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COVID-19 Morning Report

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Lee County Manager Responds to Criticism of COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout

Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais found himself on defense, Wednesday, after images of senior citizens lined up for hours and camping overnight for the chance to get an initial COVID-19 vaccine dose dominated local headlines.

With low temperatures reaching the mid-50’s overnight Monday, vaccination hopefuls over 65-years-old bundled up and brought lawn chairs to sites in Lee county for the hours-long wait to receive a first dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine. Public reaction to the wait time and seniors out in the cold was swift and angry.

“I got a lot of hate mail in the last couple of days. I don’t think I’ve been called incompetent so many times in a string of emails ever in my career,” Desjarlais said.

He went on to explain the decision making and lead-up to the county’s vaccine rollout, saying there was little information in the lead up to vaccine doses becoming available in Lee County.

“I mean, all of a sudden with very little warning the vaccines are starting to make their way into Florida and all of the other states,” Desjarlais said.

Administered by the Florida Department of Health in each of the state’s 67 counties, DOH officials in Lee County decided late last week to look to the County for additional logistical support. Desjarlais says he first got involved Saturday.

“That’s when we really got to work in earnest. Saturday. That’s when we started standing this thing up. So now what?” he said.

With no appointment system in place, seniors started planning where to pitch their tents.

“The biggest criticism that we’ve gotten so far has been, ‘We’ve got people camping out all night. Why don’t we have a reservation system?’”

Desjarlais says internet-based appointment systems have too many technical issues.

“Every county that’s done it so far; their website crashes,” Desjarlais said.

Neighboring Collier and Charlotte Counties have not reported any problems with their reservation systems. Desjarlais said that appointments would make it more difficult to move people through quickly.

“I’m not embarrassed. I’m actually pretty proud of the way that it’s gone,” he said.

Concerns have come up that long lines of maskless people waiting for a vaccine could become super-spreader events. Desjarlais maintains that wearing masks, or camping out in the cold are personal decisions for the seniors currently eligible for inoculation under this first phase of the vaccine rollout.

“We told people, don’t camp out, don’t stand in line, but we’re also not going to arrest them if they do. They can do that if they so choose,” Desjarlais said.

He added that the county plans to have a schedule for next week’s vaccine locations and times on the county’s web site sometime this weekend.

Gov. DeSantis Urges Patience Amid Demand for Vaccinations

Governor Ron DeSantis asked Floridians, Wednesday, to be patient as COVID-19 vaccines are rolled out for the state’s seniors. The process is already creating a rush and placing a substantial burden on hospitals that play a key role in carrying out the plan.

Last week, DeSantis departed from federal guidelines and decided to make people 65 and older a priority for vaccinations, as opposed to “essential” workers such as teachers, first responders and grocery-store employees.

Taking that step has created a surge of demand, including the sight of older residents waiting overnight in Southwest Florida to be among the first to get vaccinated. There also have been reports of jammed phone lines and overwhelmed websites as people try to get appointments for shots.

Speaking in Palm Beach County Wednesday, DeSantis urged patience given the state’s limited supply of the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We don’t have enough vaccine currently on hand for all four million plus senior citizens in the state of Florida. Now, we will get there, but it will not happen overnight,” said DeSantis.

“So, please be patient. We want to get as many people access to this as soon as possible.”

A large part of the job to vaccinate seniors has fallen to hospitals and some county health departments.

Large hospitals are just now shifting their focus away from front-line health care workers and toward the 4.6 million residents age 65 and older, as DeSantis directed in a Dec. 23 executive order.

Florida Health Officials Report 13,871 New COVID-19 Cases & 137 Deaths Wednesday

State health officials reported 13,871 new cases of COVID-19, Wednesday, for a total of 1,306,123 infections.

The Florida Department of Health also reported 137 new coronavirus-related deaths, Dec. 30, for a total of 21,857 total fatalities since the start of the pandemic.

The latest single day positivity rate reported by the Florida Division of Emergency Management dropped to 10.03% on Tuesday following a single-day spike up to more than 26% the previous day.

As of late Wednesday, state officials report 175,465 initial doses of a coronavirus vaccine had been administered throughout Florida.

The Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration reports that as of Thursday morning there are a total of 539 patients hospitalized with a primary diagnosis of COVID-19 in Charlotte, Collier, Hendry, Lee, Manatee and Sarasota Counties combined.

Lee Health reported Wednesday that the number of patients being treated for COVID-19 throughout the health system's hospitals has increased to 173.

Currently 70% of Lee Health's ventilator capacity and 11% of ICU rooms are available. The health system reports having 11 COVID-19 patients on ventilators and 34 COVID-19 positive patients in intensive care.

COVID-19 Vaccination Distribution in Sarasota/Manatee Counties

Just minutes after the Florida Department of Health in Sarasota County opened its last round of COVID-19 vaccine doses, all the available appointments to frontline healthcare workers and people 65 and older were taken.

The next COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Sarasota runs Thursday, Dec. 31 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. with 400 available doses.

The Herald Tribune reports, the vaccine clinic is at the William L. Little Health and Human Services building on Ringling Blvd. and that future sites will be announced as more doses of the vaccine become available.

Eligible residents can visit sarasotahealth.org to schedule an appointment, download consent forms, and find more information. Those unable to print their ticket confirming their appointment can show it on their cellphone at the vaccine distribution site.

Health officials in neighboring Manatee County have received 3,500 doses of the Moderna Vaccine, which is the same number of doses Sarasota received. Like many other Florida counties, demand for the vaccine in Manatee is higher than available supply. Inoculations in Manatee began Wednesday at the Public Safety Center in Bradenton. Starting Friday, Jan. 1, the drive-thru vaccine site will move to Bennett Park on Cypress Creek Blvd. in Bradenton.

