From left, Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton are pictured Jan. 13. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
From left, Highland County commissioners David Daniels, Jeff Duncan and Terry Britton are pictured Jan. 13. (HCP Photo/Caitlin Forsha)
Highland County commissioners Jeff Duncan, Terry Britton and David Daniels heard an update on the county’s rollout of COVID-19 vaccines during their Wednesday, Jan. 13 meeting.

Highland County Emergency Management Agency Director David Bushelman and Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner tied into the meeting via conference call, as they discussed preparation efforts as well as their expectations as vaccines expand to additional priority groups in the coming weeks.

Bushelman told commissioners that Highland County EMA and the Highland County Department are prepared to “lead the vaccination process in Highland County.”

“We have trained for years in preparation for this kind of vaccination event,” he said. “Our goals for the Phase 1B vaccinations are to save lives of the most vulnerable citizens and to get our kids back in school.”

After the meeting, Bushelman issued a press release regarding the preparation efforts, which can be read at: https://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Highland-County-EMA-director-issues-statement-on-COVID-19-vaccine-preparedness/2/20/63861.

Warner discussed vaccine availability and a schedule of their planned rollout of vaccines for the “Phase 1B” priority group. The health commissioner told commissioners that starting this vaccination process is “exciting,” after “working together as a community since March 2020” to slow the spread of the virus.

“We’ve all been trying to work to get to the point that we’re at right now, where we can take a change in philosophy in this whole thing and really go on the offensive for the first time,” Warner said. “It’s truly an exciting time for us.”

Before elaborating further on the vaccination process, Warner urged the community to have “reasonable expectations,” keeping in mind the county’s limited resources compared to the expected number of people who will want to be vaccinated. He added that it will be an effort that will take “months, not weeks,” and asked for patience.

“Across the state of Ohio and that entire Phase 1B group, we have about 2.2 million people,” Warner said. “In the group that’s 80 years and older, we’ve got about 420,000 people, and across the state, next week, we’re going to be receiving a shipment of 100,000 vaccines.

“So we’re not going to have enough to vaccinate all the 80-year-olds that are interested, and I want to make sure that we go into this next phase with the correct expectation, that we’re going to vaccinate everybody that we can as quickly as we can, but the vaccine supplies are so limited at this point that we just can’t get vaccines to everyone, as much as we’d like to do that.”

Warner outlined the following tentative schedule for Phase 1B vaccinations in Highland County:

• Week of Jan. 18: Highland County residents ages 80 and older;
• Week of Jan. 25: Highland County residents ages 75 and older, plus individuals with “severe congenital or development disorders;”
• Week of Feb. 1: Highland County residents ages 70 and older, plus adults who work in K-12 schools; and
• Week of Feb. 8: Highland County residents ages 65 and older.

“We’ve got those weeks set up to add five years as we go each week, but as we move through and add additional people, it’s going to put us further and further behind with being able to keep up with demand for vaccines,” Warner said.

For those interested in being vaccinated, Warner asked the community to watch for announcements of the pre-registration process — which is still being finalized — and to avoid calling the health department office asking for details.

“Highland County Health Department is partnering with several other health departments across Ohio to use a kind of regional scheduling system,” Warner said. “It’ll be an 800 number, a toll-free number, that we’ll distribute. People will call that number, and that’s how they’ll get on the list for clinic spots in Highland County.

“There is no need for anybody to call the health department right now. Please don’t call the health department to ask if we’re registering yet.”

Warner said the department will share information “anyway and every way we can” with the community once all the Phase 1B details are finalized.

Warner also told commissioners that the health department learned Tuesday night that the county is scheduled to “receive 300 doses of Moderna vaccine for Phase 1B populations next week.”

“This is, surprisingly, higher than what I had expected us to get, so that is some good news,” Warner said. “It’s still not going to be enough to cover everyone in our 80-year-old and older group, but it is better than what I’d anticipated we’d receive.”

Britton asked if the “300 doses” meant enough to vaccinate “300 people,” or if that was “300 vials,” which each contain multiple doses. “That’s 300 individual doses for individual people,” Warner said.

“To build on Terry’s question, with the 300 doses we get, how sure are we that we will then, within 30 days’ time, get the additional 300 doses that are required for the second shot?” Daniels asked. “Are we holding back, or are we just counting on getting our second distribution of the second shot?”

