County Health Chief: Be patient on vaccine

By Cathy DeDe, Chronicle Managing Editor

Ginelle Jones, Director of the Warren County Public Health Department, is single-minded in her bottom-line Covid-19 message.

“We want 100 percent of Warren County vaccinated,” Mrs. Jones told The Chronicle during a 40-minute conversation Sunday. “Please, if you write anything, write that….That’s what’s going to get us off this gerbil wheel and through the tunnel of Covid, towards the light, is 100 percent vaccinated.”

Pat Belden left, Ginelle Jones right

Not enough yet for 1A & 1B

As of Monday, 4,460 people had been vaccinated in Warren County. The county’s population is just over 65,000. The reality is the county doesn’t have enough vaccine doses to reach all those currently eligible to receive them, let alone those who will be eligible in later phases.

On Monday, Governor Cuomo approved vaccines for people in Phase 1A and 1B priority groups in the state’s vaccine plan.

“While that’s good news,” said Mrs. Jones, “the vaccine isn’t here to back that up. Our region does not have enough vaccine to finish the 1A group, much less finish 1B.”

Phases 1A and 1B encompass healthcare workers in patient care settings, workers and residents in long-term care facilities, people 75 and older, first responders, in-person teachers and college instructors, school staff, public transit workers, “public facing” grocery workers, public safety workers, corrections officers, essential workers and at-risk populations.

The second part of Mrs. Jones’s message is “Be patient. Please do not call right now.”

While she doesn’t want to dissuade anyone from reaching out for information, she fears the small county health staff will be overwhelmed.

“We are a small health department, getting 60-plus new cases (of Covid) a day. That’s a lot of calls and contact tracing for our staff,” said Mrs. Jones.

“Now our people are jammed with calls from people because they want to sign up for the vaccines.

“I don’t want to put anyone off. But our message is the same. We understand you are 1B, eligible, but unfortunately we don’t have the vaccine. Be patient.”

Info website, social media

Mrs. Jones asks the public to sign on to the information website — — set up by the Capital Region hub that includes Warren, Washington and northern Saratoga counties. “It’s the best place to stay up to date on the vaccinations,” Mrs. Jones said.

She said the County will also keep the public informed via social media, its own website and for those without computers, recordings on an info line at 761-6200.

“We are reassuring the population, we plan on vaccinating everybody, twice.”

Mrs. Jones is matter of fact, strictly on point and unflappable even as the raging pandemic rages.

She deflects when asked about Times Union reports of frustration expressed across the state over Governor Cuomo’s rollout of the vaccine.

“I’m in a trench. I can’t speak to that. I will say, from a regional standpoint, issues are communicated up and down through the channels. We meet as a region every day,” via Internet.

She said the hub is Albany Medical Center, “and they are doing a fantastic job.

“The Governor’s office communication is good, but the answers are not always there.”

“I’m not frustrated or angry,” Mrs. Jones said. “I’m very calm because I know we are going to work things out to serve the community. I’m stressing patience. Trust us and work with us.”

She said they are partnering with Hudson Headwaters Health Network and Glens Falls Hospital on the vaccine rollout.

While Governor Cuomo’s plan circumvents long-established emergency response vaccination plans in place for every county in the state, Mrs. Jones said that locally, those prior plans established working partnerships that will ease the roll-out.

“The logistics are nothing,” she said. “I have places to hold the clinics, a lot of volunteers — shout out and thank you to them — who are ready, willing and able vaccinators.

“If I get a call telling me we have 10,000 doses coming, I’m ready — though trust me, we will feel lucky if they send 1,000 doses. I’ll take any amount they send me.”

Mrs. Jones said, “It’s not about our ability, it’s a question of having the supply of vaccines.” When they do come, the County plan is to publicize the availability, set up appointment “slots” and register recipients. “But we can’t set up appointments until we have the doses.”

Last Friday she began preparing school-based “pods” as one route to the local roll-out, once vaccines are available. She said she’s also connected with senior housing providers and law enforcement to clarify the numbers of people involved.

Volunteers from other county departments step in to help where they can, as are law enforcement agencies, she said.

Among other efforts, Mrs. Jones said they just intervened for Elderwood Skilled Nursing Facility in North Creek that, through a glitch in the system, came up as “ineligible” for the vaccine, though they qualify as first tier, 1A, in Governor Cuomo’s vaccine rollout plan.

A career in public health

“Public Health is my passion,” says Mrs. Jones, who moved to the region in November 1994. “My family is originally from here,” she said, though she was raised on Alabama’s Gulf Coast. She said that fresh out of nursing school, she moved to Glens Falls as the family member best suited to care for her grandfather. “I met my husband and the rest is history.”

Professionally, “I’ve been working with communicable diseases my whole career,” Mrs. Jones said. She’s a nurse practitioner with masters and teaching degrees, certified in Public Health. She said she initially worked at Glens Falls Hospital, then became a public health nurse for Warren County. She became a supervisor in 2002, assistant director in 2003, and County Health Director in April 2018.

The Assistant Public Health Director is Patricia Belden, who has worked in the department for more than 30 years. “The two of us have been doing communicable diseases for a long time,” says Mrs. Jones.

Don Lehman, Warren County Public Information Officer, says Mrs. Jones and Ms. Belden have worked every day, without a break, since March 7.

Mrs. Jones terms it “not a chore, but a pleasure. We’re in Covid crazy times. It’s like the old Kool-Aid commercials, where the character jumps through the wall. There’s always something new, a new flavor every week. You get through that and then there’s the next one.”

She says “You are doing what you have been trained to do. All of us have a passion to help others. It’s about the teamwork, and I have an amazing staff.”

“I can’t wait for the pandemic to be over. At the end of the day the success is not going to just be from health services but the whole community. We want everybody to roll up their sleeves on this.”

Copyright © 2021 Lone Oak Publishing Co., Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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