Dutchess County faces difficult vaccine rollout despite declining COVID-19 cases

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Over this past summer, Dutchess County managed to vastly decrease its number of COVID-19 cases. From June 19 through Sep. 8, three Dutchess County residents died of the viral illness. This was a large decrease from the 72 COVID-related deaths in May, the peak of New York’s first wave of the virus. Yet due to holiday gatherings and cold weather, Dutchess County recorded 100 deaths in January, signalling its deadliest month of the pandemic. While medical treatments have improved for hospitalized patients since the pandemic first hit, the massive influx of patients overwhelmed hospitals. 

Following a harrowing January, COVID-19 cases in Dutchess County began to drop steadily throughout February, providing healthcare workers some relief. Hospitalizations still remained high, however, reaching 75 on Feb. 19. This was still a vast improvement from the 172 reported hospitalizations on Jan. 27. As of Feb. 19, the Dutchess County Covid Dashboard reported 819 active cases of the virus. While still high, this is a fraction of the 2,576 reported cases on Jan. 16, the peak of Dutchess County’s post-holiday wave. The County’s positivity rate has remained steady at roughly 4 percent, a large fall from a peak of 9.1 percent on Jan. 14. This is due to both a decline in the overall number of cases in the County and an increase in the total number of tests being performed on a daily basis. However, cases may not remain low, as the more contagious UK variant of the virus has reached Dutchess County, with a resident testing positive for the variant on Feb. 20. 

Poughkeepsie and Poughkeepsie City are currently the two most densely infected municipalities in Dutchess County. As of Feb. 19, Poughkeepsie had a total of 144 active cases, and Poughkeepsie City had a total of 158 active cases. 

Throughout a distressing and COVID-filled winter, the possibility of a COVID-19 vaccine remained the light at the end of the tunnel for many. When Dutchess County first began to distribute the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in January at the old JC Penny at the Poughkeepsie Galleria Mall, many residents were elated to receive their first shot. However, their elation was short lived. Frustration has built as more and more residents become eligible according to New York Vaccine phases but many are unable to secure appointments to receive the vaccine in Dutchess County. As of Feb. 15, healthcare workers, nursing home residents, those over 65, grocery store workers, first responders, corrections officers, childcare workers, other essential workers and those with underlying conditions are all eligible to receive the vaccine under New York State guidance. The week of Feb. 3, Dutchess County received an allotment of 700 vaccines, 100 more than the two prior weeks. Despite the increase, appointment slots for the allotted doses filled up within minutes of scheduling going live on the Dutchess County government website. Limitations in supply have led to great disappointment for those deemed eligible who are still unable to secure an appointment to receive the vaccine. 

Retirement communities have proven to be a gap in New York and Dutchess County’s vaccination plans. While the state has prioritized vaccines for nursing homes, residential retirement communities do not receive the same priority, despite the fact that most residents are over the age of 65 and live in rather close proximity to each other. 

One such retirement community is the Manor at Woodside, located in Poughkeepsie City. Unlike in nursing homes, residents are free to enter and exit the Manor at Woodside as they please. In January, there were six COVID-related deaths at Woodside, causing the facility to go into lockdown. Unlike nursing home residents, residents of independent living facilities must secure their own testing and vaccine appointments and acquire their own transportation. For many residents in Manor at Woodside, this is simply impossible due to health issues and limited transportation options. 

In an attempt to remedy the problem, the facilities management company, Holiday Retirement, has continuously reached out to state and local governments for authorization to start an on-site vaccination clinic. The Holiday Retirement website states: “Every day, we continue to reach out to state decision makers and local county health departments, grocery store pharmacies, and any other provider we become aware of, to request that an onsite vaccine clinic be hosted at our communities. Even though the vaccine is an option in many counties now and could be the right choice for a resident, we certainly recognize that it is difficult for many to attend a public vaccine clinic.” Independent living facilities are an example of the inevitable gaps in a vaccine rollout plan as ambitious and difficult as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has proved to be.  

Since the beginning of the vaccine rollout in late December, a number of new vaccination sites have been opened, including a number of pharmacy locations. Just in Dutchess County, there are three Rite-Aid locations offering the vaccine, as well as one at Walgreens. In addition, multiple healthcare facilities are still distributing the vaccine. In response to vaccine frustration, County Executive Marc Molinaro stated, “We know these appointments will fill up fast but remind residents that this is a months-long vaccination process, and everyone will have an opportunity to receive their shot, if they so choose, we appreciate residents’ patience as we all work through this state-run process, and Dutchess County will continue to provide vaccination updates, when they’re available.” 

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