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WILLIAMSON — Hundreds of Tug Valley area first responders and elders are set to receive their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in the next two weeks, according to Mingo County Health Department Administrator Anthony Keith Blankenship.

The health department is scheduled to receive a shipment of vaccines Wednesday, according to Blankenship, and they will be earmarked for the county’s first responders and health department employees.

“Next Wednesday, Feb. 3, I put in a request to receive the 610 doses that we gave to the 80 and older population at our vaccination clinics at Williamson Memorial Hospital, Larry Joe Harless Center and Kermit PK-8, so we are hoping that they are the next group coming in,” Blankenship said.

Blankenship said the newest information provided by the state is that they will receive 200 first-time doses of the vaccine so they can begin to vaccinate younger age groups.

“Those will start coming in next Wednesday, and we’re going to meet every Monday at noon to determine how that is best used in the community,” Blankenship said. “Of course, right now we have to follow the governor’s guidelines, which right now are age 65 and older.”

Blankenship said despite the fact that vaccines are being distributed, the end of the pandemic is nowhere in sight.

“The 65 and older population in West Virginia is huge — it’s over 400,000 people,” Blankenship said. “It would take the state four to five months just to vaccinate them. Of course the ultimate goal now is to eventually vaccinate 1.1 million in the state, and they figure it could take 10 to 11 months. We’ve been told to be prepared to vaccinate through Thanksgiving. ... So the end is nowhere in sight, and it’s going to take lots of patience to get there.”

Blankenship implored Mingo County residents to continue to practice social distancing as the virus continues to spread in the community and to take advantage of one of the free COVID-19 testing sites in the county.

Two testing locations were hosted by volunteers at Parsley Bottom Freewill Baptist Church and Little Dove United Baptist Church on Sunday afternoon.

Blankenship said the volunteers used materials provided by the state and that they would offer free testing again from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 31.

As of 10 a.m. Monday, Mingo County has reported a total of 1,866 positive cases of COVID-19 in county residents, with 474 of those cases listed as active and 1,372 patients listed as recovered. Mingo has reported 20 deaths due to complications from COVID-19.

For more information about COVID-19 and upcoming testing or vaccination sites, visit the health department Facebook page, www.coronavirus.wv.gov or www.cdc.gov/coronavirus.

Jarrid McCormick is a reporter for the Williamson Daily News. He can be reached by email at jmccormick@HDMediaLLC.com.