FILE - In this Dec. 14, 2020, file photo, University of Washington Medical Center Montlake campus pharmacy administration resident Derek Pohlmeyer, left, and UWMC pharmacy director Michael Alwan transport a box containing Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines toward a waiting vehicle headed to the UW Medical Center's other hospital campuses in Seattle. (Mike Siegel/The Seattle Times via AP, Pool, File)

Vaccinations reach nursing homes as California faces crisis

Vaccinations reach nursing homes as California faces crisis

POMPANO BEACH, Fla. — The first COVID-19 vaccinations are underway at U.S. nursing homes, where the virus has killed more than 110,000 people, even as the nation struggles to contain a surge so alarming it has spurred California to dispense thousands of body bags and line up refrigerated morgue trucks.

With the rollout of shots picking up speed Wednesday, lawmakers in Washington closed in on a long-stalled $900 billion coronavirus relief package that would send direct payments of around $600 to most Americans. Meanwhile, the U.S. appeared to be days away from adding a second vaccine to its arsenal.

At the same time, a major snowstorm pushing its way into the Northeast raised concern it could disrupt distribution of the first vaccine.

Nursing home residents in Florida began receiving shots Wednesday, after nearly 2,000 such vaccinations were administered in West Virginia on Tuesday. Thousands more are scheduled there in the coming days. Other states are expected to follow soon.

The elderly and infirm in long-term care have been among the most vulnerable to the virus and, together with health workers, are first in line to get the limited, initial supplies of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and Germany’s BioNTech. Nursing home residents and workers account for more than one-third of the nation’s 300,000 or so confirmed deaths from COVID-19.

In Florida, the longtime retirement haven whose 141,000 nursing home residents are the second most of any state behind California, eagerness to get the vaccine was mixed with some anxiety.

“I hope it will help me from getting COVID,” said 88-year-old retired schoolteacher Vera Leip, a resident of John Knox Village near Fort Lauderdale. “I don’t know anything about it, but I would prefer not to have it.”

The home is not requiring its employees to get the vaccine, and only 80 of the 200 staffers in the skilled nursing facility volunteered for the first wave, said Mark Rayner, its director of health services. He said many of those declining the shot are African-American and don’t trust it, given the nation’s history of medical experimentation on Black people.

“They are frightened,” he said. “There is that culture line even as much as we educate them.”

West Virginia, with one of the oldest and unhealthiest populations in America, is working with small and local pharmacies to reach nursing homes across the heavily rural state, leapfrogging states that are relying on a partnership with the CVS and Walgreens drugstore chains to kick in any day now.

Marty Wright, head of the West Virginia Health Care Association, which represents nursing homes and assisted living communities, said the state’s pharmacies expect to get 7,000 doses into arms by the end of the week.

The developments come as as the crisis grows increasingly dire by many measures.

The U.S. recorded over 3,000 deaths on Tuesday for the third time in less than a week, easily eclipsing the peaks seen last spring. New cases are running at over 212,000 a day on average. And the number of Americans in the hospital with COVID-19 hit another all-time high Tuesday of about 113,000.

California is distributing 5,000 body bags mostly to the hard-hit Los Angeles and San Diego areas and has 60 refrigerated trailers standing by as makeshift morgues. The state is averaging 163 virus deaths per day, up from 63 just two weeks ago.

Many California hospitals are running out of space in intensive care wards, as the state records an average of about 32,500 new virus cases a day. That is up from about 14,000 a day at the start of the month.

“Our hospitals are under siege and our models show no end in sight,” said Los Angeles County Health Services Director Dr. Christina Ghaly.

In Fresno County, officials said just a few ICU beds remained available and were filling rapidly. To keep up, the county’s hospital system has contracted with a Virginia company to supply doctors, nurses and others to staff a temporary 50-bed facility that will start receiving patients by the end of the week.

In Orange County, health officials planned to send large tents to four hospitals to help accommodate patients.

Bruce Barton, EMS director for Riverside County, said a couple of hospitals hit capacity in the past week and local officials had to step in to take some bodies.

Hospitals are also under pressure in Arizona, where a record 92% of beds are filled, nearly half of them with people with COVID-19.

“That’s a staggering statistic when you think about the things that can afflict people,” said Dr. Joshua LaBaer, executive director of Arizona State University’s Biodesign Institute. “And it certainly means that hospitals at this point are having to make decisions about keeping people out of the hospital to keep beds available for the COVID patients.”

In the nation’s capital, congressional leaders said they hoped to seal a deal as early as Wednesday on a package that would extend aid to individuals and businesses and help ship vaccines to millions. It would include enhanced federal unemployment benefits and another round of stimulus checks.

On Thursday, a government advisory panel will consider whether to endorse emergency use of a second vaccine, made by Moderna.

Meanwhile, officials supervising distribution of the first vaccine said they didn’t expect the winter storm to disrupt distribution.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the government is tracking the vaccine shipments precisely, has staffers in place to receive them and believes the companies transporting them — FedEx and UPS — have the expertise to navigate the storm.

