Sacramento County is still weeks away from shifting from the state’s red tier for reopening to the less-restrictive orange tier, even as vaccine eligibility expands across the state. The reason: an uptick in COVID-19 cases.
The county’s case rate currently sits at 7.4 cases per 100,000 residents, well above the 4 cases per 100,000 needed to get into the orange tier. In total, Sacramento has reported 97,617 cases and 1,603 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.
Dr. Olivia Kasirye, Sacramento County’s public health officer, says the increase can be attributed to two things — youth sports and traveling, with the latter being of biggest concern.
On Thursday, the California Department of Public Health lifted its travel advisory issued in January that asked residents not to travel more than 120 miles from their homes but wasn’t enforced. The change comes just days before a holiday weekend.
“We have heard the warning from the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] about the possibility of fourth wave,” Kasirye said of a possible new surge of COVID-19 cases. “And so we do have some concern, especially because we know that there are some increases in some of the states and some of the states have also lifted all of their restrictions.”
Meanwhile, Kasirye said COVID-19 spread in youth sports isn’t much of a concern. The county has been working with schools and coaches when cases are identified to control the virus.
Still, Sacramento County’s increase in cases comes as California expanded vaccine eligibility on April 1 to people 50 years or older.
But as eligibility expands, so do concerns about whether there are enough doses to go around.
Rachel Allen, Sacramento County’s immunization coordinator, said the county will receive 33,000 doses this week, including 12,000 of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine. While the record number of doses allocated is an encouraging sign in light of the uptick in cases, Allen said projections don’t show an additional increase in the coming weeks.
“I think it's going to continue to be a bit challenging until we see a good increase in doses,” Allen said. The 33,000 doses “is certainly not more than enough doses to cover the increased number of people who are entering the eligibility.”
In two weeks, people 16 years or older will be eligible for the vaccine. But even that comes with more issues, as Pfizer-BioNtech’s vaccine is the only one cleared for emergency use on 16- and 17-year-olds.
At the same time, the county is transitioning its power to allocate vaccines to Blue Shield of California after the state entered into a no-bid contract with the health care giant to handle vaccine distribution.
Allen said this is the first week that Sacramento County has had to work with Blue Shield to allocate vaccines to community clinics, hospitals and pop-up sites. Blue Shield is expected to take full control in the coming weeks.
“I think any transition is difficult, especially when you're in the middle of a pandemic,” Kasirye said. “We've been accustomed to doing the allocations one way, and now we have to adjust.”
Kasirye said the county will have to work with Blue Shield in the coming weeks to ensure that allocation to community clinics isn’t disrupted and to “make sure that we have the clinics available to have used up all of our vaccines each and every week.”
Sacramento County has two mass vaccination clinics — at Cal Expo and McClellan Park. CalExpo is currently being transferred to third-party contractor Curative, which is already running operations at the McClellan site.
The home of the California State Fair will begin administering the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Friday in addition to already scheduled second doses. Previously, the site was only going to do second doses during the transition.
The county is also expected to open a third large-scale vaccination site in South Sacramento, the neighborhood hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The exact location is still unclear, but the county said it will be in the 95823 zip code, which encompases neighborhoods south of 47th Avenue down to Calvine Road and Center Parkway.
“In the meantime, we have partnered with a lot of community-based organizations — for example, La Familia, Pannell Center and others — to kind of work with community partners to make sure South Sacramento community members get access to vaccines,” said Mike Nguy, the county’s COVID-19 health equity official.
The South Sacramento zip code makes up nearly 7% of the county's COVID-19 cases, with more than 6,600 residents testing positive.
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