Warner said this is a “difficult question” based on conflicting guidance from the state and federal levels.

“As of right now, the state of Ohio is still telling us that we will receive second doses,” Warner said. “I got an email, actually right before this phone call, telling us that we’re going to be receiving some second-dose shipments this week to cover the next round of vaccinations.

“The federal government has announced that the Health and Human Services agency’s no longer going to be holding back second doses, second-round doses, on the federal level. They’re going to be pushing out to put first-round doses in everyone, making those available first, with the expectation that manufacturing will be able to continue to increase, and down the road we’ll be able to get those second doses and have those available.”

Warner said the department is “not skeptical, but we’re not counting those vaccines as ours until that box arrives at our office.” However, he said research indicates that “second-round doses that occur after that 28-day wait period are still effective, so if we do end up having a delay in getting our second doses out, there’s no expectation that that will restart anybody’s vaccine series.”

Daniels also told Warner that the commissioners’ office received a call with concerns about nursing home vaccinations. “To clarify things, I think you’ve said that other agencies are responsible for that,” Daniels said. “It’s my understanding that maybe the state is responsible for some of those operations. Is that correct?”

“The federal government actually established a program that connected Pfizer vaccine directly to pharmacies in each state, and those pharmacies are responsible for pushing that Pfizer vaccine to our long-term care and nursing homes and other similar licensed agencies,” Warner said. “That’s a process that happens outside of local health department control.

“CVS and Walgreens have been assigned to all of our local nursing homes, and I believe due to some shipment delays, they had to push out some nursing home vaccinations until the end of January. Most nursing homes in the county have received their first dose.”

As of Wednesday morning, Warner told commissioners that 670 individuals in Highland County have received their first doses of the COVID-19 vaccine; the remaining initial doses the department received were scheduled to be administered by the end of the day Wednesday; and another 100 doses are scheduled to be administered to individuals in the Phase 1A priority group in the coming days.

“We’re really making good progress in getting vaccine out and preparing ourselves for a move into that Phase 1B group,” Warner said.

Daniels asked how the vaccines are allocated across the state. “Is it done on a per capita basis, or how are they determining how much each county gets with the amount of stock that they’ve got?” he asked.

“The state hasn’t really told us exactly what the process is for allocation,” Warner said. “We’ve asked for those details because there are some jurisdictions in the state that seem to have gotten more vaccine than what their population would have led us to think they would have gotten. We don’t have a great answer for that.

“Population numbers are a part of that factor, but they also look at overall access to health care, and I think they also look at health equity issues to some degree.”

Warner said that another factor is the Moderna vaccine “can be shipped out in a minimum of 10 vials, so every jurisdiction that gets vaccine will at least get 100 doses.”

After Warner gave his presentation and answered questions from commissioners, Duncan thanked the health department and EMA for their efforts.

“We do appreciate what you’re doing, Jared,” Duncan said. “You and your staff have been really, really busy since March, with Dave [Bushelman] included with that. The good thing here in the county is these two agencies work very well together, so that’s been a blessing through this whole thing.”

(Editor's note: On Friday, further details on registration and locations for vaccines was released, at:
http://highlandcountypress.com/Content/In-The-News/In-The-News/Article/Highland-County-COVID-19-vaccine-provider-list-registration-information-announced/2/20/63912.)

In other discussion:

• Commissioners accepted bids for a new roof at the Rocky Fork Lake Wastewater Treatment Plant and to run electricity at the treatment plant’s new storage building.

Britton said the county received similar cost estimates for either a metal roof or a shingle roof for the treatment plant, as the building currently has a shingle roof.

“We’ve heard from people in fire services that sometimes metal roofs are more difficult to breach in case of fire,” Daniels said.

Britton moved to continue with a new shingle roof for the plant, as Duncan added that he thought they were replacing the facility’s original roof.

• Commissioners also voted to accept a $3,900 bid to replace “a deck out at the dog pound that’s deteriorated to the point it’s unusable,” according to Duncan.

• Having received no public comment or concerns, commissioners approved a liquor license transfer request from the Ohio Division of Liquor Control for Beechwood Carryout and Pizza, which recently changed ownership.

