For nearly two decades, I have called St. Lucie County, Florida home. For 12 of those years I have had the pleasure to serve as a County Commissioner. I have seen our residents navigate through a variety of obstacles from back-to-back hurricanes in 2004 to the housing market crash that drove unemployment up to 15% in our community. For the past 10 months, I’ve watched our employees, businesses and residents struggle to understand an unseen threat in the global pandemic that is COVID-19.
In our community of roughly 328,000 residents, COVID-19 has claimed 454 lives and created more than 17,000 cases. Unfortunately, St. Lucie County’s positivity rate continues to climb, reaching as high as 16% in recent weeks, despite ongoing mitigation efforts and messaging to the community.
So when COVID-19 vaccines were approved and began rolling down from the federal government to the states, I became hopeful that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. But that tunnel is long. We still have a way to go.
COVID-19 hits home
Locally, St. Lucie County, through the Florida Department of Health, hospitals, and a few medical providers, we have provided vaccinations to roughly 12,000 people in health care personnel with direct patient contact and persons 65 years of age and older (as of Jan. 15). That’s a fraction of the more than 80,000 residents that we have over the age of 65. But as soon as we can acquire vaccines, we have plans to get them into people’s arms.
The good news is people trust the science behind the vaccines. We have roughly 40,000 people signed up on waiting lists. We know that list will grow once the priority list for the vaccine is expanded to include anyone who wants to get it. Feedback from the four vaccination events that St. Lucie County held have been extremely positive.
We understand that more needs to be done. Once the production of the vaccine reaches the demand, I have confidence that St. Lucie County has the plans and resources in place to vaccinate the majority of our residents to help eradicate this threat. With the help of CARES Act funding, we have purchased personal protective equipment to help with mass vaccination clinics and sub-zero freezers to handle large shipments of Pfizer vaccine.
Getting vaccines into arms
Through the events we’ve already held, we’ve worked with the sheriff office, St. Lucie County Fire District, nursing students from Indian River State College, medical students from Florida State University and received medical support from the state’s incident management team.
County employees have been reassigned from their regular duties to help direct traffic and serve as support staff for these events. Even dating back to last March when this virus first showed up, we shifted staff from closed facilities like the libraries to food banks to help provide meals to our residents struggling with temporary unemployment. More than $55 million in CARES Act funding has been distributed back into this community through direct assistance to businesses and individuals.
The biggest challenge is planning for the unknown. Unfortunately, local and state governments do not have detailed timelines on when additional vaccines or federal funds will arrive. But when they do, we will work with our community partners to make sure those resources are available.
It’s my hope that in the coming weeks the federal government refines the distribution process to develop a clear, concise message and organizational structure necessary to provide states with information and resources. There needs to be a consistent process with dependable supply chain for state and local governments and medical providers so that we may implement a quick and orderly effort to protect our residents.
Just like our residents, we as a local government need to continue to be patient, but proactive.
Chris Dzadovsky is the chair of the St. Lucie County (Florida) Commission.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: COVID-19 vaccine: St. Lucie County, Florida,