Vaccine access to expand, businesses reopen further

Gov. Gavin Newsom reported last week that a significant increase in vaccine supply should be arriving throughout April, making the state confident that it could expand eligibility to residents ages 50 and older Thursday and ages 16 and older April 15.

The start dates – Thursday and April 15 – represent the first day the new categories of resident will be eligible to book appointments, not the first day they would receive vaccines. The current scarcity of appointment bookings for those already eligible suggests the wait is likely to continue through much of April as new people join the search.

In Santa Clara County, appointments are booked through a variety of sources, including health networks, pharmacies and the county itself. A continuing severe shortage of doses in the county has meant weeks of canceled or delayed appointment bookings, a reality Newsom acknowledged last week while forecasting that it would take several months to vaccinate all willing Californians.

The state, which is currently receiving approximately 1.8 million doses per week and has vaccinated approximately 20% of its population, anticipates receiving more than 3 million doses per week in the second half of April. While some providers are offering appointment booking times weeks in the future, other vaccination sites – such as Levi’s Stadium and local pharmacies – add same-day or next-day availability.

Case counts continue to drop across the region, with Santa Clara County reporting ICU bed availability at 27% over the weekend.

A new policy aimed at increasing vaccination rates in areas hard-hit by COVID-19 allows vaccine providers to use their discretion to vaccinate people immediately, including families of mixed eligibility, if they reside in ZIP codes identified as “quartiles 1 and 2” of a statewide metric, the County Healthy Places Index, which measures regions that have been heavily impacted and under-resourced during the pandemic.

“California’s wealthiest populations have received 50% more vaccinations when compared to the rate of our most vulnerable populations,” the governor’s office wrote in its announcement of the new policy March 25. “The rate of infections for households making less than $40,000 per year is 84% higher than that of households with an income of $120,000 or more.”

New guidance for the vaccinated

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated guidance for fully vaccinated Americans this month, allowing them to visit unvaccinated family and friends indoors without restrictions as long as they limit the socializing to one household at a time. The recommendation reflects growing confidence that the vaccines appear to dramatically limit COVID-19 transmission by fully vaccinated people.

In households where all of the unvaccinated people are at low risk of severe COVID-19 illness, visits can be indoors, with no masks or physical distancing.

New tier for businesses

Santa Clara County moved into the orange tier in the state’s COVID-19 framework March 24, an improvement from the red tier, where the county sat previously.

Being in the orange tier allows businesses to reopen further and reflects the continued improvement in the pandemic. The state’s tier system is based on COVID-19 case rates as well as the percent of tests that come back positive.

Activities allowed under the orange tier include:
• Indoor dining at 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer
• Retail stores open indoors with modifications
• Gyms and fitness centers open indoors at 25% capacity
• Movie theaters open indoors at 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer
• Family entertainment centers open indoors at 25% capacity with modifications
• Zoos, museums and aquariums open indoors at 50% capacity

Despite the improvements, county health officials continue to urge the public to remain cautious. In a press release, the county said activities that are now allowed may still be “very high risk” and encouraged people to stay outdoors, remain masked, maintain 6 feet of distance from others, avoid crowds and get vaccinated when allowed.

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