Pueblo, CO - Pueblo County has been among the state’s leaders in offering mass vaccinations to those ages 70 and older and has earned state-wide kudos for the steep decline in COVID-19 cases since the county moved to red status in November. While reasons for the decline can’t be confirmed, providing a one-stop source of information, one web location and one phone line, to get information to every resident of Pueblo County has been a key to the county’s success, according to Sarah Joseph, public information officer for the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment.
The PDPHE has already vaccinated more than 12,000 individuals, which includes health care workers, emergency responders, and individuals ages 70 and older.
By Friday, Parkview Hospital will have completed the two-dose vaccination process for all 2200+ employees, according to Rachel Morris, Parkview public relations specialist. Vaccinations there began on Dec. 17 with emergency room staff and nurses giving direct care to COVID-19 patients. Morris sees the most significant step in local vaccine distribution as the coordinated effort with the Department of Public Health, who have streamlined the registration process with those 70 and older and are efficiently utilizing the vaccines that come to them.
“It’s hard to plan when you don’t know how many doses are coming and on what date,” Morris said. “The community has done a terrific job of using the resources provided to them and dealing with the many variables. It has been incredible to see the people of Pueblo come together with no selfish interests.”
Joseph knew vaccines would be available for the county’s first vaccination clinic on Jan. 11, but they couldn’t have predicted the demand. Cars began lining up as early as 2:30 a.m., and by 7 a.m., an hour before the clinic was to open, traffic was backed up to I-25. PCSO and PPD managed the traffic, allowing staff to get in, and then counted out the available vaccines, and advised remaining cars to return home.
Once they saw the demand, that same morning, Sheriff Kirk Taylor, Mayor Gradisar, and Randy Evetts, head of DPH, formulated a plan to streamline the process using an established push notification as part of the registration process. The Sheriff’s Office purchased the domain pueblovaxnow.com, which directed them to a sign-up page with assurances that they would be contacted for a vaccination appointment. The existing COVID-19 hotline, 583-4444, was rerouted to the SO’s call center and included vaccine registration as the first option for those who were not as comfortable with technology. Sheriff’s Office and Department of Public Health employees were reassigned as call takers. Later that day, a press conference announced the newly established call center and website.
“Within 12 hours, we were able to regroup and create a call center and a web directed form in order to better organize the process,” Joseph said. “We beefed up the manpower and made it easier for people to access assistance and information.”
Lisa Shorter, CSEPP (Chemical Stockpile Emergency Preparedness Program) Coordinator with the PCSO said the notification system being used is a cost share between the Sheriff’s Office and CSEPP, the same system that allows them to push wireless emergency alerts.
“We identified the problem, fixed it, and put people in position to make the plan happen,” Shorter said.
Joseph said state health department officials have called to inquire about the Pueblo County process in hopes of sharing it with other counties. She also believes the coordinated communication and registration access points are one reason the county has been able to get the recent five-star designation, which allows special variances for businesses. The rapid decrease in cases helped position the community to quickly implement the five-Star program helping business to operate at yellow while the County continues to remain at orange. A huge advantage to local business owners.
A presentation by Dr. Rachel Herlihy and Rachel Severson at the Colorado State Department of Health, (Change in COVID-19 Cases, Percent Positivity, and Hospitalizations Following Fall 2020 Move to Red), showed that Pueblo County had the fastest rate of decline among the state’s 12 largest counties in the 36 days after the counties moved to RED status. In the 35 days following Pueblo County’s move to Red, a linear model fit to Pueblo county’s 14-day incidence decreased by 48.6 cases per 100,000 per day, a decrease of 7.6 percent.
Joseph said the way Pueblo has stepped up and taken the lead would not be possible without community partners, like the Sheriff’s Office, Pueblo Police, local hospitals, CSU-Pueblo, PCC, city and county officials, AMR, school districts, Pueblo Mall, and the Colorado State Fair.
“Because we know their capabilities, we called upon all our partners, and every agency is helping. It’s the Pueblo way,” she said.
The next phase of vaccinations will target essential workers in education, food and agriculture, postal service, transportation, grocery industry, human services, then onto with higher risk and ages 60-69 along with 16-59 year olds with chronic disease.
Joseph said the 70+ generation has been eager to receive the vaccine and even more grateful for receiving it as evidenced by the outpouring of texts and calls she and her co-workers have been receiving from those who have been to the clinics.
“The amount of general appreciation we’re getting in texts and calls from doctors, dentists, seniors, is really cool,” Joseph said. “People are scared, and we are solving scared. The vaccine is lifesaving.”
“We are just going our jobs, yet the individuals receiving it are seeing us as saving their lives,” Joseph said.
During the first Parkview vaccination clinic in December, Morris said she was overwhelmed by the energy and hope from the staff.
“You could just feel the emotions,” she said. “To know this long-awaited hope and light at the end of the tunnel had finally arrived.”