Grand Forks Public Health staff plan to take their countywide COVID-19 vaccination push to the streets -- literally.
As the city moves away from its one-stop-shop approach to vaccinations, and as the rate at which Grand Forks County residents are getting those shots slows, health department workers plan to set up a “mobile vaccination clinic” at different spots around town a few times each week. At the roving clinic, the thinking goes, residents who might not be particularly inclined or readily able to receive a coronavirus vaccine can get one as they go about their day-to-day lives.
“A new strategy to meet people where they are, where it’s convenient,” Debbie Swanson, the department’s director, told the Herald. “We’re really looking at mobile sites that are going to be available all over the community, within a walking distance of most residents of the community.”
The health department plans to conduct the mobile clinics out of a trailer it purchased in late 2020. At a “soft” opening for the mobile clinic on Thursday, May 20, health department staff vaccinated 41 people at the Home of Economy store on North Washington Street.
Swanson said the department has an open invitation of sorts for other “community partners” -- pharmacies, hospitals, and so on -- to use the clinic to dole out vaccine doses, too, but so far none have taken up that offer.
“Some of them didn’t have the opportunity to vaccinate large numbers of people in the beginning because the vaccine was centrally located,” Swanson said. “And so if they would like that opportunity for engagement with the community and to vaccinate more, we’re willing to accept their help and we would certainly compensate them accordingly.”
The clinic is one of two changes in the works at the health department. The other is a series of revisions to the Grand Forks Health Officer’s Dashboard that are designed to account for the growing prevalence of coronavirus vaccines.
“We want to make sure that the dashboard is reflective of the current community situation,” Michael Dulitz, the health department’s COVID-19 data and analytics leader, said. “As the number of fully vaccinated people goes up, the pool of people that would be most susceptible to getting COVID decreases, and so that does change the way that we look at COVID and look at mitigation measures.”
The new dashboard is set to be fundamentally similar to the current one: both use coronavirus figures and self-assessments by Altru to assemble a daily, countywide score that corresponds to a color-coded scale designed to indicate the risk the virus poses locally. More cases and a shortage of hospital beds means a higher score and a more worrisome risk indication; fewer cases and readily available beds means a lower score and a less worrisome risk assessment.
Where the new dashboard will differ most noticeably is the attention it pays to vaccination rates, countywide. The new dashboard will subtract from its score the percentage of Grand Forks County residents who’ve been fully vaccinated, a move that would push most recent scores close to zero and the green, “low” risk assessment.
The assessments themselves are also set to change, too. Because vaccinations will decrease the scores the dashboard spits out, the range of scores that indicate a red, “severe” risk will be expanded at the expense of those that indicate an orange, “high” risk.
And the formula that produces those scores is also changing: less weight will be placed upon recent tests, positivity rates, and the rate at which new cases pop up, and more weight will be placed on the prevalence of COVID-ready beds at Altru. The number of new cases per capita, which carries the most weight in the health department’s formula, is set to stay the same.
“These numbers made a lot of sense when we didn’t have a vaccine,” Dr. Joel Walz, the county’s health officer, said Friday. “But now we’re seeing less numbers and we’re testing less people because the vaccine is working. If, I think, we stayed in the old model, it just wouldn’t be as useful of a tool as it had been.”