CHESTERTOWN — About 350 first responders and health care providers have received the first dose of Moderna’s two-shot COVID-19 vaccine in clinics at the Kent County Health Department.
Health Officer William Webb said 92 people were vaccinated in the first clinic Dec. 29, about 165 more were vaccinated Dec. 31 and another 100 on Tuesday, Jan. 5 — all by invitation only because the vaccine is not yet available to the general public.
The Kent County Health Department has scheduled two clinics for each of the next two weeks, Webb said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
Webb said once the KCHD’s vaccine rollout hits the one-month mark, he would like to be able to offer as many as four clinics a week.
Every health department in Maryland received an initial 100-dose shipment of the Moderna vaccine, which received emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Dec. 18.
Kent’s shipment arrived Dec. 23, according to Webb.
A second shipment of 600 doses arrived Dec. 28 and another shipment of about 400 doses arrived Monday.
Maryland is still in phase 1A of its distribution plan, which prioritizes frontline health care workers, long-term care residents and staff, and first responders.
Health departments’ focus is law enforcement, paramedics, detention center staff, firefighters and all licensed, registered and certified health care providers. Locally, this includes all members of the KCHD response team and primary care physicians, among others.
Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday issued an executive order that updated phase 1B of the vaccine distribution to include educators and child care workers. In a televised news conference, Hogan said he anticipated moving into phase 1B at the end of January.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Webb said vaccination of school staff and others in the revised 1B phase, which include certain government employees, high-risk inmates, intellectually and developmentally disabled populations and anyone over the age of 75, would come at the direction of the state health department.
“We’ve been given specific instructions from the Secretary of the Maryland Department of Health to focus on phase 1A,” Webb said. That means prioritizing all health care providers and first responders who want the vaccine.
Those who fall under the classification of health occupations has been expanded to include social workers, behavioral health providers, massage therapists and acupuncturists, according to Webb.
As part of the governor’s executive order on Tuesday, local health departments also are to assist with vaccinations at assisted living, long-term care and residential rehabilitation facilities.
Initially this was to be done by pharmacy chains CVS and Walgreens as part of a contract with the federal government, but their vaccine distribution has not moved as quickly as the Maryland Department of Health would like.
Effective Wednesday, Hogan activated the Maryland National Guard to provide emergency support to health departments as vaccinators and administering the process.
This support has to be requested, according to Webb.
“If we want National Guard support, (Kent) emergency management sends in a request and they assess our specific need,” Webb said in Wednesday’s phone call.
Guardsmen are to be deployed in groups of 14.
Webb said instead of asking for assistance from the National Guard, he first would turn to local volunteer organizations that could help with logistics such as traffic control and monitoring people in the parking lot who may experience side effects immediately after being vaccinated.
Given the volume of people who are to be vaccinated in the newly upgraded phases 1A, 1B and 1C and the accelerated pace of distribution at the governor’s directive, Webb said the KCHD will have to transition into larger spaces and hire more nurses whose sole task will be to administer the vaccine.
He hopes to do this within the next two weeks.
The plan is to offer clinics at the firehouses in Rock Hall and Galena and the Amy Lynn Ferris adult activity center in Chestertown, and to bring on board a minimum of six nurses who would rotate at these sites.
The Moderna vaccine requires two doses — a priming dose and, 28 days later, a booster shot.
Webb was vaccinated in the KCHD’s first clinic last week. He said his arm hurt for about two days, which is a commonly reported side effect.
“It was painful to the touch and it was sore,” Webb said of the area where the vaccine was injected. “But that tells me it’s working,” he added.
At the KCHD clinic, where paramedics are on standby, individuals are asked to wait in their vehicles for 15 to 30 minutes after being vaccinated in case they experience an acute allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).
Webb said so far only a handful of people vaccinated at the health department have complained of symptoms of anaphylaxis: itchy skin, shortness of breath and lightheadedness.
Kent’s health officer said this week that he is eager to get school personnel vaccinated. This is anyone who has contact with students — teachers, instructional assistants, custodians, bus drivers and cafeteria workers — in public and non-public schools.
