Additional vaccine doses leads Santa Clara County to open up appointments
Santa Clara County was set to receive about 300,000 additional COVID-19 vaccine doses and planned to open up tens of thousands of additional vaccine appointments this week, health leaders said during a press conference on Tuesday.
"This is close to four to five times the vaccines we have been getting," Supervisor Otto Lee said of the boost in doses. "This is really a game changer," he said.
The increased supply, after weeks of shortages, is coming directly to the county's health system from the federal government under a program operated by the federal Health Resources & Services Administration. As a result of the expanded vaccine supply, the county opened vaccine eligibility to all residents and workers ages 16 or older on Tuesday, two days earlier than the April 15 date designated by the state.
The news comes on the heels of a county announcement to halt administration of the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration caution has caused severe health reactions in six people, including a rare form of blood clot. Officials said earlier in the day that doses of the J&J vaccine would not impact the county's vaccine distribution effort and could easily be made up from suppliers Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.
Health officials breathed a collective sigh of relief at Tuesday's press conference after learning about the large allocation from the federal government earlier in the day.
"We're thrilled to provide expanded access to these highly effective vaccines, especially for those most impacted by COVID-19," said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county's testing and vaccine officer. "Vaccines are the county's No. 1 priority and they will save lives. After many weeks of supply challenges, we will be able to offer vaccination to those at greatest risk and ensure broad coverage for our entire community."
The county received the first shipments of additional vaccines from the U.S. government on Tuesday morning and additional supplies are expected to arrive next week. The significant supply increase will allow the county health system to fully use its administration capabilities at each of its vaccine clinics, county officials said. The county is also working with other vaccine providers so they will have enough supply and is expanding its outreach efforts to reduce barriers to vaccination, they said.
Dr. Jennifer Tong, assistant chief medical officer for the Santa Clara County Valley Medical Center, said they expect heavy traffic on the county's vaccine sign-up website in the next few days. People should expect delays but should continue to return to the site to book an appointment as more will keep opening up.
Community members are encouraged to schedule vaccination appointments through the county's website sccfreevax.org. Anyone without access to the internet can also call to book a vaccine appointment by calling the county at 211 or 408-970-2000.
State lifts capacity caps for places of worship, cultural ceremonies
California public health officials updated the state's guidance for places of worship and cultural ceremonies Monday, removing capacity limits for both indoor and outdoor gatherings.
Since unveiling the tiered COVID-19 reopening system late last August, the state has faced pushback from religious groups and advocates over limits on indoor capacity at places of worship.
The state revised its guidelines on places of worship in February after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the state could not prevent indoor worship services, which it had done by prohibiting indoor worship gatherings for counties in the purple tier.
At that time, the high court allowed the state to limit indoor attendance to, at minimum, 25% of a building's capacity.
However, a ruling from the court on April 9 spurred the state to allow full capacity worship services in all four tiers, provided that participants follow distancing and masking requirements.
The updated guidance also strongly discourages full capacity for worship services, suggesting caps of 25% indoor capacity in the purple and red tiers and 50% in the orange and yellow tiers.
Paul Jonna, an attorney with the conservative nonprofit law firm the Thomas More Society, lauded the court decisions that moved the state to loosen its guidelines.
"This is a huge win that God has provided for all people of faith," Jonna said in a statement.
The full updated guidance for places of worship, cultural ceremonies, weddings and funerals can be found at covid19.ca.gov/industry-guidance.
Comprehensive COVID-19 coverage
View interactive charts tracking the spread of the coronavirus in San Mateo and Santa Clara counties online at paloaltoonline.atavist.com/tracking-the-coronavirus. Find a comprehensive collection of coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by The Almanac and its sister publications, Palo Alto Online, and the Mountain View Voice, at tinyurl.com/c19-Almanac.
CalMatters and Bay City News Service contributed to this report.
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