OSKALOOSA — Residents of Mahaska County wanted to know more about the COVID-19 and its distribution during the year's first Eggs and Issues.

The pandemic removed the regular forum from under the marquee at Smokey Row to online in a streamed question and answer session.

Members of the Mahaska County COVID response attended, including representatives from the county's public health department, emergency management and hospital.

Most questions dealt directly with the vaccine and its distribution as many local arms await needles containing the hopeful end of the pandemic.

Here's a summary of some of the major questions from Saturday's Eggs and Issues:

Q: Who can get the vaccine currently?

A: "We are currently in [Phase] 1A in the state of Iowa, and that is for the health care workers and long-term care facilities. That's the group that we're currently vaccinating at this time," said public health coordinator Patty Malloy.

Q: Who is next?

A: There's a committee at the Iowa Department of Public Health called the Infectious Disease Advisory Council. They will be meeting sometime next week to determine, from the CDC guidelines, who will be in the next tier. ... Once Iowa gets through their 1A group, they will move on to the 1B," Malloy said.

Denyse Gipple, Population Health and Quality Director at Mahaska Health, added: Phase "1B, just broadly, we know is going to include people with essential services roles — people that we need to keep the community running — and those that are over [the age of] 75. We're not currently taking any reservations or making any lists for those." She said teachers and other school staff, like bus drivers, are expected to be part of the 1B group.

Q: How will I find out when it's my turn?

A: "The important thing to be would be to make sure that you're following Mahaska Health on social media, and paying attention to news outlets ...," Gipple said.

Mahaska County Emergency Management Administrator Jamie Robinson said the Mahaska Alert will also be utilized to send notifications, and even those without cellphones, internet and social media can sign up. The system sends texts, but can also send calls to landline phones with information. For details on how to sign up, visit https://mahaskaready.com/mahaskaa-ert.

Q: How well are vaccines being distributed currently?

A: "The good news is this first phase has been smaller, it's helped us hone our vaccination clinic procedures. We've got our vaccinators and our clinics down to a science now. It does require folks to wait 15 minutes after their vaccine, and I know that is a challenge when you look at mass vaccinations," said Gipple. So far, Gipple said they have not seen anyone experience adverse reactions.

Q: Is staffing a concern for administering the vaccine?

A: "We will have adequate staff, I don't doubt that at all. We have been using staff [members] from throughout the facility as we need to do some of our contact tracing and other things. So that's definitely something we're working on," Malloy said.

Q: What is the vaccine, and what does it do?

A: Dr. Tim Breon, the hospital's chief medical officer, said using messenger RNA scientists were able to take the code of the virus's surface protein. The vaccine then trains the body to create antibodies to fight proteins that are seen in the coronavirus in the future to give people immunity.

Q: What is the financial health of the hospital?

A: Kevin DeRone, hospital CEO, said the hospital is in good financial health despite challenges presented by the pandemic. "At our hospital, thankfully, we were one of the few facilities that did not furlough, layoff or reduced hours of employees. We stood our ground and we were able to really invest in our people ... Yeah, we did have a loss of revenue but thankfully we did have CARES Act funding, we also applied for ... the Paycheck Protection Program. So, those funds have made us whole."

Kyle Ocker is the group editor of the Oskaloosa Herald and the Ottumwa Courier. He can be reached at kocker@oskyherald.com. Follow him on Twitter @Kyle_Ocker.

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Group Editor

Kyle Ocker is a Centerville native and award-winning multimedia journalist. Kyle is currently the first vice president of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council and vice president of the Iowa Print Sports Writers Association.

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