In response to criticism that its decentralized, computer-based system for COVID-19 vaccination appointments is difficult for many seniors, the state has been working to provide help through its Area Agency on Aging sites.

Those sites have been coordinating with local health providers, county governments and ambulance services, helping with scheduling and transportation, offering their sites for clinics and participating in county COVID planning efforts, according to Gov. Tom Wolf and Secretary of Aging Robert Torres at a news conference this week.

“It can be challenging” for older people who lack access to a computer — or who have it, but aren’t familiar with how to navigate through websites, Wolf said.

“Some don’t know where to turn,” he said.

They may be able to get help from Department of Aging’s AAA’s, according to Torres.

The AAA efforts consist of “person-to-person work,” Torres said.

Butler County’s AAA is participating in a county COVID-19 planning commission, scheduling vaccination appointments — 1,200 so far — helping seniors fill out necessary forms, making reminder calls and arranging transportation to appointments, Torres said.

It’s working with a local health system to make these things happen, Torres said.

The three-county Southwestern Pennsylvania AAA is participating on a local task force, helping seniors navigate vaccination websites and working with PennDOT’s shared ride program and a local hospital to provide transportation, Torres said.

Blair Senior Services is Blair County’s Area Agency on Aging, operating four centers in the county, including one in downtown Altoona.

The state’s Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, also known as PACE, a Medicare- and Medicaid-approved initiative for people 55 and older that enables participants to continue living at home instead of in long-term care facilities, has been reaching out to its 275,000 members, offering help with appointments and transportation, Torres indicated. PACE cardholders can call 1-800-225-6223, he said.

Help also is available from a Department of Health hotline, 1-877-724-3258 and PA Link at 1-800-753-8827, officials said.

“There’s a lot of good work going on,” Torres said, though “there’s more to be done.”

“We need to do better,” Wolf said — a point he reiterated in various forms several times during the news conference, once saying there was “no excuse” for the problems. “(But) we’re working on it,” the governor said.

Early warning

The area’s COVID-19 outbreak continues to ease, based on Friday’s update to the Department of Health’s early warning dashboard.

All 12 key indicators — the incidence rates, or number of new cases per 100,000 residents, and the test positivity rates — for each of the six local counties declined this week.

For the first time in months, one of those indicators — the positivity rate — slipped below the threshold of concern, which is 5%, as Cambria County’s positivity went to 4.3%. Clearfield’s positivity was just over the threshold at 5.3%.

Similarly, Bedford County’s incidence rate, at 50.1, was just a tenth of a point over the threshold for that metric.

The worst positivity rate was 9.2% for Centre — although that number nevertheless represents the biggest drop from last week, at 3.8 points.

The worst incidence rate was 254, also in Centre.

The biggest drop in incidence rate was in Clearfield, by 28%, to 128. Blair’s incidence rate was 128, down 12%; and its positivity rate was 7.6 percent, down 0.8 points.

Bedford’s positivity rate was 6.9%, down 0.6 points.

Huntingdon’s positivity rate was 7.4%, down

2 points; and its incidence rate was 221, down 11%.

Cambria’s incidence rate was 87.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.

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