units.

The state also recorded 76 deaths on Monday and 127 on Sunday. A total of 15,086 commonwealth residents have died of the virus.

Statewide, the percent positivity rate is 15.1, an improvement from a positivity rate of 15.8% in mid-December. The percent of people who have been infected and recovered has also increased in the last week, said Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine, which is another sign that the most recent surge in cases is plateauing.

Federal program brings vaccinations to most vulnerable

A federal push to vaccinate nursing home staff and residents in Pennsylvania began on Monday, as well as in neighboring New Jersey. That program tapped pharmacies, CVS and Walgreens, to deliver doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.

In the commonwealth, CVS will vaccinate patients and staff at 120 skilled nursing facilities this week, and Walgreens will deliver the vaccine in six, according to Levine.

While promising to launch a dashboard chronicling the rollout on Tuesday, and to release the names of facilities where people will receive vaccines first, Levine said her department is not making decisions related to the program.

“It’s important for me to emphasize that this is really the federal government’s program,” she said.

Nursing home residents and staff, along with health care workers, are first priority for vaccination under a rubric set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since the U.S. approved the first vaccines on Dec. 11, 72,762 health care workers in Pennsylvania have received their first doses, administered through their hospital systems.

This week, 58 hospitals are slated to receive 47,775 of the Pfizer vaccine, and 26,100 of the Moderna vaccine, said Levine.

The state is updating its interim vaccine plan, to accommodate changes the CDC recently made to the categories prioritizing who receives doses first. Tweaks were made to the next tier, known as 1B, and the federal government added another tier, 1C.

While the picture slowly improves and vaccines provide hope of a more normal 2021, Pennsylvania is not considering pulling back COVID-19 mitigation efforts, such as a ban on indoor dining, prior to when they expire on Jan. 4.

“As we approach New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day, we cannot let our guard down,” said Levine.

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