Kent County Public Schools started the 2020-21 academic year with all-virtual instruction, but in September began slowly transitioning to in-person learning for elementary and middle schools students.
When the county’s health metrics — testing positivity rate and the case rate per 100,000 people — started moving in the wrong direction last month, the school system returned to online instruction Dec. 7.
Students through eighth grade had been participating in a hybrid instruction model for a more than a month, alternating in-person with online learning.
The high school remained fully remote throughout the fall, with the exception of Career and Technology Education programming and students needing additional support.
Instruction continued online when KCPS re-opened from winter break on Monday, Jan. 4.
Private schools Kent School, Radcliffe Creek School, Chestertown Christian Academy and Friendship Montessori School have continued to offer in-person learning since the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.
Speaking mostly about KCPS, Webb said he “wants to get schools back in business as soon as possible.”
As of press time Wednesday, there was no word on when the school district would return to hybrid instruction.
Webb said he and Superintendent Karen Couch are scheduled to talk about that Thursday, Jan. 7.
Kent’s health officer described the pandemic as “horrendous,” with nearly 360,000 people in the United States having died of COVID-19 and more than 21 million infected with the virus that causes the disease.
Webb also said he is very concerned about the long-term effects on students — social, emotional and academic.
“I absolutely want to get our educators vaccinated because I want our schools to re-open,” he said Tuesday.
Through the end of December, KCPS reported 25 confirmed cases of COVID-19, according to the dashboard published on its website. This included six cases in the central office, and five each at the high school and middle school. Data is not broken down into staff and students.
Vaccination distribution was discussed during ward reports at the Chestertown council meeting Monday night.
David Foster, whose First Ward includes the Heron Point senior community, asked how the town could help the health department identify residents who are 65 and older and how to educate them about the vaccine.
He described the sign-up process as “very cumbersome.” It is a seven-page application that is designed to be filled out on a computer.
“Many of the people who need this either don’t have computers or can’t use them without assistance,” said Foster, noting the need for volunteers.
Third Ward Councilman Ellsworth Tolliver said he would help.
In most cases, Foster said, help can be given over the phone or talking to neighbors.
“I think it’s going to be a very important task for our community to take on. We hope to have everybody ready when the vaccine comes,” he told the council.
It is going to be a logistical challenge, said Mayor Chris Cerino, because a large percentage of Chestertown’s residents are 65 and older.
Cerino said he agreed with Foster that the town could play a key role in assisting the Kent County Health Department.
In Tuesday’s phone interview, Webb acknowledged that the application process could be difficult for many people.
He said the KCHD is working with the Chester Valley Ministers Association and local churches to assist people when it comes time for them to register.
As of Wednesday, Jan. 6, Kent County had 802 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 26 deaths — an increase of 80 cases and one death over the last week.
In that time was a one-day increase of 21 cases between Friday, Jan. 1 and Jan. 2. This is the second largest spike locally since the pandemic began with outbreaks at the two nursing homes in Chestertown, according to health department data.
Kent, which is the least populous county in the state, has the fewest confirmed cases of COVID. Talbot (1,268) has the second fewest cases.
Kent’s most recent COVID-related death was a woman in her 80s and was not affiliated with a nursing home, according to Health Officer Webb.
He said the Kent County Health Department is tracking an ongoing outbreak at the Resorts at Chester River Manor, where staff and residents have been infected with the virus that causes COVID-19.
Last week, Webb reported the health department was monitoring outbreaks at the Resorts at Chester River Manor in Chestertown and two other skilled-care facilities here as well as the county jail.
There have been no new cases over the last eight days at Peak Healthcare at Chestertown nursing home and the Kent County Detention Center, Webb said.
The outbreak at Peak Healthcare involved staff and residents. The outbreak at the detention center involved two staff members only, according to Webb.
On Dec. 28, Webb told the Kent County News that 17 people at the Heron Point senior community in Chestertown — all staff — had tested positive in the days leading up to Christmas.
When they were re-tested twice in the span of 72 hours, all but one tested negative, Webb said Tuesday.
The threshold for an outbreak at a skilled-care setting is one positive case.