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Garfield County stays the course with hospital-based COVID vaccines

Drive-up facility possible as eligibility, vaccine availability increases

Jane Dinsmoor, center left, and Bill Dinsmoor receive their first round of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 Vaccine from Nurses Erica Purcell, left, and Tiffany Poss, right, during the first day of the drive through vaccinations for those 70 and older in the Benedict Music Tent parking lot in Aspen on Thursday, Jan. 14, 2021. The vaccinations are for those with an appointment only. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Garfield County Public Health does not have immediate plans to run an off-site community drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic like the one now operating in Pitkin County.

Instead, it continues to rely on the county’s two hospitals, Valley View in Glenwood Springs and Grand River in Rifle, to administer vaccines to the first rounds of eligible residents within the hospital setting only.

That could change as the vaccine is made more readily available by federal and state agencies, Garfield County Public Health Specialist Carrie Godes said Wednesday.



“Our approach to vaccinating the community will evolve as more providers are able to administer the vaccine, more vaccine arrives and more groups are added to the eligible categories,” she said.

Godes said she speaks regularly with public health communications officers in both Pitkin and Eagle counties, and one of the discussion points is the different methods of vaccine distribution, what works well and what doesn’t.



Those eligible to receive a vaccine in Garfield County — which for now includes residents age 70 and older, and frontline healthcare workers and first responders — must arrange with one of the two hospitals to have a vaccination on site.

Meanwhile, Pitkin County last week opened a large-scale outdoor drive-up vaccination clinic at the Benedict Music Tent parking lot in Aspen, working in conjunction with Aspen Valley Hospital.

That effort was led by the county’s incident management team, with help from AVH, the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority, the Music Associates of Aspen and many volunteers, according to a Monday Aspen Times article.

Garfield County does have an emergency preparedness plan for pandemics that include larger, drive-in clinic scenarios, and even practiced a test run of that procedure two years ago, Godes said.

However, based on the limited amount of COVID vaccine the county has initially received and the super-cold temperatures the vaccine must be kept at before administering, “all of our plans got thrown out the window,” Garfield Public Health Director Yvonne Long advised county commissioners on Monday.

“So, we continue to do what we know how to do best,” she said — that being the in-hospital administration approach.

Added Godes in a follow-up email interview, “Each county has a different approach and is receiving different amounts of vaccine at different times.”

She also spoke to an apparent disparity in the amount of vaccine coming to Garfield County versus Pitkin and other mountain resorts counties, even though Garfield County has a larger population.

“Local public health departments are not part of the state allocation or distribution decisions,” she said. “Those are made entirely at the state level and we are not clear what those parameters are.”

Garfield County did receive 1,000 doses of the COVID-19 vaccine this week, which was more than the county was first advised it had been allocated, she said.

“So far, we have been able to efficiently vaccinate those in the 1A (health workers and first responders) and applicable 1B (70+) categories,” Godes said. “Our only constraint at this point is the limited number of vaccines.”

Glenwood Springs resident Ann Faulk spoke via Zoom conference before the Garfield County commissioners on Monday, and urged the county to consider an off-site vaccination clinic.

“I would recommend that you look for a location outside of the hospital, where we can have a more efficient process instead of people going into the hospital and up to the second floor to get their shot,” Faulk said.

She also requested that the hospitals set up an online form for people to sign up to receive a vaccine and schedule an appointment.

“By using an online form, I feel like the county would be better able to prepare for the rollout of the incoming vaccines, and determine the need based on those who are registered,” she said.

Valley View and Grand River have both been asking people to call for an appointment or to get on the waitlist. However, the hospitals have had to limit the size of the waitlist and close it at times, depending on vaccine availability.

Another factor driving the amount of vaccine distributed to counties has to do with the trend in new coronavirus cases and the rate of community spread. Pitkin County has seen a major surge in new cases in recent weeks, while Garfield County’s numbers have been going down.

“Over the past few weeks, COVID-19 cses have remained stable, (and) any potential upswing in numbers from the holidays has passed,” Garfield Public Health said in a Tuesday press release.

Still, there are days with large numbers of cases being reported, including 55 cases in one day as recently as Jan. 14, the release stated.

“This is a decrease from mid-December, but the health department remains cautious, especially in light of case rates in neighboring counties.”

While Garfield County continues to operate under Orange level restrictions based on the state’s COVID-19 metrics dial, Pitkin County and Aspen moved to the stricter Red level this week.

jstroud@postindependent.com


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