As county ramps up vaccination effort, health officials ask for patience

By Katherine Minkiewicz, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, January 14, 2021

Sonoma County health officials held a community COVID-19 briefing on Jan. 13 to update folks on case rates and vaccine distribution plans for the county.

Officials also addressed the state’s sudden vaccine eligibility policy change — which now prioritizes individuals 65 and older to receive the vaccine as demand ebbs among health care workers — and said folks need to be patient as they work with the state to get a implementation process in place.

To date, 13,245 COVID vaccines have been administered in Sonoma County, according to Mase. The county is currently in phase 1A of vaccine rollout.

“Overall the vaccine rollout is going really well in Sonoma County and we encourage everyone to take the time now to learn about the vaccine so you are ready when it is your turn, and that may come sooner rather than later,” Mase said.

Mase said they expect the 13,245 figure to increase “rapidly” as supply and distribution grow.

“We are drastically scaling up our efforts to distribute the COVID vaccine, which is our most important tool to end the pandemic,” Mase said.

Dr. Urmila Shende, who has just been named the county’s COVID-19 vaccine chief, was on the call to discuss the steps the county is taking to get the vaccine rolled out as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Shende said she will be working closely with Ken Tasseff, who works in privacy and security relating to HIPAA (health information and privacy) for the county health department, on implementing the county’s vaccine strategy, which includes a distribution strategy, interfacing with county health care partners and coordination on vaccine administration.

“The big question right now is how can I get my vaccine, where can I get it and there are a lot of questions associated with this so we are going to be working hard to try and answer these questions and have a smooth system,” Shende said.

The county recently partnered with Safeway to launch a drive-thru vaccine clinic at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds and Shende and Tasseff said they’re working on setting up similar sites at other locations across the county.

The fairgrounds site was the county’s first big vaccine program and they were able to vaccinate a number of their county employees.

“We will be continuing that process as we roll out further events at the fairgrounds and at this point we’ve identified a few different locations in Sonoma County and the community can expect that we will continue to have these events as time goes on,” Shende said.

The identified sites include the Grace Pavillion, the fitness center at the Santa Rosa Junior College Petaluma campus and possibly the Huerta Gym in Windsor.

“Some of the things that we are doing right now is putting together vaccination centers that are able to support others in their ability to deliver and administer vaccines. By Friday we should have in the infrastructure in place, for example at Grace Pavilion, to have up to and more than 1,200 vaccines a day to be delivered by various health care providers,” Tasseff said. “In addition, we have a second site at the Santa Rosa Junior College at Petaluma and we have several lanes there to deliver over 300 doses of vaccines a day. And at the Huerta Gym we are working with the town of Windsor to open up another center there and we’ve been working with other partners to help supports centers that they are working on right now in other parts of the county like in west county and we do plan on finding a spot in the Sonoma Valley.”

These sites will be for providers that do not otherwise have the space and resources to provide vaccination administration.

“This is a fantastic first step,” Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Lynda Hopkins said of the county’s early vaccination efforts and of the Safeway partnership.

One of the big questions of the evening was what should Sonoma County residents 65 and older know about the county’s response to new state policy that now states that persons between 65 and 74-years-old can now receive the vaccine.

“We know that extending the vaccine to those over 65 opens up a huge number of people and I think the state is thinking of ways to operationalize this, but we’re not quite there yet, so hold tight and we will get mechanisms for getting that,” Mase said. “It is a matter of getting an implementation in place. We should be there in the next two to three weeks.”

Paul Gullixson, the county’s communications manager, said the county has been receiving numerous questions about when, how and where the vaccine will be distributed and Gullixson and health officials emphasized that folks will have to be patient as they continue to develop vaccine roll out logistics.

“Even though the recommendation is that anybody 65 and older should receive it soon, the supply is just not there and in the days and weeks I think we’ll start receiving more vaccine and as we have more info we will continue to roll that out to everybody else,” Shende said.

In terms of how health care worker vaccine distribution is going, Dr. Joshua Weil of Santa Rosa Kaiser said about 80% of their staff have been vaccinated and 40% have had their second vaccination.

Healthcare worker vaccination efforts are also ongoing at St. Joseph’s.

While the county is working on upping vaccination efforts Mase stressed that we are still in a dire stage of the pandemic and urged people to continue to adhere to state and county health guidelines.

“We truly are at a dire point of this pandemic. We’re still under a state-imposed stay home order in the entire Bay Area and we continue to see high case rates and the chance of people testing positive is also increasing,” Mase said.

Local ICU capacity is down to 13.2% while the Bay Area region, which Sonoma County is in, capacity is at 4.7% according to Mase.

“The state makes weekly projections about what the ICU capacity will be four weeks from now and the stay home order will be lifted once that four week projection for the Bay Area region is greater than 15%. At that time we’ll be placed back in the purple tier of the state’s blueprint for a safer economy,” Mase said.

To learn more about the county’s vaccination efforts visit their website at: https://socoemergency.org/emergency/novel-coronavirus/vaccine-information/.

There you can view up to date figures on how many folks in the county have been vaccinated, view the county’s distribution plan and learn other key facts about vaccination.

This article was produced by Sonoma West Times & News, the hometown newspaper of Sebastopol and west county since 1889. See more news at sonomawest.com