As many concern themselves with when they’re going to be able to get their vaccinations, the real answer depends upon the local health order, priority groups and when the vaccines can safely arrive from the state.

Health Department Director Julie Gibbs says her staff have been receiving weekly shipments and administered about 7,500 vaccinations, of which 2,200 people have been fully vaccinated and 5,000 have received their first dose. At this time, the Health Department is working to implement a new dashboard for the public to view this information and is in discussions to lift restrictions within the next several weeks pertaining to extending the hours for bars and restaurants beyond midnight, and holding events of greater than 50 people.

“We’re very excited to be moving right along with that. We have offered our first doses to all of our K-12 staff in the county, and we are just finishing up our 65 and older group. We hope to have been finished by next week, early next week, and we do have clinics throughout the rest of this week,” Gibbs said. “We’ve sent out notifications to those 65, and we also send out notifications yesterday (Feb. 22nd) to those who need boosters for Thursday and Friday of this week. We’ve also been able to allocate some of our doses to other healthcare facilities and pharmacies who will help us to get through this phase two and move very quickly on to phase three, which we will do hopefully by next week.”

Through the time that the pandemic has plagued communities locally and globally, Riley County’s Local Health Order 19  has been in effect serving to issue practices to be followed and guidelines for the community to move forward through various phases. Gibbs says the command staff is meeting daily to look over the criteria for loosening some of the restrictions in place and will consider the percent positive in the area.

“That’s been under 5%, at least for a couple of weeks now, and definitely has been trending down within our county and our region. We also look at our health care system and our hospitals to make sure they’re not being overwhelmed,” Gibbs said. “We know that they haven’t been for quite some time now, so those are just two of the things that we look at. But we also want to look at outbreaks and any indication of a spike in the near future, which we have not seen. So we can definitely look at loosening some of those restrictions in the near future.”

Gibbs says for those who’ve been vaccinated, they should maintain keeping their vaccination cards handy, as it gives an indication of when that second dose will be available, and notes it can be four days prior to that date or as much as a week after that. For those unsure it is typically around four weeks from the first date that they were vaccinated, that will get their second dose.

Following the voluntary vaccination of all K-12 staff in the county, Gibbs says this has been welcome news sure to boost morale.

“We can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now, I know that teachers were very excited to have the opportunity to get vaccinated and the health department staff, along with EMS staff, worked with the nurses at the schools and will continue to work with the nurses. They’ve been just great working through this whole process. And they’ve helped to vaccinate the staff there at the school. Everything’s, you know, looking up and very hopeful for the future,” Gibbs said. “…I can’t believe it’s been a year, but we’re starting to see the light now. And like I said, about 10% of our population has been vaccinated, and we’ll keep working on that to get as many people vaccinated as we can.”

As the active case numbers rapidly change, so too does the virus as it continues to mutate, which Gibbs says her staff have been actively monitoring for new strains and their spread around the region in coordination with Emergency Preparedness Coordinator Renee Lucas, who maintains lines of contact, and oversees disease investigations.

When asked whether there was a particular goal or threshold that had been established as to what she hopes to accomplish on a week by week basis with the vaccinations for Riley County, Gibbs said they “set a goal for just getting shipments every week, and is preparing for about 10% of the population having been vaccinated by March 1st. This was a goal of her’s, and Gibbs says she’s “happy” that they’ve reached that goal and will “continue to make progress”.

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