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VACCINATING THE MED CITY: Local officials explain current COVID-19 situation, vaccine rollout

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Downtown Rochester with view of Mayo Clinic

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- At the start of this week, fewer than 20 percent of Olmsted County residents have received a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

As people in priority group 1A3 roll up their sleeves, local health officials say they hope to get to group 1B soon.

"As of February 1st, both Mayo Clinic and Olmsted Medical Center are providing vaccinations to patients 80 years and older," said Kari Etrheim, Olmsted County Public Health Communications Director.

Multiple Rochester entities working to best use what little vaccine comes to town.

"To try to take the vaccine doses that we're getting and provide them to the right people at the right time," said Graham Briggs, Olmsted County Public Health Director.

Local pharmacies also began signing those 65 and older up as they wait for doses to arrive. Local health officials urge patience during the waiting process.

"We strongly want people to understand that they should not call Olmsted County Public Health or their primary care provider and ask for a vaccine at this time," Etrheim said.

With more people vaccinated, there is less transmission in Rochester. Briggs says the current rate in the county is the lowest since around Halloween.

"While our numbers are going down overall, we're seeing a percentage of our cases in kids between the ages of 5 and 18 start to go up," Briggs said.

Due to this increased transmission, he is defending the Rochester Public Schools decision to keep kids out of the classroom full-time until at least March.

"Also in 2021, we've identified six different outbreaks associated with high school sports teams," Briggs adds.

Transmission is a concern when considering the emergence of new variants in the state.

"While we're keeping an eye on the situation and watching it, it hasn't really impacted us locally," the public health director said. "I'd prefer not to see variants but in the world of microbiology, viruses evolve and mutate."

The new variants are not more deadly, but they are more contagious. Briggs says slowing transmission is key to keeping these new variants from overwhelming the health care system.

"We're somewhat in a race to vaccinate this virus out of the community," Briggs admits.

In an effort to slow transmission until more of the population is vaccinated, Briggs asks Olmsted County residents to not gather this weekend for any parties for the Super Bowl.

Alex Tejada

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