Vaccination efforts are well underway in Taney County.

On Feb. 18, Director of the Taney County Health Department Lisa Marshall presented to the Branson Board of Aldermen, at a virtual study session, an update regarding COVID-19 and the vaccination efforts that are taking place.

According to Marshall as of Feb. 18, Taney counties’ total confirmed case count is 4,538 individuals; that number represents Taney County residents that have tested positive for COVID.

The health department is still confirming Taney County’s death rate with the state health department and the local coroner. They had confirmed 68 as of Feb. 12 with the local coroner and state health department. According to Marshall, the state’s online dashboard had the county at 82 COVID-19 related deaths but the health department is verifying those to make sure they are ‘truly COVID related’ and will make an announcement once the coroner has signed off on them.

“The good news is that our numbers are improving at this point in time with our confirmed cases and our new cases,” said Marshall. “Over the last seven days we’ve seen 481 individuals that have gotten tested for COVID, so we’re still having individuals that get tested. We’re still seeing cases come up, but at this point in time we are having the good news of having a decrease in our new cases. That is not unique to Taney County, that’s happening across the nation. With the state’s numbers, they also have us at 8.1% positivity rate, so that is of those that are testing for COVID about 8% are coming back positive. At one point at our high peak we were sitting at about 35 to even 40% testing positive, so certainly we’re sitting in a much better position for a number of reasons.”

According to Marshall, reasons why the rate could be decreasing include this being Branson’s off-season, which means fewer tourists, a less active workforce since it’s not peak tourist season and vaccination roll-outs across the county.

The Taney County Health Department is also keeping an eye on other COVID-19 concerns that have been receiving some attention.

“At this moment, we are very much keeping an eye on the COVID-19 variants we’re seeing across the world,” said Marshall. “For us, we feel like we are in a bit of a race against time here before we see those variants being prevalent in Taney County. To point, we have not identified any COVID-19 variants in Taney County; however, that’s not the case across the states.”

“The UK variant has been found, I believe, in Kansas City, so it’s been found in Missouri,” Marshall said. “At this point in time we really feel like we’re racing against those variants; they are more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19, and so that’s something that we’re keeping a very close eye to.

“Our current vaccines are still proven to be effective against the UK variant, so that is a positive note.”

Marshall then went on to describe how the vaccination efforts are going in the county, including how many doses are being allocated for the state and how the doses get divided up between entities.

“We’re still very much having to work off of what the state tells us and what they give us. At the moment, the governor has set the tiers and the priority groups, so we do have to follow those priority groups,” said Marshall. “Taney County as a whole, we’ve done a really good job of getting to those 1As, which is our healthcare workers. We’ve done the majority of those at this point in time. We still find some folks that maybe decided they want it after it’s been offered originally, so we get them in quickly. 

“We also have moved past our Phase 1B Tier 1, which is our first responders, our public works, public health departments and several folks in those categories. So we again have reached out to a majority of those independently and have invited them to clinics. That’s not to say we haven’t missed a few folks or they haven’t signed up yet, but those groups hold priority over any other groups at this point in time. So if someone were to come up and say they’re a healthcare worker and they need a vaccine we would put them through a vaccine clinic as quickly as we got the vaccine.”

The group that is being largely vaccinated right now, according to Marshall, is the Phase 1B Tier 2; that is the high-risk individuals, it’s individuals that are 65 years and older or have a chronic condition.

According to Marshall, Missouri as a whole is getting approximately 76,000 doses of vaccine per week, which is then divided between approximately 115 counties. A majority of the vaccines then go to 16 identified high-throughput healthcare systems; including Cox and Mercy.

The Missouri National Guard testing gets about 23% of the vaccines which leaves 8% for local health departments; 8% for the federally qualified healthcare centers such as Jordan Valley; and then 8% for all other community providers; that’s your independent providers, Faith Community Health, other community providers and some pharmacies that are considered an approved COVID-19 vaccinator.

