TCPH sees vaccine progress through changing landscape

Tama County Public Health Director Shannon Zoffka (left) talks with Tama Co. Human Resources Manager Tammy Wise (right) during a vaccination clinic Tuesday, Feb. 9. Wise was volunteering at the clinic Tuesday. Allison Graham/News Chronicle

Tama County Public Health (TCPH) continued vaccination clinics for Phase 1B, tier one this week.

TCPH is currently working through the first round shot for Phase 1B, tier one and second round shots for Phase 1A. Vaccination clinics are being held three to four times weekly with around 100-120 vaccinations administered at each clinic held.

Phase 1B includes school staff from the five public school districts in the county including South Tama, North Tama, Gladbrook-Reinbeck, GMG and Union.

Two staff members from Union Tim Mitchell, vocal music teacher, and Korina Carlson were among those vaccinated on Tuesday. Mitchell described the process as smooth, friendly and easy.

“They were well organized and there were no problems at all.” Carlson said.

Tracy Hathaway, a Tama County Public Health employee stands next to one of the 62 hearts in the entrance to the vaccination clinic. The hearts represent a life lost in Tama County to COVID-19. Tracy’s mom Nancy Baker died of COVID-19 in October. Allison Graham/News Chronicle

Union staff began thinking about getting the vaccination before Christmas.

“We’ve had quite a bit of time as a staff to think about getting the vaccine,” Mitchell said, “Before Christmas we were asked when it was being rolled out what would your thoughts be. We had the time to think about it and when it came time our superintendent was very good about being open about this is a process and saying if I call you be ready and let me know if you go.”

Over the last two months TCPH received roughly 1500 doses of the Moderna vaccination. They worked through the first round of Phase 1A and began Phase 1B February 1.

Vaccination clinics have been running quite smoothly according to public health staff.

TCPH has been able to utilize the former Iowa Juvenile Home which was closed by the state in 2014 and has sat vacant ever since. TCPH staff utilized the former nursing station and support unit on the ground floor of the school building.

On Friday afternoon Governor Kim Reynolds released unanticipated new guidelines that took effect Sunday at noon, largely loosening requirements that have been in place for the past several months.

The mask mandate for those spending 15 minutes or more in an indoor area within six feet proximity of another person was lifted. The limit on a number of customers in a business was ended. The cap on the number of attendees at gatherings like sporting events was also lifted.

“It was surprising, TCPH Director Shannon Zoffka said. “We’d been in the vaccine clinic all day Friday and I can’t even tell you what time I got out of here. Then you open your email and see (the new state guidelines), it was definitely surprising. We have meetings every Tuesday that are public health webinars with the State and there has been no discussion or mention of that on Tuesday. So it was a pretty big shock to see on Friday. We just don’t feel that not masking is a good decision right now where things are.”

Zoffka said there are variants of the virus that have shown up in other counties that are very contagious, though none of the newer variants have been reported in Tama County yet.

TCPH continues to recommend wearing masks, social distancing, good hand hygiene and staying home if you feel sick as measures to prevent exposure.

Zoffka’s main focus now is on the vaccine clinics, as much of the contact tracing has been taken over by the state.

The last time she was able to look at the county positivity rate Tama County was around seven or eight percent. The same range the county was experiencing in September.

“Things got pretty crazy after September,” Zoffka said. “I don’t think anyone felt that seven or eight percent was a safe zone. That was still somewhere between 30-40 cases a week. We need to get below that before I would feel comfortable loosening things up. We aren’t there.”

The process for creating a list and scheduling vaccines has been a major new task for the organization. TCPH has taken over 2000 phone calls just for the vaccination list, which is a huge increase in phone traffic for the agency.

“We are a public health agency. We didn’t have scheduling software to use so it’s starting from the ground up to build the (scheduling) process,” Zoffka said.

TCPH has been working long hours with some staff working 60+ hours each week in order to make the clinics happen.

“It’s an overwhelming experience but I think overall we are doing a really good job,” Zoffka said.

While vaccinations have largely taken over focus for the organization, normal job duties carry on.

“Our nurses are noticing that if we are at a vaccine clinic and the home health care nurses are still back at the office doing those duties, they can hardly get anything done because the phone constantly rings and that is stressful,” Zoffka said. “It’s stressful for everybody that answers the phone because it’s non-stop.”

There have been 62 deaths in Tama County, which according to Zoffka, is the fifth highest death per capita county rate in the state. One of those deaths hit very close to home for a TCPH employee.

Tracy Hathaway’s mom Nancy Baker contracted COVID-19 while she was in the hospital and died in early October.

Hathaway honored her mom by writing Nancy’s name on one of the hearts hanging inside the doorway of the temporary clinic. Each heart represents a life lost to COVID-19 in Tama County.

TCPH announced Sunday they are expecting to receive 300 vaccine doses per week through February. With over 2,000 names on the list for people 65 and older, the process is going to take time. TCPH encourages everyone to remain patient.

Individuals age 65 or older, or those within the Phase 1A and 1B priority populations that wish to receive a COVID-19 vaccine but have not been placed on the waiting list are encouraged to call the county public health department at (641) 484-4788. If you are interested in volunteering at a clinic email health@tamacounty.org.