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Health director outlines preliminary plans for future COVID-19 vaccination phases, equitable distribution

By Natalie Anderson
natalie.anderson@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY  Rowan County Public Health Director Nina Oliver on Tuesday outlined some preliminary plans and discussions related to vaccinating future groups and minority populations for COVID-19.

Rowan County continues to vaccinate locals in groups one and two, which includes health care workers assisting with COVID-19 response, law enforcement officers, first responders and adults aged 65 and older regardless of health status or living condition. As of Tuesday, 9,565 first doses and 2,754 second doses of the vaccination have been administered to locals. Those totals do not include the doses administered to local long-term care residents and staff, which is being handled by CVS and Walgreens federal strike teams.

During a Rowan County Board of Health meeting Tuesday, Oliver said staff are preparing for vaccinations in group three, which includes frontline essential workers. About 35,000 frontline essential workers are estimated to live in Rowan County. Oliver said different essential worker groups will be assigned to different days. For example, teachers may be assigned a time period from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays, and then again from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays.

She added that staff cannot prioritize or deem one group of workers more essential than another.

Another priority on vaccine distribution is ensuring it’s administered equitably. Oliver said the Rowan Health Department’s LatinX coordinator is targeting the Latino/Hispanic population for information about vaccinations via churches and radio. Additionally, the Cabarrus-Rowan Community Health Centers, Inc. — the county’s federally qualified health center — is working with Patterson Farms to vaccinate migrant farm workers, and will use its mobile clinic to provide additional outreach to Latino/Hispanic populations once a week.

The current 24-hour COVID-19 hotline provides information in both English and Spanish. Oliver said the hotline received nearly 800 calls throughout the month of January.

A vaccination event targeted at the local Black community will be held Saturday at J.F. Hurley Family YMCA, located at 828 Jake Alexander Blvd. W., from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. The clinic is being organized by Novant Health, which is also handling appointments.

The health department is also working with East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett to host a vaccination event at the Northside Community Center on Friday.

In an email to the Post on Tuesday, Mayor Karen Alexander said the city continues to offer free bus rides with Salisbury Transit. Schedules can be viewed at salisburync.gov/Government/Transit.

Oliver said staff are also discussing with the county’s emergency management services potentially using paramedics to bring the vaccines to those who are unable to travel to an appointment site.

Also at the meeting:

• Rowan County’s Health Administrative Services Manager Charles Drake provided board members with an update on how COVID-19 relief funds have been spent. Though only $544,110 was budgeted for the month of December, which amounts to one-twelfth the total health department budget, a total of $738,985 was spent, which Drake attributed to three pay periods. Of the $53,490 received from the federal CARES Act, which has been earmarked for vaccination supplies, the county has nearly $45,000 left to spend. And from another $558,560 grant received, which will cover up to nine temporary workers’ salaries, the county has only spent $6,049 as of December.

• Board members approved a recommendation from state health officials for local health department staff to relinquish control of the daily COVID-19 data hub to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services in an effort to allow counties to focus on administering vaccinations and continue testing. Oliver said updating the data hub each day “ties up our staff significantly,” adding that Nursing Supervisor Meredith Littell spent more than five hours one day working on county-level data. Commissioner Judy Klusman said it was a good suggestion because locals have told her the data can be confusing because state and county numbers aren’t always the same. County and state data sometimes differ due to different processing times.

• Board members approved a request for $35,000 from the Rural Communities Grant be used to fund the promotion of Rowan County’s prenatal dental services, which includes exams, x-rays, cleanings and oral health education. Between $3,500 to $5,000 would be dedicated to marketing and outreach, with the remainder used to treat patients. Health department staff estimate they could serve an additional one or two clients per week with an average cost of $400 per treatment. The department’s ultimate goal is to improve infant birth weight by proactive treatment of expectant mothers, many of whom are underinsured.

*Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story inaccurately stated the Community Care Clinic is utilizing a migrant farm clinic to provide vaccines. It has been updated to state that Cabarrus-Rowan Community Health Centers, Inc. is working with Patterson Farms to provide vaccines for migrant farm workers. The Post regrets this error. 

Contact reporter Natalie Anderson at 704-797-4246. 

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