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ITHACA, NY -- Tompkins County leadership held another COVID town hall on Wednesday evening, where they tackled a couple key questions that have been on people’s minds — vaccines and how nursing homes handle outbreaks.

According to Public Health Director Frank Kruppa, the Southern Tier is designated to get 4,500 doses of the Pfizer vaccine sometime this week to distribute throughout the region. As with the rest of the 170,000 being distributed throughout the state, they will be given to hospital healthcare workers and long-term care residents and staff first.

When asked if the 4,500 vaccines would be enough for all the healthcare workers in the region, Kruppa said no, but that more would be continuously supplied as it became available.

“We’ll be starting with prioritizing healthcare workers in the hospitals, especially in the emergency departments and COVID wings,” he said.

There aren’t many details available yet about rollout of the vaccine beyond frontline healthcare workers and long-term care residents, but that plan will become clearer in the coming weeks. The Pfizer vaccine requires two dosages; Kruppa said the first shot doesn’t give you immunity, but once you get the second shot your body will create the antibodies.

“It takes about seven to 10 days for your body to fully defend yourself,” he said. “It does take some time for that immunity to occur. And every vaccine is not perfect. Pfizer is in the 90% [effective]…that’s still way better than nothing.”

Kruppa added that while the vaccine may not be 100% effective for 100% of people, it’s widely effective enough that if everyone gets it, it will limit the disease’s ability to jump person to person, thus causing it to die off.

A resident also asked about what protocols are at nursing homes to prevent the spread of the disease. This comes after four residents at Oak Hill Manor Nursing Home in Ithaca died from COVID in the past couple weeks after a widespread outbreak.

Kruppa explained that there are many restrictions in place, including testing requirements, limited visitation and cohorting, meaning grouping people who test positive in one section, close contacts in another and negative tests in a third section. However, even despite the numerous precautions, Kruppa said those types of facilities are just the perfect place for spread.

“People are close together and they’re indoors, so transmission can occur,” he said. “And unfortunately, they’re the most vulnerable to this disease. [Nursing homes] are doing everything humanly possible to help keep the folks in their residences safe. Those are their people, they care for those folks, and they chose that profession for a reason.”

And of course, residents were urged to remain vigilant as the area continues to see record-breaking numbers of cases.

“We had 61 new cases on Dec. 7,” Kruppa said. “That was almost double our biggest day prior to that.”

He reiterated that the majority of cases are stemming from small gatherings around Thanksgiving, and that entire households are testing positive while more than one thousand people are currently in quarantine.

“We want to get those numbers down, Kruppa said. “The reminders are the same. They’re the same as they’ve been since March — use a face covering, avoid crowded spaces and keep six feet of distance […] Those three things are the most simple steps we can take.”

With holidays like Hanukkah, Christmas and Kwanzaa coming up, he urged people to stay home.

“We said it and we’re going to continue to say it,” Kruppa said. “Stay home for the holidays. Do not gather with others. Consider virtual alternatives. A vaccine is on the horizon, and a little more vigilance and patience will make a huge difference.”

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