Orange County’s private care doctors, urgent care physicians and elderly residents will soon get coronavirus vaccines after pressure from local doctors and state public health officials to increase vaccinations.
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The reformed rollout efforts come just as 2,259 people are in the hospital, the highest count so far during the pandemic.
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Dr. Michelle Hure has been a key proponent in getting more people, including community healthcare workers, vaccinated after first raising her concerns last month.
Hure, a private physician who practices dermatology pathology, said there’s going to be a large vaccination program at the Orange County Medical Association headquarters, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 16 and 17.
“I got one of the nursing schools to give about 200 nursing students, and with their supervising RN’s (registered nurses) — they’re all going to be vaccinating,” Hure said in a Friday phone interview. “I also got like 60 doctors in the community to sign up.”
But the vaccination at the association’s headquarters isn’t happening, said Orange County Medical Association Executive Director Jim Peterson in a Monday phone interview.
“Dr. Hure doesn’t speak for the leadership,” Peterson said. “We are not doing it.”
The farthest they got is when OC Health Care Agency officials toured headquarter grounds last Thursday, he said.
“That’s as far as we got,” he said, adding vaccination efforts not just in OC but across the state are a “fluid situation.”
Pharmacy companies have been gearing up to vaccinate vulnerable seniors also, according to state officials, who have been under fire for delays in vaccinations.
Hure was standing in line to get her first dose at the Orange County Fire Authority headquarters in Irvine during the phone interview.
She said she tried to get her first dose Thursday, but things got jammed up because staff wasn’t checking credentials, similar to experiences when Los Angeles County rolled out a similar program last week.
By Friday, staff was much stricter, Hure said.
“You had to show the appointment time, you had to show an ID that you’re a nurse or physician or an MA, — your pay stub. They’re checking everything. Now it’s legit,” Hure said.
Ruksana Omar, who takes care of elderly people at a nursing home in OC, said she was excited to get her first dose of the two-part vaccine Friday at OCFA headquarters.
Meanwhile, OC Health Care Agency officials are planning to roll out at least five vaccination supersites.
“The first of those super pods is supposed to get set up and running hopefully within the next week,” said Huntington Beach City Manager Oliver Chi, who’s also on the county vaccination task force.
Chi said the goal is to vaccinate everyone in the county who wants one by July 4 through the supersites.
“We hope that we have, somewhere in between that 70 and 85% vaccination rate county wide so that we do get to that point that the CDC right now generally considers will be safe to reopen everything at that point,” Chi said in a Friday phone interview.
“With the goal being then at that point, we get back to a pre-COVID lifestyle here in our region.”
Chi said the locations have identified and are being finalized. There will be one at Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, the Orange County Fairgrounds, The Great Park and Soka University.
State public health officials are urging counties to distribute vaccines to medical workers and elderly people living in nursing homes after they changed the approach.
“To maximize vaccine administration and reduce the potential for waste, local health departments and providers should immediately administer COVID-19 vaccines to individuals in all tiers of Phase 1a,” reads the Thursday news release from the California Department of Public Health.
State officials are also expanding eligibility of the first rounds of vaccines.
“In addition to frontline health care workers, this includes a wide range of people in health care settings such as community health care workers, public health field staff, primary care clinics, specialty clinics, laboratory workers, dental clinics and pharmacy staff,” reads the news release.
Staff at Orange County Fire Authority headquarters said they were following state guidelines Friday.
The state recommendations come after some confusion in vaccine guidelines — the state vaccination guidelines put primary care doctors in the second tier of the first phase, while guidelines the county used seemingly had private practice staff at a higher priority.
OC Health Care Agency officials also updated the county’s vaccination plan Wednesday.
According to the updated guidelines, OC officials are now aiming to vaccinate paramedics, nursing home staff and residents, lab workers, dental offices, primary care providers, community health workers and specialty clinics, like dialysis centers.
OC and the state’s new approach to inoculations comes after state public health officials called local health departments across the state Tuesday in an effort to boost vaccine distribution.
The phone calls came a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom admonished the slow roll out of vaccinations as “not good enough” at a Monday news conference.
Newsom said only about a third of the 1.3 million vaccines have been administered.
Since then, hundreds of thousands more vaccinations have been administered and state officials are aiming to vaccinate 1 million Californians by the end of next week.
Meanwhile, Orange County hospitals are facing waves of coronavirus patients.
As of Friday, 2,259 people were hospitalized, including 514 in intensive care units, according to state data — record numbers for Orange County.
As of Thursday, the latest numbers available from the county Health Care Agency, 1,972 people have been killed by the virus.
The virus has already killed more than three times as many people as the flu does on a yearly average.
For context, Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.
According to the state death statistics, cancer kills over 4,600 people, heart disease kills over 2,800, more than 1,400 die from Alzheimer’s disease and strokes kill over 1,300 people.
Orange County has already surpassed its yearly average 20,000 deaths, with 21,110 people dead as of November, according to the latest available state data.
The coronavirus is also spreading like wildfire in OC jails.
Over 1,000 inmates are infected — more than a 1,200% increase from four weeks ago when 74 inmates were infected.
Late last month, roughly 120 homeless people tested positive for the virus at 16 different shelters.
So far, the virus has killed one inmate.
OC Sheriff Don Barnes is expected to face hard questions in court today about his handling of the jail outbreaks.
It’s a difficult virus for the medical community to tackle because some people don’t show any symptoms, yet can still spread it. Others feel slight symptoms, like fatigue and a mild fever.
Others end up in ICUs for days and weeks before making it out, while other people eventually die from the virus.
Meanwhile, state public health officials are gearing up for more deaths and instituted a mass fatality program to deal with the waves of people dying from the virus.
“The plan is designed to provide mutual aid to county coroners and will address the increased storage needed to mitigate the bottleneck caused by a surge in fatalities. The surge that is already beginning to occur has prompted hospitals to release an increasing number of fatalities to county coroners who must then hold the bodies until they can send them to funeral workers to be processed for burial,” reads a news release from the state Office of Emergency Services.
Some OC families are facing delays in burying their dead as bodies are stacking up at some hospitals in the county.
Registered nurse Gemma Seidl, who’s also the executive director of acute care at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, said she’s seen a backlog of funeral services.
“We have families that already have arranged mortuary services, but the mortuary themselves cannot take the bodies because they don’t have room. So that’s why they’re staying in our morgue a little longer.”
Correction: This article was updated Jan. 11 to reflect that OC Medical Association is not doing vaccinations at its headquarters after an update from association executives.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio