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Failed generator causes power outage at Pinecrest building, but vaccines saved

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Rory Geving


WATERLOO -- A more than eight-hour power outage over the weekend where the county stores its surplus vaccine supply didn't ruin any vaccines, including some COVID-19 doses, but it did reveal the building's back-up generator wasn't working as expected.

Nafissa Cisse Egbuonye, health director for Black Hawk County, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday the department did not lose any of its vaccine supply during a power outage that lasted from approximately 11 a.m. through 7:30 p.m. on Saturday and at the Pinecrest building, 1407 Independence Ave.

At highest risk at the health department was losing around 400 vaccines, the majority of them childhood vaccines, according to Gabbi DeWitt, the department's spokesperson. A "small amount" of those also were COVID-19 vaccines, she said.

DeWitt said each type of vaccine has different time and temperature criteria, but none of them had to be thrown out.

"That was very scary," Egbuonye said. "But we did save our vaccines."

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The county installed a new back-up generator at Pinecrest in 2018, according to Rory Geving, the county's maintenance supervisor. He said the generator was running fine, but there was a problem with the automatic transfer switch, which meant it wasn't powering the Pinecrest building after the power failure.

"We did find substantial damage to the automatic transfer," Geving said. "We're looking into it with the manufacturer."

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Geving said he tests the generator every two weeks. He wasn't sure what caused the outage or the transfer failure, but speculated it could either have been an animal on the utility line or a power surge.

In the meantime, Pinecrest has no back-up power, Geving said.

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"At some point, we would need to discuss a plan B when situations do arise, especially with regard to our vaccines," Egbuonye said.

She said on a normal workday, she might have hustled the vaccine supply to a nearby hospital for storage, but it was the Thanskgiving holiday weekend.

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"It's disappointing. We spend the money on a plan B, and it fails," Supervisor Tom Little said, with Supervisor Linda Laylin noting the county now needed "backup generators for backup generators."

Geving, however, thought it was "a pretty rare occurrence."

"I still have confidence in the generator," he said.

The county has been averaging between 50 and 60 COVID-19 cases per day for the last few weeks, and has a 15.9% positivity rate, putting it into the health department's "high" category, according to the department. The omicron variant has not yet been detected in the county.

Egbuonye said around 64% of county residents ages 12 and older are fully vaccinated against the virus, with 8.1% of children ages 5-11 getting at least one dose of the vaccine. DeWitt noted the county is also tracking how many are getting booster doses, but did not have that information available yet.


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Reporter covering Waterloo, Black Hawk Co. and politics

UNI political communications/journalism grad. Alum of The Calumet (MCC), The Northern Iowan (UNI), Fergus Falls (Minn.) Daily Journal and KWWL. 4-time award-winner while at The Courier. Interested in exposing wrongdoing and holding power to account.

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