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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

How And When Will The Tri-State Get The COVID Vaccine?

coronavirus vaccine
Hans Pennink

Tri-State counties and hospitals are preparing to receive shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine. Tuesday WVXU got more information on how it all will work when trucks start rolling in to town in the middle of December.

As the Ohio Department of Health runs drills on how to break down shipments from manufacturers into smaller packaging, counties are making preparations for storage and distribution.

Tuesday Ohio Governor Mike DeWine toured the state's vaccine storage facility and announced 10 hospital sites would get direct shipments from Pfizer, including UC Health. Facilities requiring fewer than 1,000 doses, such as smaller local health departments and doctor's offices, will get the vaccine from the Ohio Department of Health.

Hamilton County Health Commissioner Greg Kesterman says the county will store its vaccines in an undisclosed warehouse. "We are not providing address information for security purposes. We do have an alarm system and cameras that work closely with the jurisdiction's police to make sure we're safeguarding the vaccine as appropriate."

Hamilton County Emergency Management says it's in the process of installing cold storage facilities for COVID-19 vaccines. EMA Director Nick Crossley says the facilities will be able to handle both the regular and extreme cold storage requirements of the two vaccines expected to be ready by the middle of the month.

"We have a secure location for that and we'll be engaging with our public health and first responder communities on how that will be received and how they will distribute it from our secure location," Crossley previously told Hamilton County commissioners.

The storage would house Hamilton County's allotment of vaccines to be distributed to county-run clinics and first responders. It could also handle storage for other agencies like hospitals should they need extra capacity.

The facility includes refrigeration, back-up generators, power protection, and a security system. Crossley estimates the cost at $250,000-275,000. He doesn't have an exact number of how many doses the county's facility can hold, but says it's "quite a bit."

Commission President Denise Driehaus adds the new coroner's facility in Blue Ash could aid with storage in its freezers, too.

Northern Kentucky's Vaccine Plans

According to the Northern Kentucky Health Department:

Kentucky also expects to receive its first allotment of COVID vaccine in mid-December, which is supposed to be the Pfizer manufactured vaccine. The first allotment of the Moderna manufactured vaccine is expected to be received by Kentucky in late December. Supplies will be small at first. Initial allocations are primarily going to be used for healthcare workers and long-term care residents and staff. Delivery and storage will likely be dependent on the specific vaccine manufacturer and the product's storage requirements, particularly temperature needs. Pfizer vaccines are expected to go to hospitals due to ultra-cold storage needs, at least in initial shipments.

Hamilton County's Emergency Operations Plan

The county's Emergency Management and Homeland Security agency has also updated its Emergency Operations Plan. The document gets reviewed annually and a larger overhaul every five years.

The plan is used to "address preparedness, response and short-term recovery activities for events (pre-planned or unplanned) that exceed normal emergency response capabilities," Crossley explains. It details specific plans and directions for how all agencies that could be involved in responding to emergencies will work together.

Flash flooding tops the county's hazard ranking list, followed by hazardous materials incidents, severe winter storms and landslides.

Credit Courtesy of Hamilton County

Cybersecurity is moving up the list. "I think you'll see us over the next few years focus more and more on cyber issues," Crossley tells commissioners, "both internal to the county and external for our communities to ensure that we are protected from cyber issues."

Other updates from the last five-year review include redistributing some operational assignments so they're more equally distributed. The section about dealing with agricultural assets and household pets was revised in light of the county's new dog warden contract with Cincinnati Animal CARE Humane Society. The Post-Katrina Act of 2005, Crossley points out, requires counties to have a plan for caring for household pets.

The updated response plan is part of the EMA's application for national accreditation by the Emergency Management Accreditation Program (EMAP). The accreditation process begins Nov. 30 and will last several weeks, Crossley says, with a final determination expected by June 2021. This is the first time the agency has applied for national accreditation.

"I believe in the national standards, they are built off of both lessons learned, best practices, the big brains in the industry, what should a community be able to do in a disaster and how can they recover," Crossley says. "I believe (this emergency plan) meets the EMAP standards, but more importantly it meets what Hamilton County needs."

WVXU's Cory Sharber and Ann Thompson contributed to this report.

This article was first published Nov. 18, 2020 and has been updated. 

Ann Thompson has decades of journalism experience in the Greater Cincinnati market and brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to her reporting.
Senior Editor and reporter at WVXU with more than 20 years experience in public radio; formerly news and public affairs producer with WMUB. Would really like to meet your dog.