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Vaccinations underway, Phase 1B coming soon, health officials say
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BISBEE — People eligible to receive the Moderna vaccine under the next round — Phase 1B — will be getting their shot in the arm as early as this Saturday, Cochise County health officials said Tuesday.

But that’s only for individuals who are 75 years of age and older, said Cochise Health and Social Service Director Alicia Thompson and Emily Harris, Infectious Disease Program Manager at Chiricahua Community Health Centers Inc.

Other individuals who fall under category 1B— law enforcement officers, firefighters, teachers, corrections officers, child care staff, utility workers, health care workers not included in Phase 1A and high risk adults in congregate settings such as group homes and homeless shelters — will be able to receive the vaccine on Jan. 23, Thompson said Tuesday.

“On Saturday, January 23rd, we will open Phase 1B to others in that category,” Thompson said. “Our ability to vaccinate will be completely dependent on the number of doses we are able to get into our county.”

The time and place for that event will be announced by Cochise Health and Social Services.

In an interview Monday, Thompson said the county would be able to begin vaccinating people in Phase 1B based on the number of individuals who have been vaccinated in Phase 1A and those who have expressed a desire to get inoculated in that category.

Based on requirements established by the state, Phase 1A individuals include all direct health care workers — such as emergency medical services personnel — and all workers and residents of long term care facilities.

“Opening up (Phase) 1B will be dependent on the number of vaccine doses available and if we feel we have reached the majority of people in 1A who want to be vaccinated,” Thompson said.

Thompson said 2,067 vaccinations have been administered to Phase 1A individuals in Cochise County since Dec. 22.

But the vaccine, which must be given twice, 30 days apart, is not arriving in droves.

Thompson said the first shipment of vaccine that arrived in the county on Dec. 21 carried 3,000 doses. The next shipment had 1,100 cases and the third only 600.

“It changes weekly,” Thompson said. “We are continuing to get smaller amounts of vaccine into our community. We’re allowed to order vaccine on Thursday afternoons. We’re ordering the maximum vaccines that are allowable.”

Thompson said she’s not sure why the shipments are decreasing.

“The state follows an algorithm when allocating vaccines to counties,” she said. “My guess is that the state is receiving smaller shipments from the federal government.”

So far, the rollout of the Moderna vaccine in Cochise County has gone “exceedingly well” according to Thompson, at least the vaccines that are under the health department’s purview.

Many direct health care personnel received their vaccinations on Dec. 22, the day after the first load arrived at the health department in Bisbee, Thompson said.

As of Monday, all 30 partners working with Cochise Health and Social Services began reporting the number of vaccines they administer daily to direct health care workers, Thompson said.

Under state health department guidelines, Cochise Health and Social Services and the 30 entities it is partnering with to administer the vaccine are responsible for inoculating only the portion of Phase 1A that includes direct health care workers.

Staff and residents of long term care facilities, who also are part of the Phase 1A group, will and have received their vaccines through a pharmacy care program.

One of those facilities is Life Care Sierra Vista. Staff member Deborah Steele said more than 70 doses of the Moderna vaccine were “administered to both residents and staff on Jan. 3, with follow up on Jan. 30.”

“Meagan Rendon, director of nursing, took the lead and received the first dose,” Steele said. “She knows and advises that getting vaccinated can help protect people around you from COVID-19, particularly people at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. She was proud of the staff and residents that took this step to protect themselves and those around them.”

Life Care staff member Jodi Cota said she was getting vaccinated, “to protect the residents and my family.”

Another staff member, Cierra Hauck, said she was getting the vaccine so she could do her part to help.

“This is another tool we have in the arsenal to fight COVID and protect our community. It is one we have in our control instead of just waiting for herd immunity,” Hauck said.

Long term care entities that have signed up to receive the vaccine via the pharmacy care program as stipulated by the state cannot obtain the vaccine through Cochise Health and Social Services, Thompson said, because a certain amount is allocated to those facilities and a certain amount is slated for the health department and its partners.

“We’ve had calls from some of those (long term) facilities telling us they haven’t gotten the call yet (from the pharmacy care program) and they’re asking if we can we vaccinate them,” Thompson said. “And we can’t.”

