For the first time, the county COVID-19 town hall update felt optimistic. Cases are going down, vaccines are coming in and more than 6,700 people have been fully vaccinated so far. Even with the loss of 1,100 vaccines due to weather-related transportation issues, Health Director Frank Kruppa is feeling hopeful.
“To be able to go to the [vaccine site] at the mall and see people thanking the staff profusely for giving them this vaccine that will keep them safe…it’s a great thing to see that look in people’s eyes,” he said. “It’s a different look than the one we’ve seen for the past year. It’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Kruppa said that disease incidence is going down, and with a few days of single-digit case numbers in a row, Tompkins County has the lowest numbers it’s seen since early November.
“We’re happy to see that,” he said. “It’s good news on the disease front, and let’s hope that continues.”
Anyone who had one of the 1,100 spots for the vaccination clinic that had to be canceled will not lose their spot going forward, and once the county hears about their allotment for the coming weeks, those people will get their vaccines.
In general, the biggest problem the county, and the rest of the state, continues to face is lack of supply.
“We have the infrastructure to do way more vaccines once we have the supply,” County Administrator Jason Molino said. “We continue to ask the state on a daily basis for more doses […] We continue to ask, almost to the point where it probably bothers out state partners.”
For now, vaccine distribution by the county continues to be limited by the state to the P-12 education workers and public-facing grocery store employees. The county works directly with employers to distribute links to eligible employees for a limited time. The pharmacies will continue to vaccinate those ages 65 and older, and the hospital will continue to vaccinate its employees in group 1A. The state recently opened up eligibility to people with underlying conditions, and for now the county will be focusing on people 65 and over with co-morbidities. Kruppa said the Health Department has been working with Titus Towers and McGraw House to identify and vaccinate eligible residents there.
Molino reiterated that the state had prohibited localities from vaccinating people ages 65 and over, but that they would be targeting people in that age group with co-morbidities in order to make more inroads with that population.
Molino and Kruppa clarified that if you have a co-morbidity, you just have to fill out a self-attestation form in Tompkins County. You can either print it online beforehand or fill one out at the clinic, but you will not have to share private medical information. Additionally, while you should bring a health insurance card if you have one, you will not have to pay for the vaccine.
Kruppa said there isn’t a set timeframe yet on when supply will meet demand, but that things are looking increasingly optimistic.
“There’s a lot of good news on this front,” he said. “The federal government has made more vaccine available, and they’ve made commitments to buy more. I’m hopeful our allocations will continue to grow.”
When the county starts receiving more supply, Kruppa said the first thing they would do is have regular clinics at the mall site.
“Of course, we understand that doesn’t work for everyone,” he said. ‘We have a county plan for how to vaccinate a large number of people quickly. We have locations designated throughout the county. We will take vaccine where it needs to go to make sure everyone has access once we have enough supply.”
Both Molino and Kruppa said the county’s community partners have been essential in both managing the pandemic and in distributing vaccines.
“What’s giving me hope right now is the commitment we have from a lot of different community partners to be flexible, to be nimble, to find solutions,” Molino said. “We’ve done this throughout the pandemic, and the fact that we continually get more vaccines than most counties in our region is because of the performance we’ve had.”