SALINAS — As the state’s regional stay-at-home order is extended indefinitely with its expiration now based on ICU bed capacity, local COVID-19 vaccination efforts continue with a few bumps along the way.
On Friday, the state Department of Public Health issued a release stating that most regional stay-at-home orders, including the one affecting the Bay Area and Monterey County, would be extended past their original expiration date due to local hospital ICU bed capacity, which dipped to 3% in the Bay Area overall. The release indicated the order would remain in place until the ICU bed capacity in the Bay Area and other regions rises to at least 15%, and promised another assessment in the “coming days.”
In addition to the ICU bed capacity, the lifting of the order will also depend on other factors including current community transmission, regional case rates, and the proportion of ICU cases being admitted to local hospitals, according to the release.
County Health spokeswoman Karen Smith said it came as “no surprise” the regional stay-at-home order would remain in place since ICU bed capacity “remains very low,” noting the numbers appear to continue to drop. She urged everyone to continue following safety protocols including wearing a face covering, staying home when they’re sick, avoiding gatherings with people from outside the household, washing hands frequently, and remaining 6 feet apart from others.
State health reported 26 patients in local hospitals’ ICU beds with 41 beds available.
As of Monday early afternoon, county health was reporting 32,394 total confirmed cases of COVID-19 out of 185,389 tests conducted for a 17.5% positivity rate, along with 207 current hospitalizations and 242 deaths with the virus, although those numbers had not been updated from the weekend.
The continued spread of the virus and the associated lockdown orders likely helped postpone the Sea Otter Classic, the latest high profile local event to announce it would postpone to a later date so far this year after a rash of postponements and cancellations last year.
On Monday, Sea Otter Classic officials announced the popular local event will be rescheduled to Oct. 7-10 after determining it could not be held during its usual time in May following discussions with health and permitting officials.
Last week the California Rodeo Salinas was postponed from its traditional mid-summer date to September.
At the same time, the county and local hospitals continued to vaccinate health care workers including through county-backed clinics where the workers are invited through their employers to be vaccinated. Health care workers are included in the earliest stage of COVID-19 vaccination efforts.
However, county health issued a release on Sunday acknowledging that some health care workers had shared the clinic invitation with family and friends who don’t work in the health care field. It warned that when those not entitled to the vaccine “use up” the clinic appointments it “slows down the process” of protecting health care workers and allowing the county to move into later phases of the vaccination process.
Statewide, local health departments have reported 73,862 health care workers have tested positive for the virus and 276 have died with COVID-19, according to state health.
Meanwhile, in anticipation of later vaccination phases, the Board of Supervisors is set to consider a formal referral from Supervisors Luis Alejo and Chris Lopez that seeks a “comprehensive” plan for the “successful vaccination of tens of thousands” of local agricultural industry workers in collaboration with agricultural associations, employers, labor unions, and health care professionals. The referral calls for a report within two weeks.
Workers in food and agriculture, education and child care, and emergency services are in line to get vaccinated as “frontline” essential workers after all health care workers have received the vaccine, along with all adults aged 75 and older.
Later phases include workers in critical manufacturing, facilities and services, and transportation and logistics, as well as all adults aged 65-74, and those who are incarcerated and those who are homeless.
Alejo and Lopez said the goal of the referral is not to prioritize ag workers above other essential workers and the elderly but to support the creation of a “large-scale vaccination program” for the area’s largest workforce, including the hiring of more staff. They said all ag workers, including farmworkers, would be offered the same access, though Lopez said the ability to vaccinate the migrant farmworker population remains an issue.
Asked if there was any concern such a plan would appear to prioritize vaccination for foreign nationals over U.S. citizens given the high percentage of ag workers in the country illegally, both supervisors said they believed immigration status should be “irrelevant” about the vaccination effort.
“COVID doesn’t ask someone for their immigration status before infecting them, or move between members of our community,” Lopez said. “COVID doesn’t discriminate and neither will I. Agriculture is the economic engine of Monterey County. People who work in the industry have been hit harder than most and it is time to create a path and make it public. That is what this request calls for.”
Alejo said there needs to be “strategic community education to reassure immigrants about the vaccine’s safety and that their information will be protected.”
An estimated 40,000-plus employees work in the local ag industry, according to reports.
In other county news, county Health Department director Elsa Jimenez was appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to the First 5 California Commission, also known as the California Children and Families Commission. Jimenez, 45, has served as county health director since 2016 and has worked for the county since 2001.
Contributed by local news sources