Marshall then went into more detail regarding the mass vaccination site located at the Branson Activities Center. This site is in partnership with Branson Schools and CoxHealth.

“We have it set up so we can run a maximum of 10 vaccinators and can pretty much get 140 people through to get vaccinated every hour that it was open,” said Marshall. “We do have a large scale site set up, we did get to test that over this past weekend, and we did just shy of 1,200 vaccinations through a Missouri National Guard vaccinating clinic.

“We have basically tried it to capacity, it has worked well and we’ve been able to vaccinate a large number of individuals through that site. However, at this moment we’re still dealing with our allocations of vaccines from the state, so basically with the healthcare systems those are divided into two weeks, so eight of them get vaccine one week, the other eight get the vaccine the next week. So Cox and Mercy are on alternating weeks so CoxHealth is running their vaccine clinics through that site as well and so we basically run parallel sites with Cox Branson whenever we need to and whenever we get enough vaccines to jump in for a clinic.”

When highlighting how quickly Taney County is moving in regards to vaccinations, Marshall said that they are not sitting on any supply of vaccine. As soon as the vaccine is received, it is being offered out and administered.

“At Taney County, looking at our count, we’ve done 3,152 first doses and 1,487 individuals that have received both doses,” said Marshall. “The state has us sitting about 6.1% in terms of vaccinations of our residents, that’s not too far off the average for our region. We’re seeing that, that range is anywhere from 5 to up to 11% in some of our more rural counties. So we’re kind of along pace with the counties in this region, and of course it is all vaccine dependent. When that supply is limited, it definitely impacts how many people we can vaccinate, and we’re a bit at the mercy of the state on that one.”

For those who would like a vaccine, the health department is urging people to go to their website to sign-up.

“We have information on our website that we’re pushing people to, that do want the vaccine. It’s basically a link where you can click and submit your information, and it gets you in line for a vaccine,” said Marshall. “We have a list of folks that have said and indicated that they want a vaccine. We’re also seeing both Cox and Mercy have lists; we are telling people at this moment to sign up everywhere you can and whoever calls first, go.

“If you get an email from us saying it’s your turn and you no longer need it, we’re just saying ‘email back or call us and we’ll take you off the list.’ But we would rather an individual sign up as many places as they can on the off chance that somebody can get to them faster, because some of our healthcare sponsors are getting more vaccine than we are, so it’s important that we get people through. It doesn’t matter who vaccinates them as long as they get vaccinated.”

Visit taneycohealth.org. On the homepage is a little red box where those who are interested can sign up for a vaccine. It will ask for an email and telephone number. If someone does not have text, internet or email, that can be acknowledged on the sign-up sheet so those people can instead receive a phone call when it is their turn.

“Our wait list is over 10,000 people and has been for a couple weeks now,” said Marshall. “We need people to know that we’re working through that list as fast as we can. They only need to submit their information once. If they can receive an email it is much faster for them than phone calls.”

In regards to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) coming out with a recommendation for double masking, Marshall said the Taney County Health Department’s board will release their formal stance on that in the near future.

For more information on frequently asked questions and vaccine myths, Marshall suggests visiting the state’s website, mostopscovid.com

“We get a lot of questions about the vaccine itself,” said Marshall. “It is safe, it is effective. A lot of the myths out there: ‘it impacts DNA’, it does not impact DNA, it does not impact fertility. That is all information that’s available on the state’s website. They’ve got some information there, they’ve got those frequently asked questions, they’ve got the myths and the true information behind those on their website at mostopscovid.com.

“We need to get our community vaccinated. If you hear questions, please point them to mostopscovid.com. It is credible, vetted resource for information, and it answers a lot of that misformation and frequently asked questions out there. Of course, we are encouraging our community to stay the course, what we’re doing is working.”

Visit mercy.net ; coxhealth.com ; taneycohealth.org to sign-up for a COVID-19 vaccine.

Visit mostopscovid.com for more information. 

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