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Gov. Kemp touts next chapter in virus fight as vaccine distribution in nursing homes begins
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Jonathan Harris, left, a senior certified nursing assistant at PruittHealth's The Oaks at Limestone nursing home in Gainesville, receives the COVID-19 vaccine Monday, Dec. 28. Harris was the first of PruittHealth's workers in Georgia to receive the vaccine. Provided by Tonja Bridges

Nursing home staff members in Gainesville were receiving some of the first COVID-19 vaccine doses allocated to long-term care facilities Monday, Dec. 28.

Gov. Brian Kemp spoke Monday morning outside of PruittHealth’s The Oaks at Limestone on Flintridge Road about the beginning of an “exciting and important chapter” regarding the vaccine rollout.

“Right here at this facility, PruittHealth is already lining up its caregivers to receive the vaccine,” Kemp said.

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PruittHealth’s Senior Vice President of Communications Tonja Bridges said 18 caregivers and 35 patients were vaccinated Monday at the Gainesville facility. 

“We will continue to work to collect more consent so additional frontline workers and patients can be vaccinated at the center’s second clinic,” Bridges said.

Kemp said a senior certified nursing assistant, Jonathan Harris, was selected to be the first PruittHealth worker in Georgia to receive the vaccine. The governor lauded the health care worker’s “willingness to step up.”

“It says a lot about your commitment to your patients and to your profession,” Kemp said.

Harris said it was “honor and a privilege” to be chosen.

“It gives me a measure of hope, hope for a better tomorrow,” he said. “It gives me hope for my residents that they’re safe. That’s what I look forward to.”

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities across the state have partnered with CVS Health and Walgreens to administer the vaccine to staff and residents.

“Across the country, no group has been hit harder by the virus than the residents and staff of our long-term care facilities,” Kemp said.

Kemp and Dr. Kathleen Toomey, the Georgia Department of Public Health commissioner, reiterated their public charge for people to avoid large gatherings particularly ahead of the New Year’s celebration. Those considerations include possibly “gathering virtually to watch the ball drop.”

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Gov. Brian Kemp speaks Monday, Dec. 28, 2020, outside of The Oaks at Limestone nursing home in Gainesville. Nursing home staff were set to receive some of the first COVID-19 vaccines allocated to long-term care facilities. - photo by Nick Watson

Toomey said long-term care facilities staff and residents represent roughly 5% of COVID cases in Georgia but are more than 37% of COVID deaths.

The first seven doses of the vaccine in Gainesville were administered Dec. 17 at Northeast Georgia Medical Center to frontline health care workers. Of the almost 5,000 doses allotted to Northeast Georgia Health System, 2,168 doses had been administered as of Monday, according to NGHS officials.

“Two weeks ago, we watched hope arrive here in the state of Georgia as the COVID-19 vaccine began rolling out throughout the Peach State, and since then, we’ve been vaccinating the vaccinators in every corner of our state,” Kemp said.

NGHS reported a new record Sunday, Dec. 27, and Monday of 312 confirmed COVID-19 positive patients being treated across its facilities. 

NGHS director of long-term care Kerry Smith said vaccinations for long-term care residents will start Tuesday, Dec. 29. There have been 22 staff members at New Horizons Lanier Park and 18 staff members at New Horizons Limestone vaccinated as of Monday.

Toomey said the Georgia Poison Center will be providing information to the public through a COVID-19 hotline, 1-888-357-0169.

She encouraged people with questions about the vaccine or their eligibility to call.

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