Just hours before President Joe Biden said that every adult in the United States should have access to a Covid-19 vaccine by May 1, Santa Cruz County health officials said they expect the county will march into the orange tier of the state’s reopening plan later this month.
Speaking at a weekly Zoom press conference, County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel also said the county could reach “some level” of herd immunity by late spring, and Deputy County Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci said more than three-fourths of the county’s older adults have received their first vaccine dose. In addition, nearly one-third of all county residents age 16 and above have received their first dose.
“At this current rate, we would be able to offer a vaccine to every individual in Santa Cruz County by early October, but I suspect that that will be much sooner as the supply of vaccines improves going forward,” Ghilarducci said.
Those were just a few of many good news items that officials announced Thursday. At least 110,000 doses have been administered to residents over the last three months, landing the county of about 270,000 people at sixth in the state for vaccines administered per capita, Ghilarducci said. That success, he added, has been in part due to vaccine sharing between the county and its large health care providers—Dignity Health-Dominican Hospital, Sutter Health and Watsonville Community Hospital—and the federal vaccine supplies distributed to the qualifying clinics and pharmacies.
“[They have] really augmented a limited supply that comes directly to the health department,” Ghilarducci said.
Positivity and case rates have continued to plummet statewide and locally. According to state data, California had a 2.3% positivity rate as of Thursday, a massive drop from the 14% positivity rate recorded in early January. In Santa Cruz County, the positivity rate had fallen Thursday to 1.9%, and its case rate dropped to 5.3 cases per 100,000 residents.
Those numbers bode well for the county’s chances of moving down the state’s four-tier Covid-19 reopening plan in the coming weeks, Newel said. Having joined 19 other counties in the red tier on Wednesday, the county must now keep its rates down for three weeks for it to move into the orange tier. In that tier, nearly all businesses can reopen their indoor services with various capacity limits.
“I think we have a lot to look forward to in the second half of 2021,” Newel said.
President Biden in his national address Thursday night echoed Newel, saying that the country’s success in vaccinating nearly 100 million Americans could mean that families will be able to celebrate Independence Day together.
“If we do our part, if we do this together, by July the 4th there’s a good chance you, your families and friends will be able to get together in your backyard or in your neighborhood and have a cookout and a barbecue and celebrate Independence Day,” Biden said.
But questions still remain as to whether states will be able to meet Biden’s lofty demand. California Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California Department of Public Health have set an ambitious goal of administering 4 million doses per week by the end of April. It’s banking on the success of CPDH’s planned implementation of the statewide distribution system from Blue Shield.
Under the plan, Blue Shield would make allocation recommendations—based on criteria set by the state—to state officials for doses. Though several counties have said over the last few days that they will opt out of the distribution system, County Health Services Agency Director Mimi Hall said that Santa Cruz County would not join their neighbors in the fight against the state. She says conversations with Blue Shield representatives on March 9 left her optimistic that the deal would help the county vaccinate its hard-to-reach residents and migrant farm workers that fall between San Benito and Monterey county lines.
“There are no promises—these are just beginning conversations—but they seemed very open to hearing about our successes, learning where our gaps are, where we may need support in the future and supporting, not just through allocation methodology, but also through the registration platforms and other methods,” Hall said.