Cattaraugus County opens vaccine POD at Little Valley fairgrounds

Jean Lucas administers a coronavirus vaccine to Jacob Hamed of Olean at the Cattaraugus County Fairgrounds in Little Valley Wednesday.

Cattaraugus County opened a second COVID-19 vaccine point of distribution at the county fairgrounds Wednesday amid continuing difficulty of obtaining doses.

Dr. Kevin D. Watkins, the county’s public health director, said the second POD, like the first one started last month at the Jamestown Community College campus in Olean, is by appointment only.

Between Olean General Hospital and University Primary Care in Olean, plus the health department vaccination clinics, nursing home residents and employees and pharmacies, Watkins estimates about 4,000 people have been vaccinated.

As of last week, OGH had administered 1,661 doses and the health department has given 1,244 doses. About 600 nursing home residents and employees were also vaccinated.

“With 76,000 eligible residents, we’ve got a long way to go,” Watkins told members of the Board of Health via a Zoom video conference.

The hospital is expected to vaccinate health care workers, while the county concentrates on vaccinating essential workers including police, fire and teachers. Pharmacies are receiving doses that are reserved for residents over age 65.

Watkins noted that despite the vaccine shortage that spans the country the state added taxi drivers, restaurant workers and employees at developmentally disabled residences to the essential workers list.

The county has been receiving between 200 and 300 doses of the vaccine a week. Two weeks ago, clinics had to be canceled because no vaccine supplies were received.

An additional 500 doses were shipped to the county this week, Watkins said. Two hundred doses were reserved for essential workers, 200 went to 65 and older and 100 to developmentally disabled individuals.

The very limited vaccine supplies, Watkins said, “creates a lot of anxiety and frustration from residents” who have difficulty obtaining appointments via the state’s computerized reservation system.

The county health department opened up a COVID-19 vaccine call center two weeks ago to aid people in making an appointment. There is also a wait list for those 65 and older. The phone number is (716) 701-3777.

With a new single-shot vaccine from Johnson & Johnson expected to be approved soon by the FDA, and the two-dose NovaVax expected by next month, there will be a greater supply of vaccine.

Watkins told the board that, since its last meeting in early December, the number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths shot up. Only recently is the county seeing a decline in the number of positive cases and hospitalizations.

With 78 deaths out of more than 3,800 cases, the county’s death rate from COVID-19 is 2%, Watkins said. About 4% of the more than 95,000 tests have been positive.

The positivity rate, which had been in double digits, has dropped to 3.9% for the seven-day rolling average.

Watkins said coronavirus variants from the United Kingdom, South Africa and Brazil are believed to spread more rapidly than the COVID-19 strain that has washed over the U.S.

The U.K. variant found in more than 20 states, and has been isolated in Niagara County, Watkins said. “We can assume that variant is here in Cattaraugus County as well,” he said, adding it is even more important now to wear a face mask, maintain a social distance and wash hands thoroughly and often.

The protocols for masks, social distancing and handwashing has also had an impact on influenza cases in the state county and, Watkins pointed out.

Last year at this time there had been 1,700 confirmed cases of influenza in the state, but so far this year, there have been only 1,078. There have only been two confirmed cases of influenza in the county so far this flu season.

The board agreed to fine the 7-Eleven on West State Street in Olean $500 for violating state regulations requiring people to wear masks in retail stores. The store had been the subject of several complaints that were also observed by Eric Wohlers, the environmental health director.

Shoppers in the convenience store were observed by a witness and by Wohlers without face coverings and employees were seen either not wearing masks or wearing them improperly.

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