Washington County Health Department’s Role In COVID-19 Crisis Has Been One Tireless Work Even In The Face Of Abuse.
Washington County – Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a monumental amount of work done in Washington County to respond to the disease and to prevent its further spread.
Doctors, Nurses and healthcare workers have been on the front lines of this battle. So have educators, truckers, retail and grocery workers – the list goes on. This Emergency Management Agency, Washington County Hospital, the Washington County Ambulance Department and our local law enforcement agencies have all worked tirelessly to guide this county through this crisis.
There is another group in this county that has worked tirelessly to combat this disease, often without much recognition for their labor: The Washington County Health Department.
For much of the past year, the health department’s role in managing the public health aspects of COVID-19 has been one of quiet diligence and concerted effort. They have worked to offer guidance on safest practices to businesses and organizations who seek it, and have collaborated with other healthcare partners to combat the impact of this disease, and has helped to disseminate the changing information about both the disease and regulations from higher levels of government. WCHD has been in charge of all of the contact tracing of COVID-19 that has occurred in the past year. WCHD can recommend safety measures, but their ability to enforce them is limited.
Public health work is not something that an average citizen often knows much about, and when public health issues are well-handled, as they have been in Washington County, a health department’s work is both invisible and indispensable.
However, the Washington County Health Department’s role in combating COVID-19 has come more into the forefront in the past few weeks as the vaccines for COVID-19 have been rolled out. The health department’s job is to distribute the relatively low number of vaccine doses that the county has been allocated to the public.
Washington County has been blessed with low case numbers overall. We were also blessed with very low mortality rate. While one death is too many, Washington County has only suffered the loss of 29 citizens to date. Those numbers and the county’s population – 13,900 – puts us on the bottom of the list for doses.
The vaccine is a touchy subject – it has been a very long year and the vaccine gives hope that we will return to some sense of normalcy. No matter the reason, we know the vaccine is wanted by a large number of the citizens of this county.
The health department has been working to vaccinate Group 1b, which includes citizens over 65 and many classes of frontline workers. There is a list of people in this group that has now grown to thousands of individuals, which the health department has been working to vaccinate while receiving a scant number of doses per week (100 doses initially, currently 200 doses per week).
Distributing these doses has been a daunting task for the health department, which consists of administrator Elizabeth Lehde and a staff which has grown from six up to nine in the past year. WCHD staff is under tremendous stress due to the pressures of responding to COVID, and the department has lost personnel due to this.
Setting up distribution clinics which get the vaccine to the public while following COVID-19 safety regulations is a job that is in addition to those already carried out by them. In one day, health department personnel might be performing hearing or vision screening for preschoolers, or holding a WIC checkup, then immediately heading out to staff a vaccine distribution clinic.
Despite the extra work of running the clinics, the Health Department staff has done very well in distributing the doses of the vaccine that they have received. The problem is with getting the supply, not with delivering it to Washington County’s citizens.
Both Lehde and EMA Department administrator Matt Bierman have sought to acquire more doses for the county through any available channels, but to no avail.
With the logistical situation being what it is and news of the vaccine’s availability elsewhere, it is understandable that citizens are upset or emotional when they are unable to get the vaccine for themselves when those living in other areas can get it without much difficulty,
While anger at this situation might be warranted, directing that anger at the Washington County Health Department is not.
This health department is small, hardworking and local. When citizens yell or curse at the health department, they are not yelling at some faceless government drone in Washington, Chicago or Springfield – they are yelling and cursing at their neighbors.
Be patient with those working to make this disease and crisis go away – they are doing things this way because the circumstances require it, and no one is saying that you should like those circumstances. It is unfair and obnoxious to act in an abusive manner towards your health department. Knock it off.
Whatever your thoughts on COVID-19, this is not a good situation. The Washington County Health Department has been working for you, the citizens, to make it a little better. Please give them the respect they deserve.
About Vaccine Distribution:
The COVID-19 situation is getting better, slowly. The vaccine has more availability elsewhere and citizens should feel free to get it if they are able.
If you are on the health department’s list and you get a vaccine elsewhere, tell the health department when they call you to make an appointment and they will take your name off of their list. Recently, National Guard units have been assisting the health department in holding distribution clinics. While the guard provides welcome labor, even more importantly, they are bringing their own doses which are in addition to the county’s weekly allocation. The clinics are being held according to the county’s distribution lists and ARE NOT OPEN CLINICS.
Doses are being used within 5 days of receipt by the department. Appointments aren’t scheduled until they know that they will have vaccine. WCHD does not want to have to cancel if they don’t receive the doses, so planning is continual.
Washington County’s citizens will be told if they can come to the clinics. Those who are saying that these clinics are open to the general public are spreading disinformation, and are making distributing the vaccine more difficult, not speeding up the process.