COVID-19 endemic: hoping for change

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Tri-County Health Care has gone through some noticeable changes over the past weeks. Some plexiglass dividers have come down, visitors and guests have been invited back into the hospital setting, everything seems to be slowly returning to normal. Are we entering the COVID-19 endemic phase?

As the winter cold has left us, so has COVID-19 for the most part. According to the Centers for Disease Control, our area and the entire nation have seen a steady decline of COVID-19. On February 3, the CDC data tracker listed 351,465 new cases of COVID-19 in the United States. Less than two months later, that number has dropped to 9,011 new cases on March 20. Also, on February 3, the CDC data tracker showed 2,693 deaths, but on March 20, that number plummeted to 77 new deaths. At least for now, we are in a far better place going into spring.

COVID-19 Endemic

The drop in community prevalence has many throwing their masks away and returning to bars, concerts, and shopping centers. The decline has many experts speculating if the spread of omicron was the precursor to an endemic phase of the virus. An endemic phase would imply that COVID-19 is still present but localized to certain areas. Health organizations have not officially announced a transition to an endemic phase of the virus. People should still be taking precautions like avoiding crowds and social distancing.

The calm after the storm

We all want the pandemic to end, but we shouldn’t drop our guard just yet. Of course, breathe a sigh of relief. It was a hard winter fraught with illness and death. We all deserve some time to relax and hope for a better future, but we have to be steadfast in our mitigation to get there.

According to statistics gathered by the Joint Commission, on a county level, we have seen a slight increase in community spread. This could only be the natural rising and falling of data or a signal of the next surge. Over the last two years, we have experienced intense waves followed by lull periods. These moments of decreased activity were a welcome change of pace but ultimately fleeting. Cases rocketed upward only a short time later.

Active adjustments

Tri-County Health Care holds patient safety above all else. We have reformulated our standards of mitigation to offer increased protection while allowing for a certain level of convenience in our care. Our level of mitigation will rise and fall with the community prevalence of COVID-19. Numbers are on the downswing, so we are opening up, but we are ready to swiftly reinstate the same level of mitigation techniques in the event of a surge.

The only way to end the pandemic is with collective effort. Mitigation needs to be at the forefront of our efforts. COVID-19 vaccination needs to be fully embraced if we are to finally end the pandemic. As of now, Wadena County is far below the vaccination rate required to achieve herd immunity. We are at 47.3 percent, according to the Minnesota Department of Health statistics prepared on March 17. 70 percent of our county residents need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

What do you think?

Do you think COVID-19 will ever end? Ask yourself that question and be reasonable in your answer. Do you think we are entering a COVID-19 endemic phase? We are curious about your thoughts on the current state of our pandemic. Feel free to share in the comment section.

To schedule vaccination, call 218-631-3510. Patients can also receive the COVID-19 vaccine during a regular appointment with their provider. Please follow Tri-County Health Care on social media or visit TCHC.org/covidvaccine for regular updates.


National Immunization Awareness Month: Getting the jab!

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The COVID-19 pandemic has dominated every aspect of life. For the initial months of the pandemic, we were at the mercy of the virus while it targeted people in every phase of life. The pandemic and its economic and social factors forced a race for a vaccine. After months of testing, the vaccines emerged giving everyone hope for a return to a normal life. However, vaccine hesitancy continues to be an ongoing issue. Fortunately, In the face of the delta variant, vaccinations are increasing. August is National Immunization Awareness Month and now is a perfect opportunity for a fresh start.

We as a society have seen the constant news coverage and public addresses. All of this information can lead to mental exhaustion but we cannot lose sight of our goal. For a time, we removed the masks and ventured out, only to put the masks right back on. Understandably, this is depressing but we do have hope. We still have the best weapon against COVID-19 and its current variants. August is the time to take a fresh look at the COVID-19 pandemic as a problem that we can solve with medical science and solidarity.

Use this blog as a point of reflection. As we gear up for the new school year, sports and August gatherings, just know those things would be safer after getting the vaccine.

Voices of TCHC staff

Its important to hear a variety of perspective on such a pressing issue. Several members of Tri-County staff shared their personal thoughts on the vaccine and why they chose to be vaccinated.

Teenagers are able to receive the COVID-19 vaccine with a parental permission

The COVID-19 vaccine is available for people 12 and older.

“While I have limited knowledge of vaccinations, I knew right away that getting the vaccine was at the top of my priority list. Many people are hesitant to get the vaccine due to the political pressure surrounding it, however I never felt that it was a political decision. I made the decision to get the vaccine because I didn’t want COVID to control my life anymore.” – Jessica Frank

“It was simple for me. I do not want to get COVID. Spreading COVID to the people I care about is always a concern. I believe the vaccine is safe.” – Debbie Sly

“I chose to receive the vaccine because I believe in the advances that have been made in medical science. My husband has COPD and is oxygen dependent during the night and has many other diagnosis’ that puts him at high risk. We both received our vaccines as soon as they were available even knowing that they are not guaranteed to be 100 percent effective.” – Brenda Niemela

Abbey Truh and vaccine clinics

In the initial months of vaccine distribution, production issues stifled rollout. There was a great deal of demand but so few vaccines to go around. Attempting to get the vaccine to the people who needed it was an immense challenge. Abbey Truh, a registered nurse at Tri-County Health Care, was chosen to spearhead vaccine clinics. To get a vaccine at Tri-County Health Care, you have to go through Abbey at some point.

