Mass vaccination site in Baltimore County, Maryland

READING, Pa. – Berks County Commissioner Christian Y. Leinbach announced Thursday that county commissioners across Pennsylvania are unified in challenging the Wolf administration to change its strategy on the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Leinbach said the topic was recently discussed during a meeting of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, and a task force was established to challenge Wolf.

"Their (state administration) philosophy is to get as many of the little pharmacies to have the vaccine and not to invest in large vaccination sites," Leinbach said. "[Small] pharmacies, on average, are vaccinating 20 people a day because they are struggling to go about their business of filling prescriptions. They are not set up for mass vaccinations."

Leinbach said there is a real coordination issue with the state's department of health in distribution of the vaccine.

"It's much easier to protect the most vulnerable citizens with a mass vaccination site than it is to deal with a fractured system of pharmacists throughout the county," Leinbach said. "County commissioners (across the state) are unifying in challenging the administration to change its strategy of distribution and start focusing on mass vaccination sites."

Brian Gottschall, the county's director of emergency services, said a lot of mistakes are being made, and he acknowledged the distribution of the vaccine is untested ground.

"Understanding the state strategy is very difficult," Gottschall said, "and we are taking steps to best serve the Berks County community."

Gottschall emphasized that no one is doing anything unethical with the administration of the vaccine.

"But the reality is that everyone has a constituency, whether it is a hospital, doctor's office or pharmacy," he said. "That's why the state has to make sure the county has a role in the distribution of the vaccine."

Gottschall called on community members to remain patient as vaccine providers are in a tough situation in scheduling appointments when quantities of the vaccine are unknown.

In his weekly COVID-19 update report, Gottschall said the good news about the pandemic is that there are continuous downward trends in all targeted areas being tracked, but he added a cautionary warning.

"We had some serious weather (over the past several weeks) and people have been stuck inside, which may have created an environment where we reduced the spread of COVID-19," Gottschall said. "With the weather improving, we could see an upward tick, but we hope that is not the case."

In other business, the commissioners voted to approve the submission of an application to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development for funding from the COVID-19 Hospitality Industry Recovery Program (CHIRP) in the amount of $4.7 million.

The commissioners further approved an agreement with the Greater Berks Development Fund –- an affiliate of the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance -- to administer the CHIRP program in Berks County.

Earlier this month, Gov. Tom Wolf announced that $145 million in funding will be distributed to all of the state's 67 counties in an effort to help support hospitality industry businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each county will receive an amount based on population, but each county still had to make an application to receive the funds.

Commissioner Michael S. Rivera said details will be available in the near future on how those funds will be made available to Berks County businesses.

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