Summit County begins inoculating essential workers, plans for increase in vaccine distribution
At the height of the pandemic, it was front-line workers who helped to keep the county moving.
While many residents lost their jobs, left their offices to work from home and otherwise made every effort to physically distance and curb the spread of COVID-19, restaurant employees, bus drivers, postal workers and numerous others stuck at their posts to ensure the community’s gears never ground to a halt. Now, more than a year after the virus arrived in the community, they’ll have their opportunity to be vaccinated.
Summit County officially will begin administering vaccines to essential workers Friday, March 19, in addition to allowing people ages 50 and older to be inoculated.
“This is an enormous opportunity and achievement for our community,” Commissioner Tamara Pogue said. “I certainly have deep gratitude to all of our front-line workers who kept this community going and put themselves in some personal risk to keep this community going. We all know that when 70% of our economy is powered by the tourist industry, those folks have to come to work every day. They’re not given a choice.
“The fact that we’ve been able to vaccinate all of our first responders, our teachers, our grocery store workers, and now we’re getting into human service workers and our restaurant workers, that’s a pretty big milestone for us as a community. Not only does it mean those folks who have been really out there carrying the ball for our community can now get vaccinated … but it’s also good news for us because one of the downsides of being a tourist economy is you have higher rates of positivity. … For us to be able to open fully, we need to get folks vaccinated. It’s a pretty simple equation.”
County officials don’t have sufficient data to estimate how many residents would be included in the new phase of vaccine rollout. Pogue said officials anticipate this phase will be the largest so far and will do more to ultimately move the needle toward herd immunity. But it could also take considerably longer than previous phases.
Luckily, officials also are anticipating significant increases in vaccines over the coming weeks. The county put on or plans to put on vaccination pods Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week in addition to a special pop-up pod for under-resourced community members in Silverthorne that was held Wednesday. During the joint Board of Health meeting with the Summit Board of County Commissioners on Thursday afternoon, Summit County Public Health Director Amy Wineland said the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment, in cooperation with the governor’s office, was setting up another special pod in the county next Tuesday, which will distribute 500 doses exclusively to restaurant workers.
“We’re so close,” Wineland said. “We know that vaccines are going to continue to increase really soon. In the next couple weeks, the state is going to start getting so much more vaccine, and hopefully, the governor is really predicting that by the end of May, every adult who’s eligible will have an opportunity to get at least one vaccine. So really exciting news on that front.”
During Thursday’s meeting, County Manager Scott Vargo noted that with expected increases in vaccine allowances and distribution days, the county is looking at alternative staffing options. Vargo, along with other officials, lauded the work that volunteers have done at the pods so far but said that the volunteer model would “eventually break.”
Vargo said the county was working on bringing in contracted staff — likely for the short term between April 1 and June 30 — to carry the weight. Though, officials said existing volunteers could be included in the new staffing options, along with other area employees like ski patrollers who otherwise might be leaving for the season.
But while officials continue to measure out the details of the next phase of vaccinations, many front-line workers are excited to finally be getting their shot.
“The temperature that I’m getting here from drivers, as far as mood is concerned, is they’re pleased at how this process has gone,” said Chris Lubbers, director of the Summit Stage. “… We’ve been looking forward for a long time to a day where we could begin operating at a higher capacity. And although that day is not here, we feel it coming. We do have a sense of relief that these vaccinations are happening now and are of sufficient volume to get through the population.”
And while officials remain vigilant, it’s clear that the light at the end of the tunnel is starting to get a little brighter.
“I’m as cautiously optimistic as anyone, I think,” Pogue said. “I’m certainly desperate for us to begin the path toward real recovery. I know how much our community needs that. There are so many things post-COVID that I feel like are going to reach a crisis level. Housing is at a crisis level. Mental health is certainly something we really need to focus on. But I really believe that every vaccine is a step toward hope and a step toward being able to start recovering from this. …
“Yet we have to balance that with a need to protect ourselves. The very worst thing we could do is reopen too quickly, have our positivity rates skyrocket, and then we move 10 steps backward. I hope that we can all work together to make sure that we do this in a way that moves Summit County toward recovery long term as carefully and quickly as possible.”
• Get on a list to be vaccinated through the public health department in Summit County, or any other county: CoMassVax.org
• Centura Health: Centura.org/covid-19/covid-19-vaccine-information
• List of vaccination providers across Colorado: CoCOVIDVaccine.org
People ages 50 and older, health care workers, first responders, educators, people with one or more high-risk condition and essential workers are eligible for the vaccine. Educators and child care workers should ask their employer about scheduling an appointment.
People with questions about the local response to COVID-19 can call the county’s hotline at 970-668-9730 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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