___

Associated Press writers Cuneyt Dil in Charleston, West Virginia; Olga R. Rodriguez in Fresno, California; Bob Christie in Phoenix; John Antczak in Los Angeles and Andrew Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.

Adam Geller And Terry Spencer, The Associated Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

 

Nurse Christine Philips, left, administers the Pfizer vaccine to Vera Leip, 88, a resident of John Knox Village, Wednesday, Dec. 16, 2020, in Pompano Beach, Fla. Nursing home residents and health care workers in Florida began receiving the Pfizer vaccine this week. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Just Posted

City of Red Deer says its roundabouts have sharply reduced the number of injury collisions at a pair of busy intersections. Alberta Transportation wants to incorporate five roundabouts into plans to twin Highway 11 from Sylvan Lake to Rocky Mountain House. Photo by PAUL COWLEY/Advocate staff
Highway 11 roundabouts will increase safety based on Red Deer’s experience

Injury collisions sharply reduced at roundabout intersections in city

As of Friday, Alberta has under 10,000 active COVID-19 cases. (Image courtesy CDC)
One new COVID-19 death in Red Deer, Alberta under 10,000 active cases

Alberta reported an additional 643 COVID-19 cases Friday. The province now has… Continue reading

About 110 students from Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools participated in March for Life rally in Edmonton May 9. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Red Deer high school has COVID-19 case

St. Joseph High School in Red Deer confirmed a positive COVID-19 case… Continue reading

Lacombe High School logo.
Two more COVID-19 cases at Lacombe Composite High School

Lacombe Composite High School confirmed two more positive COVID-19 cases at the… Continue reading

World Juniors’ referee Mike Langin makes a called during the Canada vs. Slovakia at the 2021 World Junior Championship at Rogers Place in Edmonton, Dec. 27, 2020. (Photo by Matthew Murnaghan/Hockey Canada)
Former Sylvan Lake man lives his dream at World Junior Championships

Mike Langin was one the 25 Canadian officials who worked during the tournament

Former Alberta Premier Rachel Notley shakes hands with Joel Ward, former Red Deer College President and CEO, as Notley announces that the college is on the path to grant degrees. Red Deer-South MLA Jason Stephan says university status is not a necessary condition for offering degrees. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Future of Red Deer University increasingly uncertain

MLA’s college update says RDC more like SAIT and NAIT than a university

There are two confirmed COVID-19 cases at Red Deer College. Photo by Mamta Lulla/Advocate staff
Central Albertans were promised a university

Central Albertans were promised a university

FILE - Baseball Hall of Famer Hank Aaron sits for a portrait after receiving his COVID-19 vaccination at the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, in this Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, file photo. Hank Aaron, who endured racist threats with stoic dignity during his pursuit of Babe Ruth but went on to break the career home run record in the pre-steroids era, died early Friday, Jan. 22, 2021. He was 86. The Atlanta Braves said Aaron died peacefully in his sleep. No cause of death was given. (AP Photo/Ron Harris, File)
Hank Aaron, baseball’s one-time home run king, dies at 86

Hank Aaron, baseball’s one-time home run king, dies at 86

Miami Heat guard Duncan Robinson (55) passes the ball around Toronto Raptors guard Fred VanVleet (23) during the second half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 22, 2021, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)
Powell, Raptors regroup after blowing lead, beat Heat 101-81

Powell, Raptors regroup after blowing lead, beat Heat 101-81

Tavares scores winner on power play, Leafs beat Oilers 4-2

Tavares scores winner on power play, Leafs beat Oilers 4-2

David Shoemaker, chief executive officer of the Canadian Olympic Committee, speaks during the Olympic Partnership kick off event at the Sobey's office in Mississauga, Ont. on Monday, October 7, 2019. Shoemaker says the IOC remains committed to staging the Summer Games in Tokyo this summer.THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
Canada’s Olympic athletes try to tune out reports six months from Games

Canada’s Olympic athletes try to tune out reports six months from Games

Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley lifts the Voyageurs Cup after beating Vancouver Whitecaps 5-2 to win the Canadian Championship Final in Toronto on Wednesday, August 15, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Forge FC-Toronto FC Canadian Championship final to be played before April 6

Forge FC-Toronto FC Canadian Championship final to be played before April 6

Canada's Penny Oleksiak reacts after her heat of the women's 50m butterfly at the World Swimming Championships in Gwangju, South Korea, Friday, July 26, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Lee Jin-man
Penny Oleksiak, Kylie Masse among six swimmers named early to Canadian Olympic team

Penny Oleksiak, Kylie Masse among six swimmers named early to Canadian Olympic team

Ontario skip Glenn Howard watches a rock as they play Newfoundland and Labrador in draw 15 action at the Tim Hortons Brier curling championship at Mile One Centre in St. John's on Thursday, March 9, 2017. Curling Canada has decided to use the national ranking system as its selection criteria for the final wild-card berths at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts and Tim Hortons Brier.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Canadian rankings to be used to determine final wild-card spots at Scotties and Brier

Canadian rankings to be used to determine final wild-card spots at Scotties and Brier

Most Read