The burning question in Santa Barbara County is, “When can I get my COVID vaccine?” Hope and updates are about all Public Health can offer right now: With one million vaccines produced daily, the hope is that California will receive 125,000 per day, passing 12,000-15,000 doses to the county, Health Officer Dr. Henning Ansorg told reporters today. When might that happen? “We’re hoping for that in a couple of weeks.”
Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, director of Public Health, said she appreciated the patience of the over 65-year-old crowd, who are next to be vaccinated. The best way to stay up-to-date on vaccine availability, she explained, was to sign up for the county’s vaccine newsletter at publichealthsbc.org/vaccine or by calling 2-1-1 and choosing option 4.
And why isn’t all of this happening faster? “We don’t have the product,” Ansorg said plainly. But they have told the state “loud and clear,” said Do-Reynoso, that the current allocation is insufficient. The vaccine clinics for people in the first tier — 75 years and up, and health-care workers — are completely booked, but put “6,083 doses into arms” since they opened last week, Do-Reynoso said.
As she spoke, Marian Regional Medical Center issued a notice that it was making appointments for people over the age of 75 for January 21-24. Call (805) 739-3815 or go to the sign up webpage here.
The Growing Death Toll
As across California, COVID is leveling off in the county, and case rates are even declining slightly from some breathtaking heights. But 11 people died today, Do-Reynoso said, which is the most yet reported in a single day. And in the past three weeks, three times as many people died as compared to the peak summer weeks, she said. It took three months for the summer surge to quiet down, she noted, and the seriously steep winter peaks will take even longer.
The escalating case count that has led to six, seven, nine, and now 11 deaths a day had been preceded by more people in the hospital in need of greater acute care. Ansorg said that was always expected — as more people become very ill, more of them require ICU care; some will inevitably die. The numbers in the daily status reports bear this out:
December 14 — Santa Barbara County records its highest positive case count at the time: 360; no deaths reported for four days in a row, but total deaths stand at 140.
December 21 – The hospital beds filled by coronavirus patients cross the 100 mark; of that number, 21 are in intensive care.
January 8 – Sixty people are being treated in an intensive care ward, the highest toll so far. Ventilator use at Cottage increases all week. No details are given for the six people reported dead this day — Public Health notes coroner reports can take up to two months to verify a COVID death and death certificates several days to be processed. The previous four days, 25 people are reported to have died; the majority were over the age of 70; 13 lived in a nursing home.
January 10 – Another record, this time the number of positive tests: 779.
January 12 – Total deaths cross the 200 mark, as do hospitalizations. Among the eight who are reported dead today, only one was younger than 70; three lived in congregate care. Patients in a COVID unit number 211; 57 are in intensive care. The county reports 470 people tested positive this day.
January 18 – After a five-day drop, hospitalizations cross the 200 mark again: 208. The intensive care units hold 48 patients. Ventilator use has been up at Cottage Hospital for the past three weeks. More than five people die of COVID-19 on each of the next four days, now 260 souls in full.
It’s no surprise people are clamoring for the vaccine. At UC Santa Barbara, County Public Health gave out an as-yet-unknown quantity of dosages, apparently more than the school’s quantity of health-care workers. A number of people contacted the Independent to express astonishment that faculty and staff younger than 75 were being offered vaccination appointments. UCSB spokesperson Andrea Estrada insisted the vaccinations “strictly followed” public health guidelines, going first to essential health-care workers, then to those 75 or older, and to people down to 65 years of age if vaccines were still available.
At Public Health, spokesperson Jackie Ruiz stated the school was authorized to give the vaccine to people over the age of 65. She said the necessary paperwork at the state level would indicate the ages of those who received the vaccine and was unsure if an investigation, should one be necessary, would be at the state or local level. Regardless of who is being vaccinated, Public Health has previously said that any vaccine supply, once distributed, cannot be returned and should be administered quickly.
At the Friday afternoon press conference, Do-Reynoso gave a detailed tour of the route vaccines take once they arrive in the county. A quantity from the state goes to her Public Health Department, 81 percent of which is sent to community providers. Public Health’s vaccine clinics distribute the remaining 19 percent directly to patients. A second set of vaccines goes to the pharmacies at CVS and Walgreens directly from the federal government in the effort to protect workers and residents in skilled nursing facilities. To that end, Heritage House in Santa Barbara, which was reported to be having trouble getting on the list last week, was successfully vaccinated today. And in Santa Maria, Marian hospital stepped in to vaccinate a facility that missed the schedule due to computer issues. All 16 skilled nursing facilities in the county have been vaccinated, Ansorg announced.
But social distancing and mask-wearing remain absolutely essential, said Ansorg, especially with the new virus mutations. He described the variant identified in England as more “sticky” — with a greater ability to adhere to tissue and infect people, and potentially requiring less virus material to get the job done. “The virus has improved its ability to infect people,” he noted, a skill seen in the mutation responsible for two large outbreaks in Santa Clara County, the L452R mutation. It was expected to overtake the current virus in the next two months.
The good news was that both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine were still effective against these two new strains. Further, the county was in contact with a research lab to discover the mutants circulating among Santa Barbarans. “As we learn more, we will update you,” Ansorg promised.
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