Orange County’s coronavirus vaccine site at Disneyland was expected to reopen Friday, a day after it shut due to brisk Santa Ana winds that were a threat to uproot its tents.
“Disney now has enough vaccine to continue operating, (Soka University) will continue to operate without closure and the (Anaheim) Convention Center will continue to operate without closures,” Orange County CEO Frank Kim said Thursday.
“Unless there’s a weather issue, we have enough vaccine to get through what we need to do.”
However, Kim added, “We still need to finish processing all of those due a second dose last week. We’re going to prioritize those second doses. We need to catch up.”
The only site that remains closed is the one at Santa Ana College, which will be able to reopen sometime in the middle of next week, Kim said.
Orange County received 83,055 doses of coronavirus vaccines Thursday, helping officials catch up on canceled appointments due to a shortfall in medicine owing to winter storms out east.
“We’re basically playing catch-up now,” Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said. “But we are on an extremely good trajectory at this point. Our numbers are looking good. … We may be one of the first counties to go from purple to red tier.”
The county received its shipment of 16,000 Moderna vaccine doses a day earlier than expected, Bartlett said.
“We also received last week’s Moderna,” said Orange County CEO Frank Kim. “And we also received this week’s Pfizer and Moderna, so we received all of what we were supposed to this week.”
Some of the 83,055 doses will go to stand-alone hospitals and the Orange County Board of Education to vaccinate educators. The county government’s allocation amounts to about 20% and a portion from that goes to stand-alone hospitals and CalOptima, the county’s insurance program for the needy. The rest of the vaccines go to larger health care system providers.
Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said vaccine distribution has improved in recent weeks. He said he preferred that pharmacies would have taken the lead in getting shots in arms, but added, “ultimately you need both” government-run sites and private health care points of distribution.
Overall, the decreases in cases and the ramping up of inoculations has the country heading closer to getting past the pandemic, Noymer said.
“The news has never been better in a long time,” Noymer said.
Orange County reported just 174 new coronavirus cases, upping the cumulative to 245,634.
The county also logged 41 more fatalities. There were no deaths logged on Tuesday and Wednesday due to technical issues with the state’s reporting system, officials said.
The fatalities are not always reported right away as they come from multiple sources. The fatalities logged on Thursday upped the death toll to 881 in December and 1,214 for January, the deadliest month in the pandemic.
February’s death toll is 90.
Of the 41 fatalities reported Thursday, five were skilled nursing facility residents and six were assisted living facility residents, raising the death toll in those facilities to 953 and 438 respectively.
Hospitalizations remained at 515 Thursday, the same as Wednesday, and those in intensive care units rose from 151 to 160.
The county has 27% of its ICU beds available and 61% of its ventilators.
The county’s test positivity rate improved from 7.8% last week to 5.4% Tuesday, and the adjusted case rate per 100,000 on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag improved from 20.7 to 11.9.
The Health Equity Quartile Positivity Rate, which reflects the rates in lower-income and minority neighborhood hot spots, improved from 10.7% to 7%.
On Wednesday, the positivity rate dropped to 5.1%, the Health Equity rate to 6.6%, and the case rate per 100,000 to 10.4, according to Kim.
County officials think the county might reach all of the red tier metrics by Sunday. To move up to a less-restrictive tier, a county must stay within it for at least two weeks.
To get to the red tier, the county has to have a case rate per 100,000 population of 4 to 7, a positivity rate of 5% to 8% and a Health Equity Quartile rate of 5.3% to 8%. The metrics are updated every Tuesday.
The red tier allows for many more businesses and organizations to reopen. For instance, retail stores could allow for half capacity instead of 25%, and museums, zoos and aquariums could reopen for indoor activities at 25% capacity. Also, movie theaters, gyms and restaurants could open indoors at 25% capacity.
Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s chief health officer and director of the Orange County Health Care Agency, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the county will be the first to allow for full-contact youth sports including football by Friday.
Inclement weather in the East and South last week slowed the delivery of doses, forcing a shutdown of some Orange County vaccine distribution points.
Johnson & Johnson is expected to receive emergency use authorization for its vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration on Friday. Chau said he expects the initial shipment to Orange County to arrive next week.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine is different than the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines in that it does not require more than one dose and does not need to be stored in a freezer.
However, it is not as effective in preventing coronavirus infections as the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines, which are about 94% to 95% effective with a booster shot.
All the vaccines, including AstraZenca’s, which is expected to be considered for emergency authorization next month, will prevent coronavirus infections leading to hospitalization or death, Chau said.
Recent studies showed that even without booster shots, Pfizer and Moderna effectiveness is about 85%, which beats Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, Chau said.
Noymer noted that the vaccines “still do work against the variants… they do work a little less well against the South African variant.”
However, the so-called “home grown” variant reported in California “doesn’t alarm me — at least not yet,” Noymer said.
But the key is vaccinating as many people as quickly as possible, Noymer said.
“If you vaccinate everyone in Santa Ana and Anaheim, there won’t be a Santa Ana-Anaheim variant,” Noymer said.
The coronavirus “is not going to go extinct” anytime soon, Noymer said.
“There could be another wave — it could be next January and mild in magnitude,” Noymer said. “We have to keep watching it. We need to not give up.”
Noymer said he was also not concerned about “vaccine shopping” because some vaccines are more effective than others.
“There will be people who want one of the MRNA vaccines because they’re slightly higher efficacy,” Noymer said. “And there will be people who want the J&J because it’s one shot, one dose.
“It’s good for people who want a vaccine to travel to Hawaii or for work and don’t like vaccines. … I don’t see this as a major stumbling block… I do think it will all work out.”
The outbreak in the county’s jails was down to 10 inmates infected Thursday. No inmates were hospitalized and officials are awaiting the results of 474 tests.
Outbreaks — defined as two or more cases within the past two weeks — were down to eight skilled nursing facilities and nine elderly assisted living facilities as of Wednesday.
The Fairview Development Center, which was set up to ease the patient load at overtaxed area hospitals, was set to close March 15 and stop receiving new patients March 5, Kim said.
There were 18 patients at Fairview Wednesday with a dozen from Orange County, four from Los Angeles County and two from Riverside County.
The county reported 12,148 tests Thursday, raising the total to 3,003,753.