Orange County supervisors are set on Tuesday to discuss providing verification to COVID-19 vaccine recipients, but want to steer clear of taking positions on whether businesses should show a preference for the vaccinated, the county’s chief executive said Monday.
“We’re going to start referring to it as a verification,” Orange County CEO Frank Kim said. “We’re not taking a position on whether businesses should restrict access to those who are vaccinated.”
County officials want to get away from referring to verification as a “passport,” Kim said.
“We are a health provider in this instance,” Kim said. “It’s just like if you get your vaccine through a local hospital. If you would like verification of the vaccine allocation we’re required to give it you.”
But, Kim added, “It’s getting confused with we’re supporting some kind of restrictive process. We’re just trying to figure out a way that if you request verification we’ll assist you in doing so in as easily a way as possible.”
Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention, said that makes sense.
“Americans, by and large, chafe at the idea of showing papers,” Noymer said. “We kind of recoil at this, so it’s smart to not use the word `passport,’ but at the same time some of the same people who chafe at the idea of passports want this verification so it’s a smart move on their part.”
Noymer, however, wondered how the verification would be different than the card issued to any vaccine recipient, whether the inoculation came from a public site or through a private healthcare provider.
“But I don’t see the wrongness of having a backup because some people are going to lose those vaccine cards at the beach,” Noymer said.
As for whether some businesses will restrict commerce to vaccinated or unvaccinated customers, Noymer said they do so “at their own peril.”
“If they’re going to lose 45% of their customers watch them change back quicker than you can say Huntington Beach,” Noymer said.
Businesses can deny service to anyone — short of a protected class as spelled out by the law — and “customers are free to get pissed off about it,” Noymer said. “It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
Noymer said the issue of getting vaccinated has become politicized, which further complicates the issue.
“There is a political divide, which is so unfortunate,” Noymer said. “I am a public health professor and I advise people to get vaccinated. I don’t care what your politics are. I’m not here to talk about politics and I’ve been equally critical in different facets of both administrations that have dealt with the coronavirus pandemic, but I am totally non-partisan. I don’t regard it as a partisan issue, but it is and it has become quite a drag.”
The county on Monday reported 120 new COVID-19 cases, but did not log any new deaths. The cumulative case count now stands at 252,436 and the death toll remained at 4,839.
The death toll for March stands at 146 as of Monday. There have been no fatalities reported so far this month, but COVID-19 fatalities are often staggered or delayed in reporting for a variety of reasons.
In February, the death toll stands at 560. Both months stand in contrast to a holiday-fueled rise in cases when 1,493 COVID-19-related fatalities were reported in January, the deadliest month in the pandemic by far, and 927 in December, the second deadliest month.
Hospitalizations declined from 124 on Sunday to 120 on Monday with the number of intensive care unit patients increasing from 25 to 29.
The county has 33.9% of its ICU beds available, and 70% of its ventilators.
The county’s statistics have stabilized over the past few weeks despite relaxed restrictions.
“If I look at the actual infection data and test positivity data week over week we’re in a steady decline, which is all I care about,” Kim said.
The positivity rate on Monday was at 1.6%, and at 1.8% in the “health equity” category for zip codes hardest hit by the pandemic, Kim said.
“I think overall it’s more of the same, other than the fact that we’ve plateaued across the board in terms of our metrics,” Kim said. “The only thing that will improve it is the continued vaccinations, and that will be relatively slow.”
The county averaged 14,500 inoculations a day over the weekend, Kim said.
“So we’re scheduling around 15,000 a day now,” Kim said.
County officials are ramping up for a rise in demand on Thursday when anyone 16 and older can be vaccinated, Kim said. Those under 18 must get parental permission, he added.
“We should see a bump in demand,” Kim said.
The county’s no-show rate at its vaccination sites has ranged from 2% to 6%, which health professionals say is a relatively low rate, Kim said. It’s possible by the end of this week that at least half of the state will be at least partially vaccinated, Kim said.
Another 6,288 tests were reported Monday, upping the cumulative total to 3,471,291.
A graduation into the least restrictive yellow tier of the state’s four-tier system for reopening the economy by this week is unlikely because the case rate must get below 2 per 100,000 population, Kim said.
County officials, however, are nervous about a decline in vaccine allocations next week due to contamination of Johnson & Johnson vaccines in a Baltimore plant. The decline in vaccine allocations is expected as the state is preparing to open up vaccine access to everyone 16 and older this week.
The weekly update from the state, issued on Tuesdays, showed the county’s test positivity rate improved from 1.7% to 1.6%, while the adjusted case rate per 100,000 people on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag increased from 2.8 to 3.
The county’s Health Equity Quartile rate, which measures positivity in hotspots in disadvantaged communities, improved from 2.6% to 2.1%. The county’s positivity rates qualify for the least restrictive yellow tier of the state’s four-tier system for reopening the economy, but the case counts are still in the orange tier.
The county has administered 1.8 million COVID vaccine doses to residents, Kim said. It is testing 301.5 per 100,000 residents on a seven-day average with a seven-day lag.
The county’s recent move into the orange tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy allowed restrictions to be eased on a variety of business sectors. Retail stores now do not have to limit attendance at all, and churches, movie theaters, museums, zoos and aquariums were allowed to expand from 25% to 50% of capacity.
Restaurants were given permission to expand indoor dining to 50% and wineries to offer indoor service at 25%, while bars that don’t serve food got the green light to reopen outdoors. Gyms and fitness centers were cleared to expand to 25% of capacity, and family entertainment centers can offer indoor attractions such as bowling.
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