Lakes area seniors saw more movement on the COVID-19 vaccine front as one health care system began getting shots into arms while another scheduled the first of its doses set aside for those 65 and older.

Following the most recent guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health, Essentia Health Monday, Jan. 25, started vaccinating members of the public at its Brainerd clinic. Among the first to receive a vaccination Monday was patient John Collins. His shot was administered by Carrin Delong, a registered nurse at Essentia.

Meanwhile, those at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center were overwhelmed with phone calls from patients clamoring for their first dose of the highly effective vaccine. Between Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning, more than 800 vaccination appointments were filled by CRMC patients who live in the hospital’s service area.

Peggy Stebbins, CRMC spokeswoman, said the rush for vaccines temporarily overwhelmed the medical center’s phone system and some people were on hold for long periods of time. By 10:30 a.m., all vaccination slots were full.

“It’s very encouraging that people want to receive the COVID vaccination and hopefully turn this around so we can get back to normal,” Stebbins said. “ … People were so grateful and there was a lot of emotion and even some tears.”

Representatives from both systems said they would continue senior vaccinations as supplies allowed.

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Essentia Health

Essentia Health is currently using a randomized selection process for patients who are in the 65-and-older category to determine the order in which patients are vaccinated.

Notification to those who are invited to receive a COVID-19 vaccine will occur as appointments are available, a news release stated. As additional allocations are received, Essentia will continue to work through the list of eligible patients. Vaccine allocation is subject to change and appointments may need to be rescheduled due to vaccine availability.

Essentia is notifying patients primarily through MyChart messages to let them know when they are invited to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. Essentia Health patients are encouraged to sign up for MyChart, which will be the primary method of notification. Once a notice is received via MyChart, patients will be able to schedule their vaccination.

To sign up for MyChart, visit and click on the MyChart button in the upper right-hand corner; then click “sign up.” There is also a MyChart app for smart devices. Additional information regarding the COVID-19 vaccine can be found by clicking on the vaccine distribution link at the top of the Essentia Health website.

RELATED: Essentia Health offers info on getting the vaccine

Those with questions or concerns about the vaccine are urged to contact their primary care provider. Similarly, those with a history of severe allergic reactions to vaccines or medications, should also contact their primary care provider.

Essentia Health was recently among the major health care providers in the state recognized for distributing 100% of its vaccination supply. This compares to private pharmacy chains such as Walgreens, which has given just 42% of its doses so far as of Tuesday.

Cuyuna Regional Medical Center

Cuyuna Regional Medical Center is hosting drive-up COVID-19 vaccination clinics in Crosby this week for its patients age 65 and older who live in the organization’s service area. A limited amount of vaccine was available and over 800 appointments were filled on a first-come, first-served basis.

As additional vaccine becomes available from the Minnesota Department of Health, CRMC said it will announce more clinics. Patients will be notified via email, on and through CRMC’s Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn sites. Appointments will be required by calling a phone number that will be in the announcement. Waitlists are not available.

At the clinics, patients obtain their vaccination from a nurse while in their vehicle near a mobile unit near the hospital. Individuals must bring photo identification, an ink pen and be prepared to sign a consent form and expose their shoulder.

Those obtaining the vaccination are asked to remain in their parked vehicle for 15 minutes so they may be monitored by medical personnel for any reaction. The same process is required 21 to 28 days later for the second dose depending upon the formulation. There will be no charge for the vaccine and insurance will not be billed. CRMC will enter the vaccination information into each patient’s vaccination record.

CRMC is following Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Minnesota Department of Health guidelines for COVID-19 vaccine distribution. To date, vaccinations have been given to CRMC’s employees, physicians, Care Center and Heartwood residents, area first responders, school teachers and staff, and patients age 65 and older.

State pilot sites

Those age 65 and older who wished to enter the state’s lottery system to be vaccinated at one of nine sites had through 5 a.m. Wednesday morning.

Those randomly selected for an appointment will be notified by text, email, or phone with instructions on how to finalize the appointment. People selected to make an appointment can do so in the following communities: Blaine, Brooklyn Center, Fergus Falls, Marshall, Mountain Iron, North Mankato, Rochester, St. Cloud and Thief River Falls.

Those using a landline should make sure to answer the phone, the health department noted. They will be calling from 833-431-2053. Reservationists will make only two attempts to contact people within a two-hour window. People can call back if they miss the first call.

For those selected who cannot use their appointment, another Minnesotan on the pre-registration list will be randomly selected for that appointment.

Update on numbers

Positive signs continue on the COVID-19 data front for the seven-county area.

For the first time in months, an area county — Todd — remained at the same number of reported cases for three consecutive days. A total of 2,337 cases were reported there on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday. All other area counties saw just single-digit increases in new cases, with Aitkin and Wadena each adding one case.

The most recent data on local congregate care facilities also reflects the statewide slowdown in cases as many of those residents have received their first and possible second doses of vaccine.

Of the 60 area facilities reporting a COVID-19 exposure at one time or another throughout the pandemic, just one-third continued to report new cases as of Thursday, Jan. 21. All 21 of those facilities reported five or fewer new cases, with 12 reporting one new case during the previous two-week period. Seven, however, reported at least one new resident death, with three more local facilities also reporting COVID-19-related deaths. Edgewood Vista in Baxter reported the most deaths of any area facility with three.

Since Friday, the death of one more resident of the seven-county area was reported by the Minnesota Department of Health: a person age 85-89 in Wadena County.

COVID-19 data as of Jan. 26

  • Aitkin — 1,116, with 33 deaths.

  • Cass — 2,110, with 24 deaths.

  • Crow Wing — 4,911, with 78 deaths.

  • Mille Lacs — 2,161, with 45 deaths.

  • Morrison — 3,148, with 45 deaths.

  • Todd — 2,337, with 30 deaths.

  • Wadena — 1,209, with 18 deaths.

NOTE: These numbers are cumulative since March 21, 2020, and many are out of isolation.