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Roanoke Health Director: Limited Vaccine Supply is "Heartbreaking"

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File

The director of the Roanoke City-Alleghany Health District called the limited COVID-19 vaccine capacity "heartbreaking."  And Dr. Cynthia Morrow said an increase in supply is not expected until late March.

Morrow urged patience during a weekly call with reporters.  She noted that the region is only in the second week of expanded vaccine eligibility.  But Morrow said the frustration from people who are eager to get vaccinated is justified.  "We too are frustrated that we have neither the vaccine supply nor the infrastructure to vaccinate everybody at once," she said.

Morrow said the vaccine supply is improving slightly.  The health department expects to vaccinate about 2,000 teachers and school staff members this week. Some vaccine doses have been deployed to community health partners and pharmacies who will begin reaching out to their most at-risk patients.  And Morrow said additional announcements about vaccination partnerships with Carilion Clinic are coming soon.  "We are making progress in our ability," Morrow said.  "We scaled up quickly, but we expect that we’re going to reach a plateau and we’ll be given the maximum allocation that we’re going to receive every week."  Morrow said state-level health officials have told local health departments that a major expansion of vaccine supply is not expected before late March.

Carilion Clinic has announced a vaccination event for Jan. 23 & 24 - Click here for more information

Morrow also admitted the health district's communication resources have struggled.  "Have we been completely successful? Absolutely not," she admitted.  "We need to own that and improve our customer service and our ability to reach people and for people to reach us."  Morrow said the health district will be implementing a new system in the next week that will allow individuals to schedule vaccination appointments.

Click here for more information about vaccine availability in your community

In the meantime, she urged patience and encouraged people at lower risk to step aside so older residents can get the shots.  "If you are a healthy, young essential worker who is in a low risk tier and you do not have a lot of public facing time, please look around and consider waiting to get vaccinated even though you’re in the eligibility pool right now.  Please consider waiting to sign up so your coworker who has an underlying medical condition or an older neighbor can get vaccinated first."  Morrow also emphasized the need to continue prevention measures, even for those who have been fully vaccinated.

"I will tell you, honestly, this is the hardest thing that I’ve done in 25 years of being a public health professional," Morrow said.  "Knowing the we currently do not have the ability to get vaccine to everybody who wants it, it is heartbreaking."

Roanoke Region Case Numbers Slightly Higher

As vaccine opportunities expand, the number of active COVID-19 cases in the Roanoke area moved higher.  Morrow reported 917 active cases as of Tuesday morning, up from 871 the week before.  Eleven additional deaths were reported in the past week.  Ninety-eight residents of the Roanoke City-Alleghany Health District were hospitalized for complications related to COVID-19, as of Tuesday morning.  Last week, that number was 93.

Morrow reported 24 active outbreaks Tuesday.  Most are in long term care or congregate living settings.  But Morrow also said there were three active outbreaks related to youth travel sports teams.  She did not identify the groups but said they were indoor sports where mitigation efforts either could not be implemented or were ignored altogether.

Ballad Health Reports Drops in Patients, Positivity Rate

The health system that serves the southwest corner of Virginia and northeast Tennessee is reporting drops in its COVID-19 metrics.

The positivity rate in Ballad Health’s 21 county service area has dropped to 25.4% Tuesday.  That’s still higher than both the Virginia and Tennessee statewide averages, but down from a high of 35% a few weeks ago.

Ballad also reported significant drops in the number of reported COVID-19 cases and the number of hospitalized patients.  As of Tuesday, 230 people were hospitalized for COVID-related complications, down from about 360 a few weeks ago.

Chief infection prevention officer Jamie Swift said precautions like masks and social distancing have been working.  "Now is not the time to let up," Swift cautioned during a news conference Tuesday. "There’s a lot on the horizon that we don’t know.   I will celebrate the decrease in positivity to 25% from 35, but I want to be at 5%.  So we have a long way to go."

The number of Ballad employees who are quarantined because of COVID-19 infection or exposure is also down.  The company estimated about 57% of its employees have been vaccinated for COVID-19.