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County virus trends ‘a little dismal’

Blair public safety director ‘disappointed’ by rising infections, stagnant vaccine rates

Blair County’s director of public safety told the county commissioners Tuesday that he was a “little disappointed” in the recent increase of coronavirus cases and expressed concern that area residents may be resistant to taking the vaccine.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mark Taylor has been providing commissioners Bruce R. Erb, Amy E. Webster and Laura O. Burke with weekly statistical updates on the numbers of new cases.

He said within the past week another 250 local residents have come down with the virus, bringing the total who have contracted the disease to 11,573.

The number includes 315 deaths, up one form last week.

The number of hospitalizations have risen and the nursing homes are seeing more cases, Taylor said.

In mid-March, the number of residents who had received at least one shot of the vaccine had risen to 20,000 — which pleased Taylor.

But by Tuesday the number had just breached the 30,000 mark and Taylor said he was a “little disappointed,” pointing out Blair County still had a long way to go to acquire “herd immunity,” or that point where the number of people vaccinated is so large that the overall spread of the disease is stymied.

He characterized his report Tuesday as a “little dismal.”

Taylor raised the possibility that Blair County residents may be hesitant to be vaccinated.

Residents can schedule shots locally through UPMC, PHN Altoona Community Health Center, Community Pharmacy in Tyrone, Mainline Pharmacy in Ebensburg, and other pharmacies such as CVS, Rite Aid, Giant Eagle and Weis.

But, the waiting lists locally have not been as long as expected, which is why Taylor suspects people may be avoiding vaccination.

After Tuesday’s meeting, Commissioner Erb, the chairman of the Board of Commissioners, was asked to comment on Taylor’s report.

He said the decision to take the vaccine “is a personal choice,” but he stated, “We are encouraging all of our citizens to be vaccinated.”

The vaccination will lead to herd immunity, he said, and the eventual restoration of the freedom enjoyed prior to the virus.

The vaccine is readily available, Erb said.

The commissioners held an 80-minute meeting Tuesday using the Blue Jeans platform.

Many of the issues and expenditures they discussed will be approved during a 10 a.m. business session Thursday.

One of the proposed new programs will include a contract between the county, on behalf of the Public Defender’s Office, and Karpel Computer Systems Inc. of St. Louis to install a software program at a proposed cost of $66,350.

According to Public Defender Russell Montgomery his office will become “totally paperless” under the new system.

There will be an initial payment of $26,625, a second payment of $26,625, and a final payment — that includes training — of $13,100.

The program will be completed by Sept. 24, according to the commissioners.

The board also discussed:

* Preparation to rebid repairs to the county parking garage.

* Extending the contract of retired Blair County District Attorney Richard A. Consiglio, who will receive biweekly payments of $961 as a special prosecutor in the Paul Aaron Ross death penalty case that began Tuesday in the Blair County Court of Common Pleas. Consiglio will be paid for the duration of the case.

The board presented a certificate of appreciation to employee Timothy Crabtree, who completed 25 years of service at the Blair County 911 Center. He retried as operations manager.

He said he was thankful for his years of service and concluded, “I really loved my job.”

According to Commissioner Webster, the 911 Center handles 145,000 calls a year and includes 35 employees.

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