With COVID-19 vaccinations expanding as Bloomington marks the one-year anniversary of the pandemic shutdown, the city’s acting public health administrator offered words of optimism as year two begins.

There are many unknowns, and timelines are uncertain, but Nick Kelley of Bloomington Public Health outlined several positive developments in reviewing public health data during a March 11 Bloomington Chamber of Commerce presentation.

Kelley’s Bloomington Chamber Town Talk presentation came days before the one-year anniversary of Bloomington Mayor Tim Busse’s first emergency declaration in response to the pandemic. He outlined the role of the city’s public health division before crunching numbers and providing glimmers of optimism about the future.

Calling vaccines the exit from the pandemic, Kelley said all three vaccines being distributed nationwide are safe and effective. “Get the first one that’s offered to you,” he said.

With an educational background that includes pandemic studies, Kelley expected it would take 18 months from the onset of the pandemic before vaccines would be ready for clinical trials. Instead, the 18-month mark is viewed as a point where every willing adult will be vaccinated, he explained.

A year ago he would have laughed at the suggestion, he noted. Investments in both science and public health infrastructure have helped expedite the process, according to Kelley.

Using charts to illustrate the COVID-19 case counts by age groups, the vaccinations of Bloomington residents 70 and older demonstrate how cases have bottomed out since January amongst the city’s senior population, when vaccinations began to ramp up. “That’s a phenomenal impact we’re seeing from the vaccine,” Kelley said.

All adults will have an opportunity to be vaccinated by June at the latest, and it appears increasingly likely that the benchmark will be reached sooner, although it is unclear how many adults will forgo the vaccination, he explained.

The community can overcome the challenges of the pandemic through humility, partnership and a common purpose, according to Kelley. “You can’t do this alone,” he said.

The challenges faced during the pandemic are easier to navigate with partners that are working together, he added.

As vaccinations increase, there will be continued challenges, however, such as variant strains of the virus. “We don’t know what the variants are going to do,” Kelley cautioned. The spread of variants may result in an increase in cases, but it may not, he noted.

Variants are coming at a time when people are tired of the precautions that have been taken during the past year. As another spring beckons Bloomington residents, the increasing availability of vaccines brings optimism about the end of the pandemic, Kelley explained.

Although the United States is on track to have vaccines available for all adults within a few months, it will take until 2022 before most of the world has access to the vaccine, Kelley noted. That will continue to impact worldwide travel, he said.

Kelley expects vaccines to be available for children by this fall, if not during the summer, and suggested COVID-19 vaccinations may become ongoing as variant strains evolve, similar to flu vaccines.

Bloomington COVID-19 data is updated daily, and as of March 19 the city had tabulated 148 deaths, nearly 500 hospitalizations and more than 7,600 cases. The city’s case rates, including a variety of demographic charts and statewide vaccination data, are available online at blm.mn/cdash.

Video of Kelley’s presentation is available online at tr.im/bc311.

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