For several months Abbey and her team have organized COVID-19 vaccine clinics

Abbey Truh, RN

“Education is a huge part of putting patients at ease,” said Abbey when asked about her experience organizing the clinics. A constant factor of her job is educating people when they walk through the door. Many are on the fence; some are just scared and some simply lack the understanding of how the vaccine can protect them. Abbey has been following the creation of these vaccines from the start. She knows them inside and out. Most of all, she understands the end goal, getting to herd immunity.

Like with other nurses and providers, Abbey is tired and wants to return to normal operations but that can’t happen until we reach herd immunity. Abbey cites rampant misinformation and untrustworthy news sources as a major issue for vaccine hesitancy. People are simply not getting the right information from a trusted source and are instead retreating to social media only to find harmful takes and conspiracies.

Crunching the numbers

To date, Tri-County Health Care has administered 4,498 COVID-19 vaccines with the Pfizer vaccine being the predominant vaccine available. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, 5,123 people have received at least one dose in Wadena County. Currently 13, 654 people reside in Wadena County which puts us at roughly 38 percent vaccinated. To achieve herd immunity, we must reach 70-80 percent. National Immunization Awareness Month is a great chance to push for 50 percent. Half of our county population vaccinated would be a big milestone in the fight against COVID-19. The COVID-19 vaccine has exploded in availability over the last few months and is readily available in most places. Please consult your provider or utilize an online resource to find a COVID-19 vaccination site nearby.

More voices of TCHC staff

“I was more scared of getting COVID than the vaccine. The mask and the vaccine work because I assist people confirmed with COVID and I haven’t gotten it yet.” – Vonnie Perius

“I had COVID-19 before Thanksgiving and I was really sick. Two weeks later my husband got really sick with COVID as well. We didn’t want to get it again and so we decided to get the vaccine. We didn’t have any side effects from getting the vaccine. As far as we are concerned, it was worth getting the shot.” – Diane Crabb

“For myself and my children, there was no question if we would be vaccinated or not. I work with such a high-risk population (newborns) that I choose to vaccinate for myself, my family, and my patients’ health. I see a lot of patients who choose not to vaccinate their children, a few who choose to wait on the vaccines until the baby is a little older, and a few who want to space them out.  It is a very personal decision that I hope no one makes lightly.” – Sarah Riedel

The only tool we have

During an interview, Bobbi Adams, M.D., revealed her personal feelings about the pandemic and the vaccine. She discussed difficulties the providers and medical staff encountered after COVID-19 became prevalent in the area. Dr. Adams misses life before the pandemic and yearns to communicate with her patients unhindered by masks and layers of PPE. From her perspective, the only way to get back to normal life is to get the vaccine.

Getting the COVID-19 vaccine

During National Immunization Awareness Month, Tri-County Health Care wants to vaccinate as many people as possible. Pfizer vaccine clinics will be held every Thursday in August. The one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is also available. Patients can also get the vaccine during a normal provider appointment. To schedule an appointment, call 218-631-3510. Please follow Tri-County Health Care on social media or visit TCHC.org/covidvaccine for regular updates.


First step back to normal: Dr. Redig on the vaccine

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On Dec 21, 2020, Dr. Redig felt the pinch of a needle. A group of socially distanced reporters snapped photos and recorded video of the historic event. She was the first at Tri-County Health Care to receive the vaccine. She and several others marked the beginning of a movement within Tri-County, a mission to get as many people vaccinated as possible. This is the first step back to normal.

Why get the vaccine?

“I did it for myself, my family, and the patients I see every day,” said Dr. Redig. For her, this is the first step back to normal. When the vaccine was offered to her, she wasted no time and signed up. Dr. Redig has been following the development of the vaccine and knows it is safe.

Nothing but the usual symptomsDr. Redig has now received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Redig is alive and well. With her first dose, she experienced only mild soreness in her arm. This pain would only last a couple of days. On Jan. 11, she received her second dose. This time, she was sore and experienced slight chills and body aches. This was nothing she couldn’t handle and was still able to work and go about her day normally. These symptoms are a part of the typical immune system response associated with vaccination.

Give it time

Receiving two doses does not make you automatically immune to COVID-19. It takes around two weeks after the second dose for the body to generate proper immunity. It’s important even after receiving the second dose to continue practicing mitigation strategies. The vaccine does have a high efficacy rate but it doesn’t provide 100 percent immunity. Everyone must continue wearing masks in public while socially distancing themselves from others.

