Montgomery, Schenectady counties overwhelmed by vaccine-seekers

A sign with COVID-19 vaccine information is posted at the Saratoga Springs City Center on Thursday.

A sign with COVID-19 vaccine information is posted at the Saratoga Springs City Center on Thursday.

FONDA — Montgomery County Executive Matthew Ossenfort gave a ground-level view Thursday of the sputtering COVID vaccination program, with insight into how the chaos is affecting local health care providers and public health officials.

“What has happened in the last week or so in my opinion has really made a tough situation worse,” he said in a Facebook Live update. “I cannot remember a worse response to a major public issue than what I’m seeing right now.”

Schenectady County, meanwhile, said Thursday that the vaccination rollout has been so consuming that it must scale back its infection tracking and quarantine followup, and have infected county residents do some of the contact tracing themselves.

A month to the day after the first COVID shots were administered in the region, Montgomery County has received just a couple thousand doses for its 49,000 residents, Ossenfort said, almost all of it going to St. Mary’s Healthcare to administer.

With the supply from the federal government limited, and no immediate prospect for improvement, the state announced that a huge range of New Yorkers, including anyone 65 or older, could now get the vaccine. With the state vaccine website and telephone hotline not working, Ossenfort said, thousands of people began to call or come down in person to their local health departments and hospitals, which are currently swamped dealing with people sick or dying with COVID. 

“Not everyone had their manners in full force,” he said. “So, it stinks.”

Schenectady County indicated Thursday it was in the same boat: In a news release, it said its Public Health Services are being inundated with calls by people looking for vaccine.

So it is asking residents to take over some of the work it has been doing, and launched a new isolation toolkit on the county website. The kit provides guidance and information on self-quarantine and isolation, and guidance on do-it-yourself contact tracing.

“If you or someone you know tests positive, we ask that you access the new toolkit and start identifying those around you that may have been exposed. Working together we can keep our friends and families safe,” County Manager Rory Fluman said.

Ossenfort offered Montgomery County’s experiences this week as an example of the dysfunction:

The county put in its vaccine request last week and heard nothing, meaning it couldn’t schedule shots this week.

At 5:48 p.m., he got an email indicating 200 doses were allocated, but to Kinney Drugs in St. Johnsville, not Montgomery County Public Health. So he called Kinney, and learned that it was actually 100 doses, and that they were all spoken for already.

He added that hospitals region-wide are getting shipments of vaccine with no indication whether it’s for first-round shots or second-round boosters.

“Those simple points should be made very clear and unfortunately they’re not,” Ossenfort said. “This could have been done very differently.”

Very late in the pandemic, Gov. Andrew Cuomo began a significant redesign of the mass-vaccination process that had been planned and rehearsed for more than a decade by county-level health officials statewide.

Thousands of points of distribution are planned and hundreds are already operating, but there currently is nowhere near enough vaccine for all of them and apparently no effective communication about distribution of the potentially lifesaving doses.

“Quite frankly, every county in the state is in the same boat,” Ossenfort said. “It’s been very chaotic.”

He announced that Montgomery County had created its own COVID hotline — 518-853-8247 — to give residents the satisfaction of talking to a live human being, even if they still get the same answer: There’s no vaccine today.

“That’s where we’re at, trying to make the best of a pretty crappy situation,” he said. 


In other COVID-related news Thursday:

  • One of the many nursing homes that has suffered a cluster of COVID infections and deaths in late autumn/early winter turned a corner: After several-dozen resident infections and 15 deaths starting in mid November, the Wilkinson Residential Health Care Facility in Amsterdam reported that its last-two COVID-positive residents tested negative Thursday morning.
  • Meanwhile, the battle continued for another area nursing home: The Wesley Health Care Center in Saratoga Springs, which did not have a single COVID infection among its residents until Nov. 9. Wesley updated its death toll to 26 residents Thursday. Currently, it has 73 COVID-positive residents on-site and three hospitalized, as well as 20 COVID-positive employees. Twenty-eight residents have recovered.
  • A key short-term metric of the pandemic — positive test rate — continued its slow downward tick of the last several days. For the roughly 1.5 million tests administered in the past seven days statewide, the seven-day average was 6.9% Thursday, down from a post-holiday peak of 7.9%. The Mohawk Valley remained highest among the state’s 10 regions at 9.2%, while the Capital Region was third at 8.4%.
  • For the large counties in the Capital Region, the seven-day test rate was: Albany 8.8%, Rensselaer 8.2%, Saratoga 9.6%, Schenectady 8.2%. The three eastern Mohawk Valley counties — Fulton 12.9%, Montgomery 12.4%, Schoharie 12.9% — were all among the top-five of the state’s 62 counties.
  • A grim longer-term metric of the pandemic, number of deaths, remained high Thursday. The daily death toll had dropped to single digits in late August but surpassed 200 on Wednesday. Of the 202 deaths attributed to COVID statewide, Albany County had four, Fulton two, Montgomery three, Rensselaer two, Saratoga four and Schenectady two.
  • The Saratoga Springs City School District said it will be shifting to online instruction at Maple Avenue Middle School and Saratoga Springs High School from Jan. 15-22 due to a shortage of teachers and substitutes amid an increasing number of quarantines. Dorothy Nolan Elementary School went online for Jan. 11-15, but in-person instruction continues at other schools.

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