Montgomery County Commissioner Dr. Valerie Arkoosh opened her COVID-19 weekly press briefing the same way she has every week for the past year, this time announcing that Montgomery County is exactly one year into the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Good afternoon everyone, this is Dr. Val Arkoosh, Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners,” Arkoosh said. “Today is March the 10th 2021. We are in week 53 of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Montgomery County. This week marks one year of Montgomery County battling the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
Arkoosh went into the “journey” of the pandemic over the last year with statistics covering the same things each press briefing has covered each week from seven-day averages to hospitalizations to the case trends.
“The first two cases of COVID-19 were identified in the county on March the 7th, 2020,” Arkoosh said. “And once community spread became evident, a Spring surge in cases quickly followed. “MontCo became the epicenter of the virus in southeast Pennsylvania.”
Even as the county that was once the “epicenter of the virus in southeast Pennsylvania,” Montgomery County is still experiencing a lot of difficulties when it comes to the pandemic, this time with a lack of vaccinations being provided to the county from the state.
Following the March 7 meeting with Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of Health Alison Beam and other Wolf administration officials about vaccine allocation, both Arkoosh and Commissioner Ken Lawrence reamined confused and agitated by the state’s way of deciding how much vaccine each county gets.
“I personally found it difficult to interpret and I continue to ask for just simple transparency here,” Arkoosh said. “We just need a chart with each week of the year since vaccines have been coming and where it went, to which counties. Just so we have some sense of this algorithm that they are using.”
Lawrence echoed this frustration, saying they haven’t heard anything since the meeting and encouraged people to ask the Department of Health themselves what their algorithm is.
“If you all understand it then you could explain it to us. It was as clear as mud and we’ve got no follow up or transparency since,” Lawrence said.
“Our goal is to get people safe, to enable people to go back to work,” Arkoosh said. “We all know that our workforce flows back and forth between all of our counties and we provide enormous tax revenue to the commonwealth. So it is critical that we get this area vaccinated.”
Arkoosh mentioned that the way the state is measuring the number of people vaccinated is not an equitable way to do so focusing on those who may not be able to transport to another county or can’t leave work for an extended amount of time.
“I have a lot of concerns about using the metric of the percent of people in a particular county that have been vaccinated,” Arkoosh said. “They need to be looking at how many doses are coming to these counties using fair and equitable measures. There are indices of poverty, other population demographics, people that work in certain sectors that are extremely high risk. I don’t think that looking at how many people have been vaccinated is a fair measure at all.”
Lawrence agreed the populations in Montgomery County that can’t go outside the county to get vaccinated needed to be thought of and represented when it came to vaccine allocation.
“We know we have vulnerable populations here in Montgomery County where they don’t have access to the internet to make appointments and they don’t have the transportation to get to other places,” Lawrence said. “For those populations, as Val said, they need vaccine close and within their communities and that has not been happening.”
As for other updates at the press briefing, Arkoosh announced that the COVID-19 positivity rate is down to 5.05 percent, getting close to that 5 percent needed for suppression of the virus. Since March 3 there have been a total of 810 new cases reported making the daily average 115.7 cases and bringing the total number of cases to 47,891. There have been 4 additional deaths due to COVID-19 and 110 hospitalizations.
“Our hospitals remain busy so we shouldn’t take this downward trend as things almost being over,” Arkoosh said. “To put this into some context, on October 1 there were only 24 patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in Montgomery County. So we still have quite a ways to go to get back to where we were before the holidays.”