Judy D.J. Ellich and Madolin Edwards Daily American writers
The age group of 12 and older will soon be the top focus of Highlands Health of Johnstown.
“We are contacting the schools to offer an educational program as well as COVID clinics to the students and parents,” said Rosalie Danchanko, executive director.
“It is very important to get the shots in the arms of everyone.”
All Pennsylvanians ages 12 and older are eligible.
“We are seeing a slight increase in the number of COVID-19 cases in children,” said Sarah Deist, communications director, Somerset UPMC.
Experts on vaccines for kids
Dr. John Williams, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, said during a recent media conference that this is a risky phase of the pandemic for children.
“We are seeing in increase in school children with COVID-19, but it’s not dramatic,” he said “It’s too soon to say if wearing masks will work locally, but the national data shows a lot of kids going to school unmasked is increasing the number of kids with COVID.”
In Somerset County from Sept. 2-8, there were fewer than five cases in the 0-9 age group and seven cumulative. In the 5-18 age group, there were 38 cases between Sept. 2-8 and 69 cumulative.
The case counts presented are total in these age groups and are not necessarily cases exposed in school, early learning or child care settings.
Williams said in unvaccinated teens, hospitalization is 10 times higher than in those who are vaccinated.
Those who had the infection previously should still get vaccinated, he added.
“Children are at a higher risk of becoming infected now for two reasons: relaxing mitigations and the Delta variant. They do get sick with COVID and they can transmit,” he said.
“Protect children with masks and vaccines. Children under 12 can’t be vaccinated, but their parents can.”
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as of Monday, Sept. 13, Pennsylvania ranked fifth among all 50 states for total doses administered. Apprxoimately 67.2% of Pennsylvanians ages 18 and older are fully vaccinated.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, as of noon Friday there were 5,198 additional positive cases of COVID-19 in the commonwealth, bringing the statewide total to 1,370,247. There are 2,337 individuals hospitalized with COVID-19. Of that number, 589 patients are in the intensive care unit with COVID-19.
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As of 11:59 p.m. Thursday, here were 44 new deaths identified by the Pennsylvania death registry, reported for a total of 28,812 deaths attributed to COVID-19.
Dr. Rachel Sackrowitz, chief medical officer of UPMC’s ICU Service Center, said that 20 to 50 patients being admitted at UPMC are needing critical care.
“They are 10 years younger than they were at the peak of 2020. The majority are not vaccinated,” she said.
She said the risk of being hospitalized is 29 times higher for those unvaccinated. This wave is largely preventable, she said.
“We have three highly effective free, safe vaccines,” she said. “Breakthroughs in COVID in a vaccinated person is rare and when it does happen they are fighting a bad cold at home.”
According to Williams, the vaccine is better than natural immunity.
“The variants can escape immunity,” he said. “How good are the antibodies going to be later?”
Pennsylvanians with questions about the vaccination process can call the Department of Health hotline at 1-877-724-3258.
“Currently, 10% of our inpatient census is COVID-19 positive patients,” said Kristen Hudak, Marketing Communications Director of Conemaugh Health System.
Conemaugh is still providing monoclonal antibody therapy for treatment of non-hospitalized patients with a mild or moderate case of COVID-19. The therapy is available to adults and adolescents 12 years of age or older who are at high risk for developing severe COVID-19 symptoms, she said.
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To obtain the treatment requires an order from a health care provider, Hudak said.
How to get a COVID-19 test
Meanwhile, there is an increase in those wanting to be tested for COVID.
“They are seeing an influx of people coming to the emergency department just for a COVID-19 test,” Deist said.
According to the Department of Health, viral tests check samples from a respiratory system (such as swabs of the inside of the nose) to tell if that person currently has an infection with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. Some tests may be available at the testing site in less than an hour. Other tests must be sent to a laboratory to analyze, a process that takes one or two days once received by the lab.
Patients can talk to a health care provider, such as UPMC Somerset, or use the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention self-checker to determine if a test for COVID is needed.
Testing sites may require pre-registration, or a doctor’s prescription, in order for a test to be taken. Check with the testing site before going to one of the testing locations.
Some commercial testing sites are able to provide a prescription, as well as perform the diagnostic test on-site.
To locate a nearby testing site, visit https://pema.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=1a4c139769d646839e1549bcb6a668f1.
“We encourage anyone who feels they need or want a test, especially if they think they have been exposed to COVID-19 or are experiencing symptoms, to take advantage of the free COVID-19 testing clinics closest to them,” acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam said in a media release Friday.
Beam noted that this includes fully vaccinated individuals who are experiencing symptoms.
Getting the word out
With the spread of the Delta variant across the country, Conemaugh has intensified its efforts to educate the community about the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine, which the heath care community believe is the best defense against the virus.
“We recently unveiled a public service announcement with several of our leading physicians explaining the development of the vaccine and encouraging vaccination,” Hudak said.
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At Highland Health, they are ramping up to prepare for mass inoculations.
“We have been giving shots to those who are immune compromised, and if there are leftover shots we have created a waiting list of individuals requesting the third shot,” Danchanko said.
The clinic has gone to fairs, jubilees and community events including football games. Danchano said that upcoming events include the PotatoFest on Sept. 25 and an event to promote awareness to COVID vaccination on Sunday in St. Michael.
Individuals can go to the Highlands Health website and register for their first, second or third shot, which are given at the clinic every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. They may also call the office at 814-534-6242 and leave a message on the COVID line.
Clinic volunteers are beginning to again give vaccines to homebound patients. CamTran is to start to transporting the volunteers Oct. 1.
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“We feel we are more prepared to do the vaccinations this time,” Danchanko said. “Once our supply is confirmed, and the vaccine is opened to everyone, we will use our Nightingale Calling System to notify individuals of shot locations.”
Tableland Community Action is working to assist in reaching the Somerset homebound individuals, she said.
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