La PORTE — Early response to the COVID-19 pandemic fell on the shoulders of the La Porte County Health Department, and its administrator is warning that it’s not over yet, and everyone should get vaccinated.
Responsible for numerous services from childhood immunizations to restaurant inspections, the department in the last year added responding to a global pandemic to its duties.
“That changed everybody’s perspective as how the health department had to run and how the rest of us had to run our lives,” La Porte County Health Officer Dr. Sandra Deausy said.
“It’s been devastating for families. As a family doctor, I lost several patients to COVID.”
Deausy talked about the role of the local health department, as well as its response to the pandemic, at Monday’s La Porte Rotary meeting.
“Gradually, we’re starting to come out the other end, I’m hoping,” she said.
The health department started giving vaccines at the beginning of the year at its clinic, now located in the chapel of the old La Porte Hospital at 1007 Lincoln Way.
“We’re still doing vaccines, unfortunately we’re not getting them to enough people. They still are available,” Deausy said.
The county’s vaccination rate, according to ourshotlpc.com, is at 51 percent.
A big issue the country is facing is the Delta variant. Deausy said Indiana’s numbers have increased by 50 percent and hospitalizations in the state are up 9 percent.
“A lot of this is coming down to the fact that people are not fully vaccinated or vaccinated,” she said.
Deausy offered some data from covidactnow.org, which looked at COVID-19 vulnerability.
“The way they’re describing what’s happening now is a ‘pandemic of the unvaccinated.’ It’s somewhere between 97 percent and 99 percent of the severe cases are unvaccinated. This is a tragedy for people that are dying and didn’t have to.”
She pointed out that, according to covidactnow.org, 77 percent of counties in the United States are less vulnerable than La Porte County.
The information was based on population density, how many people work in factories, housing and transportation challenges; income, age, health insurance and health systems.
“How do we deal with it? A lot of the things La Porte did was food banks. Target where you need people, go out and take the food to them – it was done, I think, very well,” Deausy said.
And she is worried about schools starting again because children remain unvaccinated. According to the FDA, emergency authorization for COVID-19 vaccines in children under 12 could come in early to mid-winter.
“When I was at the fair on Thursday, nobody had a mask on ... and not everybody is vaccinated,” she said.
Regarding face masks, Deausy said she suspects those who are vaccinated will not be encouraged to have masks when school resumes.
She said that could be problematic.
“If you aren’t vaccinated, wear your mask because there are still vulnerable people. If you’re vaccinated, you can still get it. They’re not even sure how contagious you are.
“But if you’re going to be around people who are not vaccinated, for whatever reason, maybe you need to wear a mask,” Deausy said.
From the beginning of the pandemic, the department’s response has included education and outreach, she said.
“The biggest thing that started for us was education ... and mostly of ourselves. Nobody has done this before.”
Testing and tracing, said Deausy, fell completely on the county health offices when COVID-19 first hit.
“It became so overwhelming the state took it over and hired a lot of people. For several weeks, our staff were out there, wandering around, trying to figure out who to talk to, where does this come from – that type of thing,” Deausy said.
The other important part of the response was disaster preparedness, handled by the staff and other entities, including police, fire and EMS departments.
Deausy also talked about some of the health department’s other responsibilities.
“Before COVID, particularly, people thought of us as some place that gave babies shots. Obviously, that’s not true. We have huge lists of things that we do,” Deausy said.
The county health department has 26 employees. Responsibilities include vital records, control of disease, food protection, pollution control, vector control, dwellings unfit for human habitation and childhood lead poisoning.
The department also offers a number of programs for free or at reduced rates.
“Our blood profile services have been incredibly popular over the years. There’s a lot of people that don’t have insurance or have poor insurance that need blood work done. We can provide that at very reasonable costs. That’s been something that has helped a lot of people over the years,” Deausy said.
Programs at free or of minimal cost to help mothers include Cribs for Kids, child safety seat inspections and an outreach program for lead testing.
“Cribs for Kids has been very popular, very helpful and the Healthcare Foundation of La Porte has been a big part of that. The child safety seat inspections, they are done on a regular basis,” Deausy said.