COVID-19 cases declining in Sonoma County while vaccine supply remains low

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, Sonoma West Times & News, February 5, 2021

Sonoma County health officials presented new vaccine figures and other local COVID-19 data during a Feb. 3 online community briefing and Q&A with Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase that otherwise primarily focused on equity in the vaccine rollout plan.

“Our ability to vaccinate our population depends always on the vaccine supply that we receive from the state,” Vaccine Chief Dr. Urmila Shende said. Shende said the county typically gets around 6,500 doses a week from the state. This week, the county had the bounty of about 7,400 vaccines.

The bottom line is that the county does not have enough vaccines for its seniors, said Lynda Hopkins, 5th District Supervisor and chair of the board of supervisors. She said two-thirds of the county’s death toll have been community members ages 75 and older and that “horrible doesn’t begin to describe this.”

The county has officially waded into Phase 1b of vaccine distribution, but local eligibility restricts vaccine availability to just residents ages 75 and older so far, according to the county vaccine distribution plan online here.

Following the elderly cohort, vaccine access opens up to individuals ages 65 and older and at-risk essential workers in education and childcare, emergency services, and food and agriculture, Phase 1b, Tier 1.

As to why the county does not expand access to people ages 65 and older, Shende said the county has an exceptionally large population in that age range.

The 102,000 seniors aged 65 and older living in Sonoma County make up a quarter of its entire population, she said. While slowly rising, the county’s current allocation of vaccines is not enough to secure this entire bracket.

“Our vaccine supply, as we know, is extremely limited. We are getting a trickle every single week of vaccine, and that forces us to have to prioritize in a way that makes sense,” Shende said. She said the county hopes to wedge open eligibility to people ages 70 and older soon and believes people ages 65 and older will qualify in the next couple weeks.

According to the vaccine chief, the county and community partners are making more clinics available, though most people’s best bet for an appointment will be their primary care provider.

Shende said about 31,192 residents — 10% of the county’s adult population — have received their first dose so far and 9,670, or 2.5%, have received both. She said 50,532 doses have made it into peoples’ arms altogether.

Kathryn Pack, health program manager of the county’s epidemiology group, said the county will soon upload current demographic data on those fully vaccinated.

Recent data shows Latinx residents make up 10% of those who have been fully vaccinated and 9% of those who’ve received their first dose, she said over email on Feb. 4. Meanwhile, that data indicates 59% of fully vaccinated residents and 52% of residents with one dose are reported as white and non-Hispanic, she said. Pack said that health care workers make up most of those who’ve received both doses, while those with one dose are increasingly ages 75 and older.

Neither set of data includes the percentage of residents marked as “unknown” in their reporting, she said. If that percentage was included, 26% of those fully vaccinated and 10% of those who have received their first dose would be the residents marked for the “unknown” category, Pack said.

At the Feb. 3 meeting, she said, “Right now, when we look at that data, it largely represents the demographics of our health care population because those were the folks who were prioritized first and composed most of that group who received two vaccines.”

There are still some Phase 1a residents receiving their vaccinations, Shende said. “This is going to be a fluid process,” she said, as the county continues to gather data that could signal when the 75 and older population has been successfully vaccinated.

Mase said that while the county stays embedded in the purple and most restrictive tier, cases are falling as the holiday season’s burst of infections peters out. The count now increases by approximately 27 new cases each day, per 100,000 people, she said. Mase reminded viewers they can get tested for no out-of-pocket costs and learn more at socoemergency.org.

The county will review some submitted reopening plans from school districts as daily cases inch closer to 25, the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy framework’s minimum required to start opening up classrooms for in-person learning, she said.

“With the Super Bowl coming up this weekend, I want to remind everybody that we’ve seen a surge in COVID cases after every holiday in the past year. This is largely attributed to gathering,” she said.

Sonoma West Publishers will be reporting on the county’s plans to build equity into its distribution strategy in the coming days.

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