COVID-19 Vaccination Distribution in Charlotte County

In Charlotte County, health officials are also administering initial doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to high-risk frontline medical workers and people 65 and older by appointment only. A drive-thru vaccine clinic, Wednesday at Harold Avenue Regional Park in Port Charlotte marked the only this month that COVID-19 inoculations will be performed in Charlotte County.

Vaccine clinics in Charlotte are slated to operate Jan. 4-8, and appointments for those dates are already filled up. However, officials recommend residents check back regularly because they'll be adding more vaccination dates and locations as more doses become available.

People in Charlotte County can check for available appointment times through the Community Organizers Active in a Disaster organization's website: COADFL.org.

Collier County’s COVID-19 Vaccination Plans

The Florida Department of Health in Collier County has received a supply of COVID-19 vaccine and will begin distributing it on Sunday, January 3. Kristine Hollingsworth of the Department of Health said that the slight delay is to allow for proper training of staff.

"To ensure that staff is trained to give the vaccine—and remember we are in between holidays. We had to actually call staff back from vacation and holiday to ensure that we have enough staff to give the vaccine," she said.

The vaccine will be available by appointment to healthcare personnel with direct patient contact and people over 65. Find the link at collier.floridahealth.gov and click on COVID-19 vaccine information to make an appointment. Each person will need to print out a separate ticket for the vaccine. Bring that as well as ID. Healthcare staff needs to bring proof of that.

"It could be licensure, hospital ID, anything like that," she said.

Again, to make an appointment, go to collier.floridahealth.gov and click on COVID-19 vaccine information or see the schedule and links below.

Here is the schedule of vaccination sites in Collier County:

January 3, 2021, 9:00am-1:00pm: Florida Department of Health in Collier County, 3339 E. Tamiami Trail, Naples, 34112.

  • Drive-Thru.
  • Appointment made on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/134575473865
  • Healthcare personnel with direct patient contact and persons 65+.
    • Healthcare personnel with direct patient contact will be asked to provide identification indicating they are healthcare staff.
  • Face masks must be worn while waiting in vehicles.
  • referral needed. No cost. Clients will be asked to complete a registration form prior to receiving the vaccine.
  • Lightning, heavy rain, or gusty winds can slow operations or shut down the site.

January 5, 2021, 9:00am-1:00pm: Winn Dixie Mall, 1500 Lake Trafford Road, Immokalee, 34142.

  • Walk-Up.
  • Appointment made on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/134576272253
  • Healthcare personnel with direct patient contact and persons 65+.
    • Healthcare personnel with direct patient contact will be asked to provide identification indicating they are healthcare staff.
  • Face masks must be worn while waiting.
  • No referral needed. No cost. Clients will be asked to complete a registration form prior to receiving the vaccine.
  • Lightning, heavy rain, or gusty winds can slow operations or shut down the site.

January 5, 2021, 9:00am-1:00pm: Winn Dixie Mall, 1500 Lake Trafford Road, Immokalee, 34142.

  • Walk-Up.
  • Appointment made on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/134576272253
  • Healthcare personnel with direct patient contact and persons 65+.
    • Healthcare personnel with direct patient contact will be asked to provide identification indicating they are healthcare staff.
  • Face masks must be worn while waiting.
  • No referral needed. No cost. Clients will be asked to complete a registration form prior to receiving the vaccine.
  • Lightning, heavy rain, or gusty winds can slow operations or shut down the site.

January 6, 2021, 9:00am-1pm: North Collier Regional Park Soccer Fields: 15000 Livingston Road, Naples, 34109.

  • Drive-Thru.
  • Appointment made on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/134576882077
  • Healthcare personnel with direct patient contact and persons 65+.
    • Healthcare personnel with direct patient contact will be asked to provide identification indicating they are healthcare staff.
  • Face masks must be worn while waiting in vehicles.
  • No referral needed. No cost. Clients will be asked to complete a registration form prior to receiving the vaccine.
  • Lightning, heavy rain, or gusty winds can slow operations or shut down the site.

January 7, 2021, HEALTHCARE PERSONNEL WITH DIRECT PATIENT CONTACT ONLY: Florida Department of Health in Collier County, 3339 E. Tamiami Trail, Naples, 34112.

  • Healthcare personnel with direct patient contact by appointment only. Call 239-252-6220.
    • Healthcare personnel with direct patient contact will be asked to provide identification indicating they are healthcare staff.
  • Face masks must be worn while waiting.
  • No referral needed. No cost. Clients will be asked to complete a registration form prior to receiving the vaccine.
  • Lightning, heavy rain, or gusty winds can slow operations or shut down the site.

January 8, 2021, 9:00am-1:00pm. North Collier Regional Park Soccer Fields: 15000 Livingston Road, Naples, 34109.

  • Drive-Thru.
  • Appointment made on Eventbrite: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/134577361511
  • Healthcare personnel with direct patient contact and persons 65+.
    • Healthcare personnel with direct patient contact will be asked to provide identification indicating they are healthcare staff.
  • Face masks must be worn while waiting.
  • No referral needed. No cost. Clients will be asked to complete a registration form prior to receiving the vaccine.
  • Lightning, heavy rain, or gusty winds can slow operations or shut down the site.

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Tom Urban is the Assignment Manager for .
Andrea Perdomo is a reporter for WGCU News. She started her career in public radio as an intern for the Miami-based NPR station, WLRN. Andrea graduated from Florida International University, where she was a contributing writer for the student-run newspaper, The Panther Press, and was also a member of the university's Society of Professional Journalists chapter.