Vaccinations bring hope to some, awaited by many as COVID-19 on rise again in county

By Adam Strunk

There is one population that has had few hesitations about being vaccinated for COVID-19.

Karen Sturchio, CEO of Kansas Christian Home, reported that 97% of residents consented to be vaccinated for COVID-19 at the facility in Newton.

“We’re working with the most experienced people to walk the Earth,” Sturchio said. “Those that are older than us and have been through more, if you think of what they’ve been through, not that a pandemic is nothing, but they understand the meaning of sacrifice and doing what needs to be done to move on with life. They are great leaders and inspiration to all of us.”

Residents were vaccinated on Dec. 31 and will soon receive their second vaccination for residents as well as a dose for independent living residents. Now all long-term care facilities in the city have either received or are scheduled to receive vaccinations for COVID-19.

Long-term care populations have been one of the hardest hit groups in the county, state and nationwide by the COVID-19 virus.

Not only has the virus made residents more ill and resulted in a higher rate of deaths but has also led to isolation.

In March, facilities went on lock down. And while there’s now outside care providers allowed inside, as well as compassionate visits for residents near the end of life or taking a turn for the worse, those safety precautions remain in place.

“There has been some days that it’s been very difficult for any of us to continue on,” she said. “It’s not that we had no hope; we had hope.”

However she said time drags on for residents waiting to see loved ones.

That changed when the vaccination clinic showed up.

“They were joyous,” Sturchio said. “We were joyous. There was almost a giddy atmosphere down in our Grace Moore room as we were set up to receive those vaccinations. It had a very social and maybe party atmosphere.”

She said that the vaccination gave residents an important gift: hope.

“That’s important to resilience,” she said.

While vaccinations have taken place at long-term care facilities across the county through a federal partnership with Walgreens, it could still be a while before in-person visits with residents can resume.

She said regulatory bodies are saying that restrictions won’t be released right away, but vaccination and increasing vaccination rates within the community will make it easier to lift some requirements.

She said people would still need to undertake testing prior to a visit or wear a mask.

“But wouldn’t it be wonderful, at least, if immediate family members could hug their loved ones and sit in their room and visit,” she said. “We’re looking forward to that, but the timeline has not been established.”

On the subject of vaccination, Health Department Director Lynnette Redington said that the state has continued to direct the health department to provide vaccinations to health care or health care adjacent workers and workers critical to continuity for pandemic response.

She said currently the department has no additional vaccines to give out but did anticipate the arrival of more vaccine, which would provide a second dose to those already vaccinated, could come next week.

“We don’t know when we’ll get them; we’ve been told next week,” she said. “We don’t know how many. We also don’t know when each phase will start or when it will end.”

She said that Health Ministries continues to have vaccines to distribute to Phase 1 eligible workers.

She said that until the state gives the OK to move on to Phase 2, the county would remain in Phase 1.

Phase 2 would begin to vaccinate those over 65 years old and high contact critical workers, such as law enforcement, fire/EMS, teachers and retail workers.

As for COVID-19 cases, they continue to stay at a steady large rate in the county. The county had 295 active cases, 17 hospitalizations and 30 confirmed deaths. That’s 40 more active cases total than the previous week period and added 275 new cases. Redington noted the rate of new cases has increased again from about 30 per day to 39 per day.

The county also confirmed two active clusters this week, the first with the sheriff’s department, with five employees testing positive, and the second at the county jail, with five inmates testing positive.