Pitt County officials said they would establish a call center to take reservations for the COVID-19 vaccine after the Pitt County Board of Commissioners raised questions about the roll-out during their meeting on Monday.

People are complaining they cannot make a reservation to receive the vaccination and cannot get through the county’s COVID-19 hotline to get their questions answered, several commissioners said during their Monday meeting.

County Manager Scott Elliott said efforts are underway to solve the communication problems, but Public Health Director John Silvernail said the limited amount of medicine distributed to his agency means it will take a long time to vaccinate everyone who currently qualifies.

Silvernail said his department administered 224 COVID-19 vaccines to individuals 75 and older on Monday. The next vaccination clinic won’t be held until next week, he said, but a second shipment of vaccines for that age group didn’t arrive Monday as expected.

Silvernail said he won’t announce the clinic until he has the vaccines in hand.

Last week the commissioners and members of the board of health met jointly to discuss shortfalls in the vaccination program.

It only took a few hours for the first round of vaccination appointments to be booked, staff said. Several commissioners and a board of health members recommended registering people for future clinics so people don’t repeatedly call the health department.

One issue in scheduling is the health department’s electronic appointment system isn’t connected to the state and can’t be used for COVID-19 vaccinations, Silvernail said, so the appointments have to be made manually.

Staffing and space for staffing also has been limited.

Elliott said the county’s emergency operations center, located in the basement of the county office building, is being set up as a call-in center for the health department. Elliott and County Attorney Janis Gallagher also plan to make staff from their offices available to work with health department staff, taking administrative level calls.

Part of getting the reservation center operational means making sure the influx of calls and emails don’t crash the county’s communication system, which has occurred in other counties, Silvernail said.

The county also is only getting several hundred doses of vaccinations with each shipment, he said. The shipment that was supposed to arrive Monday is supposed to contain 600 vaccines.

Vidant Health has secured larger quantities of vaccinations, Silvernail said. He and a Vidant Health vice president, who he didn’t identify, have discussed jointly operating a large vaccination center that the health department would staff. Silvernail said officials with the Department of Health and Human Services have shown interest in the recommendation, which could increase the number of doses delivered to the county.

As the number of groups qualified to receive vaccines increase, Silvernail has talked with the city about using its occupational health clinic staff to administer vaccinations to fire-rescue staff currently qualified to receive it and police and public transit workers who will soon be qualified to receive it.

He also plans to talk with Greenville Utilities Commission about having its employee clinic administer the vaccine when its staff becomes qualified for the vaccine.

One bright spot in the community’s efforts to fight the pandemic, Silvernail said, is that two other viruses that commonly occur this time of year are “missing in action.”

Vidant Medical Center’s testing laboratory has diagnosed only one Influenza A case this winter, Silvernail said. There also have been few cases of respiratory syncytial virus, which can lead to bronchitis and other lung infections, he said.

“That’s good considering there were great concerns about COVID and influenza circulating at the same time,” he said.

Monday’s meeting was the first completely virtual meeting, Elliott said. When restrictions on gatherings were first imposed last year, most commissioners participated via Zoom but Elliott, Clerk to the Board Kimberly Hines, County Attorney Janis Gallagher, other top administrators and the occasional commissioner would gather in the commissioners’ auditorium.

But with coronavirus cases increasing, Elliott recommended everyone participate remotely.

Other action taken during Monday’s meeting included:

  • Commissioner Lauren White lost her connection to the meeting and was unable to participate in several votes.

She sent a message to staff asking the commissioners to consider sending the Attorney General a letter requesting his office investigate Suddenlink’s business practices because of continued problems people in Greenville and its Pitt County service area have with service.

The mayors of New Bern, Tarboro and Washington, N.C., sent a similar letter last week.

The commissioners agreed to place the item on its February agenda.

  • The commissioners voted 8-1 to establish a Human Relations Council.

A second vote was needed because state law requires local government ordinance to be approved either by a unanimous vote or taking two separate votes.

White and Commissioner Tom Coulson voted against the council in December, which is why the second vote was required.

However, because the board didn’t excuse White from participating in the meeting when she lost connection, she was counted as voting yes, leaving Coulson as the only no vote on Monday.

  • White participated in an earlier vote unanimously approving a conditional district rezoning request involving nearly two acres of property western side of N.C. 43 South, north of B Stokes Road.

O’neil J. Otero and Saskia Marcano requested the property be rezoned from rural residential to general commercial so they can operate an office and repair garage/shop for a refuse materials hauling business and tax preparation services office.

Planning Director James Rhodes said staff recommended a conditional rezoning because they believe not every use allowed under general commercial zoning is suitable for the area. The conditional rezoning allows only the businesses Otero and Marcano want to pursue on the property.

  • The board unanimously approved transferring to the Town of Grifton eight parcels of property acquired after Hurricanes Irene and Matthew with hazard mitigation grant funding.
  • Unanimously approved releasing $1.6 million so it can lock in costs prior to the start of construction on the A.G. Cox Middle School renovation project.
  • Unanimously approved a proclamation recognizing January as human trafficking awareness and prevention month.

Contact Ginger Livingston at glivingston@reflector.com or 252-329-9570.