Reps. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, and Young Kim, R-Placentia, have asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency to bring a large COVID-19 vaccination site to Anaheim, which came as welcome news to Orange County officials as they have been able to provide more inoculations with delayed doses arriving this week.
“I would welcome any help we can get,” Orange County Supervisor Doug Chaffee said. “We could really ramp (the inoculations) up.”
Orange County CEO Frank Kim said he hadn’t seen the letter from the representatives to FEMA yet, but added, “I do support the federal government providing access to mass vaccination centers in Orange County. We know they have set up two in L.A. County, and one in the Bay Area in Alameda County and one in Central Valley, so when you look at Orange County being the third-most populous in California, we think that it’s a very dense county with 3.2 million people in 800 square miles, so because of that density, the communities in Santa Ana, Anaheim and northern Orange County has been disproportionately impacted, and having access to a regional site here would be a wonderful benefit to our community.”
Correa and Kim said in the letter to FEMA that Anaheim “has been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, becoming a hot spot for the virus. Those living in the city’s severely affected neighborhoods have found it difficult to access vaccines due to limited supplies, mobility issues and other chronic barriers. Anaheim, the 10th-most populous city in California, serves more than 350,000 residents, which have seen extremely high numbers of COVID-19 cases, and tragically, deaths.”
Orange County and Anaheim officials have set up mass vaccination sites at Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center.
Chaffee said the county has been addressing hot spots in northern Orange County with mobile vaccination sites.
“My focus is on doing mobile sites that gets us to where the difficulties are,” Chaffee said.
On Saturday, a mobile site will be set up in La Habra, Chaffee said.
“We’re doing our best to get to these hot spots,” he said.
“Density is one of the factors that contribute to higher exposure rates,” Kim said. “The county is trying to meet that need, but we’re challenged by the lack of vaccine.”
A FEMA site would mean more doses for the county, Kim said.
Orange County’s coronavirus vaccine site at Disneyland reopened Saturday, a day after it shut due to brisk Santa Ana winds that were a threat to uproot its tents. The theme park site will be closed again on Sunday due to high winds, but the appointments will be redirected to the Anaheim Convention Center, Kim said.
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 Thursday. “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.”
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 349 new coronavirus cases Friday, upping the cumulative to 245,983.
The county also logged three 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 Friday upped the death toll to 883 in December and 1,215 for January, the deadliest month in the pandemic.
February’s death toll is 90.
Of the three fatalities reported Friday, one was a skilled nursing facility resident, raising the death toll in those facilities to 954. The number of assisted living facility residents who succumbed to coronavrius in the county stands at 438.
Hospitalizations decreased from 515 Thursday to 453, and those in intensive care units dropped from 160 to 137.
The county has 29.7% of its ICU beds available and 60% 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.
On Friday, the county was able to allow full-contact youth sports, including football.
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 on Friday earned approval by an advisory panel of experts to receive emergency use authorization for its vaccine from the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA is expected to authorize the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Sunday.
Dr. Clayton Chau, the county’s chief health officer and director of the OC Health Care Agency, said he expects Johnson & Johnson doses to be shipped to the county by 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 eight inmates infected Friday. No inmates were hospitalized and officials are awaiting the results of 284 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 14,898 tests Friday, raising the total to 3,018,651.