Latino Health Access and 360 Clinic holds a mobile vaccination clinic at community center Kidworks in Santa Ana on May 21, 2021. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

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Gov. Gavin Newsom announced people who get vaccinated will now get a $50 gift card and everyone who’s already been vaccinated will be entered into a drawing to receive up to $1.5 million. 

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While people who haven’t yet received a vaccine before Thursday will get $50 gift cards for getting a shot until the stockpile of 2 million cards are gone, people who’ve already received the shot will be automatically entered into the drawings for cash prizes. 

“What about everybody else who did the right thing? What about you? … who waited in a long line, maybe drove 50 miles into another county and got vaccinated and gave us the momentum to put us in the position we are today?” Newsom said at a Thursday news conference. “We also wanna give you a chance to be rewarded … you’re automatically in.”

He also added, “regardless of your immigration status, you’re also eligible for these incentives.” 

The total spending on the gift cards and cash prizes is $116 million, officials said.

There will also be a $50,000 cash prize drawing for 30 people — 15 names will be pulled on June 4 and another 15 people will be picked on June 15. 

Newsom also said 10 residents will win $1.5 million each on June 15, when the statewide reopening hits.

Non-residents, inmates and people in the CA Department of Public Health won’t be eligible for any of the incentives, Newsom said, adding politicians like him won’t be eligible either.

Californians 12 and older who’ve had at least one dose are automatically entered in the cash prize drawings.

Local and state officials are pushing to get more people vaccinated ahead of the June 15 statewide reopening, when nearly all pandemic restrictions will be lifted.

As of Thursday, about half of Californians have been vaccinated, according to state data.

Locally, about 46% of OC residents have been vaccinated, according to data from the Health Care Agency

Numerous public health experts have told Voice of OC that herd immunity is at least a 70% vaccination and getting to herd immunity levels through infection will result in more hospitalizations and deaths, like what OC and the state experienced in the Winter.

Meanwhile, Some public health leaders still worry about a lack of new funding in Newsom’s proposed budget. 

The Health Officer Association of California has been calling for $200 million in ongoing funding for public health departments — like the OC Health Care Agency — throughout the state. 

“When it comes to public health, it’s too abstract for most people. So that became very clear in the Governor’s response with the May Revise …  his response was I gave to the public hospitals and I said oh boy, we still don’t understand what public health is,” said Flojuane Cofer, director of policy at Public Health Advocates in a Wednesday Zoom interview. 

She said a bulk of public health efforts are preventative like monitoring the quality of the air and keeping an eye on litter in the streets, which could lead to virus and bacterial infections.

“That’s sort of the challenge that public health is faced with — it’s that when we’re most successful nobody realizes they were in danger,” Cofer said. “The only time we’re thought of is when we’re in a public health crisis.”

Iliana Soto Welty, executive director of Multi-Ethnic Collaborative of Community Agencies (MECCA), said the budget should also include funding for the various community organizations that have stepped up to serve as frontline workers in reducing positivity rates and ramping up vaccination rates throughout Orange County’s most impacted neighborhoods. 

The Santa Ana-based collaborative has partnered with an array of community organizations, like Abrazar, to help bring vital services to seniors like transportation to vaccines and home visits by community workers to make sure the seniors are getting their prescriptions and other key social and medical services during the pandemic.

“They have been first responders and trusted messengers who have shown to be a crucial part of the public health infrastructure and we need to invest in them,” Soto Welty said during the Wednesday Zoom interview. “I’d love for him (Newsom) to understand the role we helped play in reaching communities who are the most impacted.” 

At Thursday’s news conference, Newsom announced the state is going to invest at least $80 million in community organizations like MECCA and Abrazar.

There’s also been concerns from some community clinics about a $20 million contract calling for an expansion of mobile and neighbrohood vaccination clinics. 

Some fear they’ll be left out of the umbrella contract that’s capped at $20 million.

But Supervisor Don Wagner publicly said at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting that the clinics won’t be left out and are welcome to apply for a contract.

The proposed contract was abruptly pushed back until June 8, following from Voice of OC over whether or not the clinics were contacted about it.

Numerous clinics, like Families Together of Ornage County, have been vaccinating scores of residents in hard hit areas. 

And the 360 Clinic has been contracted by Blue Shield — the state’s vaccine distributor — to deploy its 40 vans for mobile shot clinics throughout the region, according to a news release last week. 

Meanwhile, Orange County’s virus hospitalizations continue declining. 

As of Thursday, 61 people were hospitalized, including 18 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.

The virus has now killed 5,056 people — more than nine times the flu kills on a yearly average. 

COVID deaths surpassed average yearly cancer deaths in OC. 

It’s also killed more than heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and strokes do on a yearly average, respectively. 

Orange County has averaged around 20,000 deaths a year since 2016, including 543 annual flu deaths, according to state health data.

Last year, more than 24,400 OC residents died, according to the latest 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.

Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at scustodio@voiceofoc.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio

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