Up to 24,000 health care workers in San Mateo County will be first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, with the first shipment to the county expected to arrive next week, health officials said.
Chief of Health Louise Rogers and Dr. Anand Chabra – one of the county’s medical directors who oversees the vaccination program – discussed the vaccine’s timeline during the county Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.
“We know that we’re getting six boxes of the Pfizer vaccine probably next week, so that’s just under 6,000 doses. It’s a pretty small shipment,” Chabra said. “Towards the end of December, we’ll receive somewhere on the order of six to seven times as much of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine, assuming both get approved by the FDA.”
With additional vaccines on the way, Chabra said, “I think we could see pretty widespread vaccination (by) the middle of next year.”
Rogers said health care personnel and residents of long-term care facilities would be the first to receive the vaccine, estimating that the first round of vaccines would be enough to cover about 24,000 of the county’s 38,000 health care workers.
Additional shipments will continue to serve high-priority workers and residents before the general population. As the rest of the public waits for the vaccine, Rogers encouraged people to recommit to safe behaviors that will slow the spread of the virus.
“We’re really in the final phases. We are climbing one of the last hills. It may not be the last hill, but we’re getting there. We have every reason to be very optimistic about the future,” Rogers said.
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are on the rise across the county and the rest of the Bay Area.
San Mateo County has an unadjusted case rate of 18.5 new cases per day per 100,000, according to the state’s data, which reflects cases for the week ending Nov. 28. County data shows the number of daily cases has been increasing since early November.
San Mateo County did not join five other Bay Area counties in implementing a new stay-at-home order – which the state would implement on regions that dip below 15 percent ICU availability. But with hospitalizations increasing, Rogers said it was only a matter of time before the state triggered the regional stay at home order for the Bay Area.
“We are comfortable with 15 percent as the ICU trigger metric along with most of the state. We know it is a question of when, not if, new restrictions will apply,” Rogers said, adding that the county will monitor data and implement early restrictions if the figures change. “We believe that everyone should stay home and prepare, and businesses should be thinking that this is going to drop at any minute, any day.”
As of Tuesday, state data show the Bay Area’s ICU availability at 24.5 percent and San Mateo County’s availability at 34.9 percent.
County figures show there are 84 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, 60 out of 68 ICU beds in use, and an additional 88 ICU surge beds are available, which Rogers expects will be used in the coming weeks. However, Rogers said that staffing – not the beds – is the primary barrier to expanding ICU capacity.
In response, Rogers said the county is working with partners to address the staffing barrier, and the county has asked hospitals to activate surge plans in preparation for increased demand.
A spokesperson from Kaiser Permanente Northern California said via email that the HMO is seeing about a third more COVID-19 cases than during the previous peak in early summer, and that it is keeping “a close eye on ICU bed volume, which fluctuates.”
“We have the ability to increase our hospital bed capacity by 70%. Additionally, we have planned for an additional 10 to 20% increase in staff above and beyond the normal winter season in addition to securing travel nurses,” Michelle Gaskill-Hames from Kaiser Permanente said in a statement.
Gaskill-Hames is Senior Vice President of Health Plan and Hospital Operations for Kaiser Permanente Northern California.
In order to stem the spread of the virus, Rogers reiterated Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow’s message that individual actions – rather than blanket restrictions – are most helpful in preventing the spread of the virus.
People should avoid gatherings outside of their household, practice social distancing and wear a face covering in public.
“Stop moving around, stay at home,” Rogers said, echoing Morrow’s message. “Please observe the most restrictive definition of what you deem to be essential.”
Supervisors also approved a $2 million extension of the county’s contract with Verily – the Alphabet company that provides free COVID-19 testing. This would expand testing capacity to meet increased demand and provide testing for the county through January 2021.