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Virus uptick renews vaccination call

County’s increase in hospitalizations, people on ventilators ‘unexpected’

Blair County’s director of public safety made a renewed plea Tuesday for local residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19, pointing to an uptick in the number of cases involving young people and an increase in the number of hospitalizations.

Mark Taylor also told the county commissioners that there is an increase in the number of residents “on ventilators fighting for their lives.”

The increase in hospitalizations and those on ventilators was “unexpected,” Taylor said.

Although the recent numbers have been disappointing,Taylor reported one good sign — only nine new cases were reported Monday.

He said there have been 364 cases reported in the past seven days, which means the county has averaged more than 50 new cases a day, despite the number of residents vaccinated in Blair County totaling 41,000 — with 31,000 fully vaccinated.

Those numbers are still not enough to create “herd immunity,” Taylor said, and he urged residents to register for vaccinations.

“I encourage everybody to get vaccinated. There are open appointments available,” he said.

Taylor had no explanation why the coronavirus continues to be a problem.

He told commissioners Bruce R. Erb, Amy E. Webster and Laura Burke that there is no one group involved in the increase, although he mentioned younger people seem more vulnerable than before and area nursing homes continue to report cases.

“More people are out and about doing the functions of life,” he said, offering somewhat of an explanation.

Two weeks ago, Taylor noted there may be some hesitancy among the population about being vaccinated, and that still remains a concern.

As a county official, he said, “I think we need to do our part to get people to be vaccinated.”

Erb said Taylor’s report showed a “sobering trend,” but he noted a similar situation is occurring in other parts of Pennsylvania and the nation.

Also Tuesday, the commissioners received an annual report from Amy Marten-Shanafelt, executive director of Blair County HealthChoices, the agency that coordinates social services throughout the county.

Marten-Shanafelt called the past 12 months “a challenging year,” reporting an increase in cases involving depression and anxiety.

Agencies locally experienced what she called “staff erosion” or fewer workers available because of the pandemic.

Despite the problems, steps were taken to serve an expanding number of cases and to stabilize funding.

Marten-Shanafelt also proposed a memorandum of understanding between the county, the Department of Social Services, Children, Youth & Families, Blair County Juvenile Probation Office and her agency “to improve the system of care available for children with serious emotional disturbances and their families.”

She said the proposal is to create a leadership team to oversee improvements in the system when it comes to children and youth.

That memorandum will be before the commissioners Thursday for approval.

Also on Thursday:

* Blair Senior Services is requesting a fee increase in its medical assistance transportation program from $24.25 to $25 per trip.

* The register of wills and recorder of deeds is asking for a software maintenance agreement between Blair and Optical Storage Solutions, that enables consumers to access documents online. The cost is $25,865.

The board on Tuesday approved a memorandum of understanding between the Blair County Prison and the Goodwill of the Southern Alleghenies-ReSTARt Re-entry Program. The agency will work with inmates in an attempt to prepare them for release.

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