One issue that Thompson is concerned with is smaller, unlicensed long term care facilities that may not have signed up with a pharmacy care program for the vaccine. For those facilities, it’s too late because the registration period to obtain the vaccine via the pharmacy program has ended, Thompson said.

Because the staff and residents of some of those facilities are part of the Phase 1A group, Thompson said they can contact Cochise Health and Social Services for assistance at publichealth@cochise.az.gov.

“We know there are some small mom and pop facilities that need to be vaccinated,” Thompson said. “But we don’t know about them. We need them to reach out to us so that we then can send out some of our staff to vaccinate them.”

The other situation Thompson wants to try to prevent in Cochise County is long lines of people queueing up to receive the vaccine. She said there have been incidences of individuals in other states who have waited for hours to get their shot and then were told to come back another time because the doses ran out.

In order to avoid that here, the county is planning to institute drive-thru PODs, Thompson said. A “POD” is a “point of distribution” or “point of dispersal” for the vaccine.

People will register to show up within an hour timeframe with only a certain number of slots for that hour,” Thompson said. “We will have as many slots in as many days as it takes to get the vaccine that is dedicated for those PODS, out to the people.

“We can’t vaccinate everyone at the same time. It’s going to take time. We’re going to do our best to vaccinate our community members no matter what phase it is.”

The community can do its part, Thompson said, by showing up on time to an appointment at the drive-thru POD.

Thompson said a call center eventually will be created with an 800 number for people to call for their appointment. Once a drive-thru POD fills up with appointments, individuals who want the vaccine will be placed on a waiting list for the next available POD.

“What we can commit to our community is that we will continue to have PODS as we have vaccine available,” Thompson said.

SVUSD to continue remote learning; winter sports on hold
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The Sierra Vista Unified School District Governing Board held its first meeting of the new year Tuesday night with COVID-19 and winter sports at the forefront.

Members of the board attended in person while the public was invited to participate virtually via YouTube live-stream.

SVUSD Superintendent Dr. Eric Holmes provided an update on the district, but first welcomed freshman board member Kimberly Robinson and the new board president, Yulonda Boutte.

Holmes said SVUSD is continuing the distance learning format, noting the county’s substantial COVID-19 spread according to the Arizona Department of Health Services’ three benchmarks.

The benchmarks include metrics that indicate minimal, moderate or substantial spread of the virus as a guide to when schools across the state can return to in-person learning. Included are the number of COVID-19 cases, percent of positivity and COVID-like illness in the community.

Administrative Assistant Alan Ramsey said that as of Nov. 30, when cases were increasing, the Governing Board voted to return the district to a distance-learning format.

“It is our goal to return our students to face-to-face classroom instruction as soon as the benchmark data indicates moderate and or minimal spread,” Ramsey said.

Holmes noted there will be a delay in the start of winter sports, which includes wrestling, basketball and soccer.

Holmes said that the district will delay the season start, including practices, until schools can reopen for in-person learning, following the precedent set by the board in the fall.

“We’re looking to start (practices) as soon as possible,” Holmes said. “We want to have a season, just like we wanted to have a season in the fall, we want to make sure we can allow our children to participate safely. But we wanted to wait and hopefully have some of theses numbers go down a bit countywide before we move forward with tryouts and practices.”

Holmes said the district’s approach in delaying the season is to keep the safety of the students and staff as the top priority.

SVUSD Human Resources Director Kelly Segal brought to the attention of the board how the federal COVID relief package, which allowed employees to be reimbursed for up to 10 days of leave for any COVID-19 related issue, ceased on Dec. 31.

“We’re trying to work with our employees, and if they are feeling well enough, even if they are having to be quarantined at home or if they have tested positive for COVID and they are able to work, we are allowing them work from home,” Segal said.

Holmes said the district’s food delivery service, which provides school lunch pickup sites at various the schools, will be restricted to Buena High School and Carmichael Elementary, down from the previous total of eight pick-up sites.

The board voted to approve the Support Staff Personnel Matter Reduction in Force and Furlough. The district’s food service support staff will have nine positions terminated and eight furloughed. Segal said food services intended to be a self-sustaining program but has hit a deficit due to low enrollment.