Highlands Health Press Conference

Rosalie Danchanko, Highlands Health executive director, talks about the impact of COVID-19 on the region during a press conference held at Senior Life on Broad Street in Johnstown on Friday, May 7, 2021.

A celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States provides an ideal opportunity to address inequities in COVID-19 vaccine distribution, organizers say.

Free vaccine clinics with gifts and a chance at bigger prizes will be part of Johnstown’s Juneteenth events from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday in Peoples Natural Gas Park and from noon to 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and June 18 in Johnstown’s Central Park, Highlands Health free clinic announced.

All those receiving vaccines can get a free funnel cake and other gifts and be entered into a drawing for a Steelers basket and gift certificate, Executive Director Rosalie Danchanko said.

Highlands Health was invited by the NAACP Johnstown Branch, which is organizing Juneteenth.

“This is a great opportunity as we celebrate the end of slavery to be able to offer shots to the minority community,” Jeffrey Wilson of the NAACP said. “When you look at the numbers, the African American community, locally and nationally, have been lagging behind other groups of people in America in getting the vaccine.”

By offering incentives as part of a larger celebration, organizers hope to encourage those still undecided about the vaccine to get the information they need to protect themselves, he said.

The Juneteenth outreach illustrates a new direction for Highlands Health, which has held successful mass-vaccination clinics at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Senior LIFE Johnstown and other venues.

“We are finding that these large clinics don’t work anymore,” Danchanko said.

In addition to ongoing in-home visits for those not able to come to a vaccination site, Highlands Health will begin more targeted outreach, she said. Plans include bringing medical professionals to businesses and vaccinating employees who want the shots. There are also plans to work with churches, even setting up vaccine events on Sunday mornings.

“The goal is to reach as many people as we can to be vaccinated,” Danchanko said.

Highlands Health’s new effort illustrates a national push to get more people vaccinated this month.

State officials have said the state’s mask mandate will be lifted by June 28 or when 70% of adults are fully vaccinated. President Joe Biden has set a goal of getting 70% of Americans vaccinated by July 4.

Although both the state and nation are falling short of vaccination rates required to meet those goals, the Department of Health on Tuesday said 72.3% of all adults have received at least one shot and 55.9% are fully vaccinated.

Vaccine providers have administered 10,925,445 doses, with 4,917,549 Pennsylvanians now fully vaccinated. Another 1,498,579 are partially vaccinated, meaning they have received one dose of a two-dose vaccine.

Meanwhile, for the fourth consecutive day, there were fewer than 500 new COVID-19 cases statewide, Tuesday’s Department of Health update showed.

All eight counties in the region had less than 10 new cases, with Somerset and Centre counties having one case removed from Monday’s total. The department has said some cases are reassigned to the patient’s home county after review.

Tuesday’s addition of 450 cases puts the state’s rolling seven-day average at 511, the lowest seven-day average since the week ending June 25, 2020. One year ago, the seven-day average was 522 cases a day for the week ending June 8, 2020.

There were four new deaths across the region, among 35 additional fatalities statewide Tuesday. It brings the state totals to 1,206,439 cases and 27,395 deaths attributed to COVID-19.

Cambria County had seven new cases with no deaths, bringing the county’s totals to 14,703 cases and 434 deaths. Somerset County had one case removed but added one death, for totals of 8,016 cases and 214 deaths.

Bedford County added one case with no deaths to reach 4,671 cases and 139 deaths. Blair County added one case and one death to reach 13,481 cases and 340 deaths. Indiana County added four cases with no deaths to reach 6,383 cases and 177 deaths.

Clearfield County added six cases and two deaths to reach 8,623 cases and 150 deaths. Centre County had one case removed and no additional deaths for totals of 16,875 cases and 224 deaths. Westmoreland County had eight cases with no deaths to reach 34,236 cases and 769 deaths.

Randy Griffith is a multimedia reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 532-5057. Follow him on Twitter @PhotoGriffer57.

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