Confronting the Virus

County Perspectives by Commissioner Rafael Ortega, Columnist

At every Ramsey County Board meeting since this global pandemic upended our lives one year ago, we have observed a moment of silence to remember and honor those taken by COVID-19 here in this region and beyond.

Thankfully, after the longest year any of us can remember, we are seeing key COVID-19 numbers coming down. The number of new cases diagnosed each day have fallen from hundreds per day during the peak earlier this winter to levels not seen since the first weeks in which the virus spread in Ramsey County. There were consistently 500 or more new cases during the pandemic’s peak in late November. In recent weeks, there have been a hundred or fewer new cases every day. The number of deaths has also followed this trend. 

Wearing masks, maintaining social distance, staying home when feeling ill and following the guidance of public health professionals has helped us get to this place, but we are not out of the woods yet.  Despite the positive trends, we’ll each need to keep doing our part in the coming months if we want them to maintain. And we also need to keep getting tested – it’s free and easy to order an at-home test online at https://bit.ly/3u6pPS9 – if we are not feeling well. 

Maintaining this vigilance is really, really tough. We have all endured a long time of sacrifice and strain. I talk to residents and businesses – Downtown, along West 7th, along Robert Street and Ford Parkway and throughout my district – who want to be safe and retain the vibrancy and social fabric of our unique, historic and resilient communities. What’s the right balance? We’re working at that on all levels, every day.

I’m hearing the most from people lately about the vaccines. Are they safe? When will we get them? And how? What can we do to make sure that the communities most hurt by COVID can get the vaccine soon?

I have learned from the County’s Medical Director, Dr. Lynne Ogawa, that while specific vaccines are new, the science behind them has been around for a long time, a sentiment she has shared in virtual meetings with our Ramsey County community. The vaccines being distributed now are well tested, and I will get mine as soon as I am eligible. 

Ramsey County is not the primary provider of the vaccine. Much of the vaccine that has been delivered to our public health organization so far has been administered to health providers and those who are on the front lines. When production increases and the vaccine becomes widely available, most people will probably get it the same way they get their flu shot – through pharmacies, clinics, employers and community-based sites.

Ramsey County Public Health has a small supply of vaccines, and we are carefully following the guidance of the Minnesota Department of Health as we distribute it. The state has set up lottery-based vaccination programs for other adults 65+, pre-K through 12 educators and school staff, and child care workers. You can learn more about this at the Find My Vaccine website: mn.gov/vaccine. We are committed to continue working with our federal and state partners to make sure that the free vaccine is distributed equitably – especially among those communities that are historically at the highest health risk.

People of color have been disproportionately affected by this virus at every turn. They have been sick and died at higher rates. I very much appreciate what I have heard from community members of all backgrounds concerned about this. 

As determined by the state, the group receiving vaccines first consists of those in the “1A” category, which encompasses health-care workers who provide vaccines and testing, as well as our most vulnerable residents in long-term care facilities. While Ramsey County is not vaccinating outside of the 1A group now, we are working with our state partners to advocate for you, weighing the costs and benefits of different approaches—and planning for equitable distribution and the outreach and education programs to enable that. Please visit: ramseycounty.us/CovidVaccine to learn more and access information in multiple languages – including a newsletter dedicated to vaccine updates and links to social media. 
Please stay safe and stay in touch.

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