One year after emergency declaration, Newel ‘contagiously optimistic’ COVID is ebbing, gives Sutter update
Santa Cruz County health officials updated the public on the latest COVID-19 developments Thursday, after state officials announced changes to reopening and vaccine guidelines. There’s also more on the Sutter/PAMF vaccine shortage.
On the one-year anniversary of when Santa Cruz County declared a public health emergency, county health officer Dr. Gail Newel described herself as “contagiously optimistic” about the COVID-19 pandemic ebbing despite a new round of vaccine supply shortages and constantly shifting state guidelines.
“Nothing changes the fact that our disease trajectory is in a very positive mode,” she said Thursday. “We continue in a very steep downward trajectory in terms of case rates, hospitalizations, and deaths.”
The county’s update on the status of the disease and vaccine distribution came within hours of California Gov. Gavin Newsom releasing changes to the tier framework in California’s reopening plan, as well as on vaccine distribution. The upshot of the changes, according to CDPH, are:
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(1) Shifting the tier threshold to higher case rates per 100,000 people based on meeting vaccination thresholds within Vaccine Equity Quartile communities, and
(2) Changing certain sector specific guidance — and issuing new sector guidance to incorporate learnings from the last year about how the virus spreads.
Both of the above are mouthfuls.
So Newel and the other health officials addressed the changes, as well as issues involving local vaccine supply, youth sports and more in Thursday’s briefing.
Here’s what we learned:
- Santa Cruz County is expected to move to the less restrictive “red tier” in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy next Tuesday, March 9. As a result, many restrictions will be removed on Wednesday: indoor dining, movie theaters, and gyms all can open with limited capacity and modifications.
- Newel also raised the possibility the county could reach the orange tier by the very end of March, which would allow indoor dining and retail to increase capacity, among other changes.
- The state is planning to change guidance for wineries and breweries as part of the adjustments to the blueprint framework, according to Newel, and that could be announced as soon as Friday. “I think it’s good news for our local breweries,” Newel said. “There may be some more opportunities for them for serving and tasting without having to have a full meal associated with a drink.”
- Beginning April 1, there will be some outdoor events allowed, likely including some professional sports, and outdoor theater. Newel said the state is also working on commencement guidance so schools may be able to hold in-person graduations.
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Vaccine frustration: MyTurn and Sutter Health
- County Chief of Public Health Jen Herrera said the county didn’t activate “the ‘On’ switch yet to MyTurn,” the state system to help people find vaccine appointments, until last week. MyTurn “should be active now in our county,” she said, but added that “we still don’t have that many vaccine opportunities in our community, but if people sign up through MyTurn, they will receive notification when those appointments become available.”
- Sutter Health made news this week when it announced it would cancel up to 90,000 vaccine appointments due to insufficient supply. Newel said “we have been impacted locally and our own Sutter has not been receiving supply as well,” but that in a phone call this morning the state promised that this would be rectified soon. The supply issues, she said, were related “onboarding pains from the new third party administrator (Blue Shield).”
- Importantly, very few second dose appointments had to be cancelled for Sutter patients in Santa Cruz County, according to Herrera, because the county provided some of its vaccine allocation to Sutter to “ensure that all of the pre-scheduled second-dose appointment clinics were able to be maintained.”
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On local youth and adult sports:
- Last Friday, new youth and adult sports guidance went into effect, and there are two areas that require local health department authorization: If Santa Cruz County teams wish to compete with teams in neighboring counties (they must be counties we share a border with), they need local health department authorization from both counties, and they would use the more rigorous of this state’s requirements depending on the tier of each county. The other area requiring authorization is competition between multiple teams, even within the county.
- No spectators are allowed at any sport competitions or practices, with the exception of parents or other immediate household members who may be present as observers to ensure the safety of the players.
- A court settlement in San Diego related to indoor youth sports was settled Thursday, but Newel said the county does not know anything about the settlement yet, so the county is “abiding by current state guidance, until we hear otherwise.”
On the Johnson & Johnson vaccine:
- Deputy health officer Dr. David Ghilarducci announced that the county received its first shipment of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, a supply of 1,300 doses.
- Ghilarducci emphasized that this vaccine, like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, is “100% effective in keeping you from dying, and 100% effective in keeping you out of the hospital.”
- Ghilarducci also pointed out that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was tested against some of the emerging variants of concern, and remained 100% effective at preventing hospitalization and death from those variants. Generally it’s thought that all the available vaccines will remain “very effective” against the new variants, Ghilarducci said.
Officials announced today that Santa Cruz County has given at least one dose of vaccine to:
- 73% of the 65 and older population
- 82% of the 75 and older population
- 80% of K-12 teachers (by the end of the week).