LEWISTOWN, Pa. (WHTM) — The Pennsylvania Department of Health is focused on encouraging people to get the COVID vaccine and boosters, especially in rural communities.
Hospitals in cities and suburbs are overwhelmed with COVID patients, but in rural areas, it’s especially problematic. More than 56,000 doses of the COVID vaccine have been administered at Geisinger Lewistown Hospital.
“We have cut back now to just Wednesdays. But at one point we were open every day and on the weekends as well,” said one employee.
12-year-old Ryder Jones got his booster, one of 140 doses given on Wednesday.
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“It keeps people safe and I think people need to be safe especially in a very populated school area that I’m in,” Jones said.
But not everyone is so keen to get the vaccine. As of Monday, 28 people inside are hospitalized, five are in the ICU and three are on ventilators. 32% of occupied beds are COVID positive.
“Most of the hospitalization for our COVID Patients are not vaccinated, 80% to 90% so that puts a lot of strain on our hospital,” Dr. Michael Hegstrom, chief medical officer of Geisinger Lewistown Hospital said.
“There’s been so much loss to life. It’s not necessary. But they thought they could fight it without help and sometimes we can’t do that,” said Martha Sunderland, who just got her booster.
Hegstrom says the hospital is seeing an unprecedented surge in patients.
“We’ve had numbers we haven’t seen in our hospital for years and it’s been sustained,” Hegstrom said. “We’ve had numbers that have been higher than normal for almost–since September. This puts pressure on our staff, pressure on our providers.”
While 75% of Pennsylvanians have been fully vaccinated only 38% have been boosted.
“I cannot say strongly enough, if you are fully vaccinated, but haven’t gotten your booster. Go do it today. It’s the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your loved ones,” Klinepeter said.
Acting Pa. Secretary of Health Keara Klinepeter toured the vaccination tent outside the Lewistown Hospital Wednesday with a simple message:
“The decision that you make doesn’t just affect you. It affects other people in the community,” Klinepeter said. “And so while you might be okay getting COVID and only have mild, cold symptoms, there are other people who will get severely ill.”
Klinepeter says we need to focus on the basics: “It’s staying home when you don’t feel good or getting a test to confirm that you’re negative. But if you are positive, staying home, and doing the right thing. It’s a combination of things. It’s not just any one thing like the vaccine but that is the most critical piece of getting us out of this pandemic.”