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Vaccines for 80 and older begin

T-L Photo/ ROBERT A. DEFRANK Ed Large, 90, of Morristown is one of many who received an initial COVID-19 vaccine dose Thursday. He is transported by son Jim Large.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County Health Department administered 400 COVID-19 vaccines to residents 80 and older Thursday at the Belmont County Fairgrounds.

Deputy Health Commissioner Robert Sproul said his staff dosed seniors with the Pfizer BioNTech version of the vaccine throughout the day, having received the vials late Tuesday. This version of the shot requires ultra-cold storage, which is not available in the county, but Sproul said the doses could be used in this situation.

“As long as you hold it in the (transport) container, you can keep it for multiple days. That’s why we went with a one-day (vaccination event),” Sproul said.

At the drive-through clinic, vaccine recipients were checked to see if they had registered and contacted to report. They were then injected and given a card they will need to receive their second injection in about 29 days. After their shots, they waited on-site for about 15 minutes to report any side-effects they might experience.

“We have EMS and EMA over there, monitoring to make sure there are no additional health issues,” Sproul said.

He added that he expects another 400 doses to arrive next week.

“At that point, we’re moving to the 75 and above age group, in addition to people with serious health conditions,” he said.

Since placing a registration link on the health department website at belmontcountyhealth.com, Sproul said there has been a deluge of registrations.

“We still have quite a few. We’re getting more every day. We’ve got a large number of people we have to do,” he said, adding that the number of residents in the 80-and-older category is about 1,500.

He estimated about 45 percent of Belmont County’s population is 65 years old and older.

“We’re an older county, so 1B is going to be our biggest category,” he said.

The age bracket of people to be vaccinated will expand by five years each week.

Gov. Mike DeWine’s office is providing more doses for adult school staff and allowing them to seek go through private health providers.

“He wants all the educators vaccinated by the end of February, so any teacher who wants a shot should have it by the end of February. It’s his goal,” Sproul said, noting his office has been in contact with local school districts, several of which have already begun in-person education five days a week.

Ed Large, 90, was among those receiving a vaccine Thursday. He was transported by his son, Jim Large. Both are Morristown area residents.

“It’s the first day of vaccine distribution and they’re trying to motivate as many people to get here as possible … ,” Jim Large said, adding that the process was very efficient. “We appreciate all the work that went into making this happen. We appreciate everyone who is participating and helping out.”

He said the isolation of the pandemic has been difficult for his father.

“He’s not been able to travel, not been able to get out and do much, and we understand that everybody needs to keep their mobility and be available to get out and interact,” he said. “That’s what’s concerned me the most.”

Also on Thursday, DeWine announced a partnership with the Abbott and eMed companies to bring rapid and reliable testing into Buckeye State homes. The state will purchase 2 million rapid antigen tests that can be self-administered.

“Individuals can get results in about 15 minutes,” DeWine said, adding the tests will be available to county health departments.

In other news, the 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew that had been set to expire Saturday will continue due to the high number of infections across the state. DeWine speculated it may be changed to an 11 p.m. start time in the future.

“We’re not there yet,” DeWine said, referring to new, more contagious strains of the virus that may become dominant in the state in the coming weeks.

He also addressed the concerns of bar and other business owners.

“I know this has hit your ability to operate. We base this on the science,” he said, adding the virus spreads more easily inside buildings during the winter months. “Your business is a business where unfortunately people cannot wear a mask at the same time they’re eating, at the same time they’re drinking.”

DeWine said he had been advised to close bars but instead issued a curfew during the time period when increased contact and spread are likely.

Sproul said there have been 4,695 total positive tests so far in Belmont County, with 1,097 people now isolated at home with active cases, 40 people hospitalized and 3,471 recoveries. Eighty-seven residents have died while infected.

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