A safe vaccine for everyone

According to Dr. Redig, there are two things to remember when considering the vaccine. First, get it to protect yourself and the ones you love. The second is that this is an opportunity to do something for the good of everyone. Getting the vaccine is a way to heal our world and take a big step toward normal life. A vaccine is the only way to achieve herd immunity and only when we achieve herd immunity will it be safe to open back up.

The first thing I’ll do…

Dr. Redig works in the emergency room at Tri-County Health Care and is no stranger to intense situations but she and her coworkers are in agreement that things were easier before COVID-19. Staff members dream of the days before the pandemic but have hope for a future where the population is more aware of their health. For Dr. Redig, when COVID-19 is finally defeated, she plans to gather with friends, relatives, and neighbors for a huge birthday party for her twins, one without masks and hand sanitizer.

For more information about the vaccine please visit TCHC.org/covidvaccine. The CDC website is a great resource for information about COVID-19. For regular updates on the progress of the vaccine please follow Tri-County Health Care on Facebook.


COVID-19 vaccine: Everything you need to know

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The announcement of a COVID-19 vaccine has many breathing a sigh of relief. Several months of staying home, social distancing, and wearing masks has led to a major change in everyday life. People are in a hurry to return to the way things were and a vaccine seems like the only way out. Others are more hesitant; they may believe the vaccine has not passed through proper testing.

This article is designed to be a fact sheet about the upcoming vaccines. It is a condensed and simplified record of information gathered from sources like the Minnesota Department of Health, the CDC and the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Operation Warp Speed

Operation Warp Speed (OWS) combines scientific testing and government quality control. Essentially, OWS removes several administrative hurdles during the production of an effective vaccine. The methodology associated with OWS uses processes that would normally take years and compresses them down. This change is done by running the various steps simultaneously rather than one at a time.

Medical workers and seniors will be among the first to get the vaccine.

The breakdown

Creating an effective vaccine requires multiple steps and extensive testing. Generally, the process includes:

  • Methodology and lab research
  • FDA approval for clinical trials
  • Volunteer testing
  • Safety and efficacy testing in a large group
  • Large population testing with control groups
  • Final FDA approval
  • Distribution

The facts

  1. There is currently no approved vaccine available in the United States. Testing is underway, and a vaccine is expected before 2021.
  2. You will not contract COVID-19 by receiving the vaccine. The vaccines do not use a live virus. It will be similar to other widely used vaccines. It may cause symptoms like fatigue or muscle pain. These symptoms mean the vaccine is working.
  3. COVID-19 vaccination will not make you test positive for COVID-19. You may test positive for antibodies. This positive antibody test suggests either a previous infection or that the vaccine successfully created antibodies.
  4. People who were previously infected with COVID-19 should still consider being vaccinated. Studies suggest that reinfection is possible, and antibodies may last just a few months.
  5. Testing shows that receiving the vaccine does provide antibodies in around 90 percent of people. Receiving the vaccine could be the best option for fighting COVID-19.
  6. The vaccine was not rushed. Instead, administrative red tape was removed. The development and testing trials are still extensive.
  7. Once distribution begins, the first rounds of the vaccine will most likely go to health care workers and people with compromised immune systems.
  8. The COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory.
  9. The COVID-19 vaccine will be available at no cost. However, providers of the vaccination will be able to charge an office visit fee.
  10. An mRNA vaccine will not harm your DNA. mRNA, which stands for messenger ribonucleic acid, makes protein. It does not interact with DNA at any point.

The problem with herd immunity

Herd immunity is a common talking point but is likely impossible to achieve. This form of immunity implies that a large enough section of the population has contracted the virus and is resistant. Herd immunity is not a reliable strategy for combating COVID-19. It is due to a lack of important data about transmission frequency after infection. We do not know how long it takes from initial infection for a person to be vulnerable again.

The race for a vaccine

At this time, five vaccines are being tested. These vaccines are being tested by:

  • AstraZeneca
  • Janssen
  • Moderna
  • Novavax
  • Pfizer

AHA, AMA, ANA seeks safe COVID-19 vaccine

Recently, the American Health Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Nurses Association addressed the American people about the status of the COVID-19 vaccine. They have given their full support to the creation of a safe vaccine. All three groups consider it to be the best option for safeguarding communities around the world. They cited the importance of scientific testing, safe distribution and total transparency about the vaccine within the address. They collectively want people to know the benefits and risks associated with the vaccine.

Become informed

The rate of vaccine production might seem like a cause for concern, but it is not. The same level of quality control used in the past is present with the manufacturing of these vaccines. The creation of these vaccines is the combination of good science and a unified need for relief.

For more information about how Tri-County Health Care and how it has been combating COVID-19, visit TCHC.org/coronavirus.