• Not discussed during the meeting, but included on the agenda, was a letter from Highland County Sheriff Donnie Barrera removing the “special deputy” status for Highland County Dog Warden Lanny Brown. However, Barrera said that “nothing will change” as far as the sheriff’s office dispatching the dog warden’s calls.

“It is with regret that I inform you that I am updating my Special Deputy roster to include officers who are authorized to work special details for the Highland County Sheriff’s Office, which ends your tenure as a Special Deputy for the Highland County Sheriff’s Office as of [Jan. 8],” Barrera wrote to Brown . “My office will continue to dispatch your calls, and nothing will change in that regard, only your title as Special Deputy. I wish you the best.”

Commissioners approved several contracts and authorized the board president to execute several other measures Wednesday:

• A letter of support for an expansion project at Adena Greenfield Medical Center. “That’s good for the Greenfield community,” Duncan said.

• A contract with the engineer’s office for 2020 County Highway Mileage Certification.

• A contract with the Montgomery County Microfilming Board for 2021 services.

• Rolling Acres Wastewater Treatment Plant repair/replacement planning applicant documents through the Ohio EPA’s Division of Environmental and Financial Assistance.

• An economic development revolving loan fund administration agreement for Jan. 1, 2021 through Dec. 31, 2023.

• An agreement with Clemans, Nelson & Associates, Inc. for legal services for Highland County Department of Job and Family Services.

Also during Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners approved the following resolutions, each by a 3-0 vote:

• A transfer from County, Transfers Out, to EMA W-75 in the amount of $30,000 for per capita match.

• A blanket resolution to cover all travel of recorder Chad McConnaughey to all state and district meetings as deemed necessary for 2021.

• A resolution authorizing the Highland County engineer to establish an alternative schedule of vacation leave and holidays for employees of the appointing authority for whom the state employment relations board has not established an appropriate bargaining unit pursuant to Section 4771.06 of the Revised Code.

• A resolution authorizing the engineer to use the existing county employee forces and proceed by “force account” in the construction, reconstruction, improvement, maintenance or repair of roads, bridges and culverts as determined by the county engineer in Highland County during 2021.

• A blanket resolution to cover all travel of engineer Chris Fauber to meetings for 2021.

• A request for reimbursement of funds from Public Children Services Fund S-03 to Public Assistance H-00 in the amount of $196,066.22 for January to March 2020 shared cost reimbursement.

• A resolution authorizing the county engineer to lease-purchase two 2021 Western Star 7600 SB Tandem trucks from Fyda Freightliner, not to exceed $450,000 Commissioners also authorized a lease-purchase agreement for a period of four years at 1.95 percent through Merchants National Bank.

• A budget modification within M-00 Youth Services in the amount of $1,042.40.

• Commissioners, per the request of Highland County Department Job and Family Services, declared a list of items no longer fit for public use.

• A reimbursement of funds from CSEA to Public Assistance, H-00 in the amount of $7,986.89 for December 2020 Child Support Shared Cost Distribution.

• An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within T-23 ADAMH/SOR in the amount of $7,191.97.

• An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within T-27 Jail Diversion FY20 in the amount of $4,849.55.

• An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within S-18 Community Probation Department SRVC in the amount of $25,040.76.

• An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within T-29 Pre-Trial Supervision in the amount of $547.18.

• An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within T-30 PSI in the amount of $271.41.

• An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within T-36 ATP in the amount of $7,570.01.

• An additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within T-37 SFY 20 Specialized Docket in the amount of $52,242.14.

• A resolution to decrease the appropriation within T-32 JRIG Incentive in the amount of $1,727.26.

• A modification within T-31 JRIG in the amount of $3,566.27 and an additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within T-31 JRIG in the amount of $9,858.77.

• A modification within T-33 Community Control in the amount of $21,568.81 and an additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within T-33 in the amount of $7,010.

• A modification within T-28 Prosecutorial Diversion in the amount of $1,497.86 and an additional appropriation from unappropriated funds within T-28 in the amount of $1,912.63.

• A resolution authorizing the Auditor of State to perform the 2020 audit.

Commissioners were scheduled to hold two separate executive sessions Wednesday regarding economic development. Duncan said there was no action anticipated from either session.