As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to rage through San Benito County with 10 fatalities from the virus already reported this month and the daily case rate climbing higher, the Board of Supervisors at the Jan. 12 meeting spent the day discussing the local CARES Act budget, workplace outbreaks, public health enforcement and other coronavirus concerns.
But it was the ongoing discussion of the local vaccination plan that highlighted Tuesday’s eight-hour meeting.
San Benito County Public Health Services Deputy Director Lynn Mello said during the meeting on Jan. 12 that they are actively moving forward with the vaccination process in all three tiers of Phase 1A. They are in collaboration with Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital and the San Benito Health Foundation.
As far as allocation of doses of vaccine, the state determines the number of doses they send to the local health jurisdictions and they are sent on a weekly basis.
“We don’t know from week to week how much vaccine we’re going to get,” Mello said.
Since Dec. 16, the county has received 2,345 doses of Covid-19 vaccines, with 615 of those reported as second doses.
The remaining doses are first doses that Hazel Hawkins, San Benito Health Foundation and public health services are actively vaccinating.
Public health services received 200 doses up until last Friday, those have gone to tiers 1, 2 and 3 and have all been administered.
San Benito Health Foundation last week administered all 100 doses they were allocated. They just received 300 doses on Jan. 11, which are slated for IHSS or in-home support healthcare workers.
Mello said they have yet to hear from Hazel Hawkins on how much vaccine has gone into the arms of the public but they will be reporting it.
“This is truly a countywide partnership in order to share the allocations so that the vaccine gets to the public and we get through Phase 1A as soon as possible,” she said.
They are relying on other health care providers in the community to join the effort, which includes the pharmacies that are willing to enroll to be vaccinators.
Public health officials said they’re in the process of rolling out mass vaccination clinics for Phase 1B and beyond. They’ve identified four potential sites in the county to be utilized for vaccinating large groups ranging from 1,500-2,000 residents per day. Two sites are located in Hollister and one in San Juan Bautista.
The public health department is receiving several Covid-19 emergency preparedness and response grants worth up to $3 million, which will help reduce any financial impact on the community.
Supervisor Bea Gonzalez said they need to make sure to put the message out in every forum possible. She also suggested that if they send out mailers to make sure they’re bilingual in English and Spanish.
“The concerns are great in terms of when, where and how do I get my vaccine; when do I qualify and what’s the hold up?” she said.
County interim Public Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci mentioned that the vaccinations are the path to get out of the pandemic and they are lucky to have two very safe vaccines.
“The downside is we don’t have enough of it to go as fast as we’d like to,” he said. “Many people are very interested in understanding when they’re going to get vaccinated, where they fall amongst all the complicated tiers and phases that we’ve talked about.”
Ghilarducci said they’re interested in vaccinating as many people in the county as quickly as possible but they need to follow the plan made by the California Department of Public Health. He believes they’re making great progress and there will be more vaccine doses arriving soon.
Deputy Health Officer Dr. George Gellert added that vaccinating 330 million people nationwide is not going to happen overnight. He said it’s going to require a degree of mobilization at the national, state and local levels that is unprecedented
“Most of the general public, if you would, will be only vaccinated in the early to mid, possibly late Spring,” he said. “We are all, including various levels of government, dependent upon the manufacturers for the supply of vaccines. That has not gone yet as predicted and hoped for, though, we are optimistic that over these coming months it will increase, and increase dramatically.”
Vaccines are rolling out as the public health department’s numbers show the spread of Covid-19 continues to increase in San Benito County. On Jan. 11, the county reported three more deaths from the virus, bringing the grand total death count to 39 since the pandemic began in March 2020. Total confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the county now number at least 4,451, according to county staff. There were 613 active local cases, 19 Covid-19 patients hospitalized and six in the intensive care unit as of Jan. 11.
The Covid-19 case rate in San Benito County is a staggering 80.3 new daily cases per 100,000 residents—far above the state’s purple “widespread” risk tier threshold of seven daily cases per 100,000 residents.
AB 685: Reporting workplace outbreaks
Health Services Director Tracey Belton talked about workplaces reporting an outbreak under AB685, a new law that imposes new reporting requirements in 2021 on employers regarding Covid-19 cases in the workplace.
The new law requires employers who receive a notice of potential exposure to Covid-19 to provide a written notice to other employees within one day of notice of potential exposure. Belton said they received several reports of workplace outbreaks in the community. If an employer has an outbreak they must report the data that includes workplace names, number, occupation and worksite of “qualifying individuals” within 48 hours to the local public health agency.
An “outbreak” for AB 685 is currently defined as: “at least three probable or confirmed Covid-19 cases within a 14-day period in people who are epidemiologically-linked in the setting, are from different households, and are not identified as close contacts of each other in any other case investigation.”
Belton said they’re working on rolling out an online workplace outbreak portal so employers can submit reports electronically along with additional resources for them. Until then, she’s asking employers to report outbreaks to the referral hotline at 831-636-4113.
They are trying to work with the chamber of commerce and the Hollister Downtown Association to spread the word to the business community.
Supervisor Bob Tiffany mentioned that the chamber of commerce and HDA represent the smaller businesses and retail outlets in the county. His biggest concern is that the larger industrial businesses are also aware of the new law.
“It’s critical if they have three or more cases that it’s addressed,” he said.
Belton wanted to remind people that the county is still under the regional stay-at-home order, which was put into effect on Dec. 16 and will be lifted once intensive care unit capacity meets or exceeds 15 percent.
“Unfortunately our current region’s ICU capacity remains at zero percent,” she said.
Belton added that the purpose of the order is to prevent an overload of California hospitals so they can continue to serve the community with medical care. She said that order also limits a mixing of households since it’s the most common mode of transmission of the virus.
The order also prohibits private gatherings of any size and close sector operations except for retail, which still requires people to wear a mask.