The future of masks remains uncertain as a statewide reopening draws closer, while community health clinics, family doctors and community organizations are increasingly becoming part of state and local efforts to boost coronavirus vaccinations.
On Thursday, the CDC said fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks or practice physical distance.
“You can resume activities that you did prior to the pandemic,” reads the CDC guidelines overview. “Fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.”
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Earlier this week, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the mask mandate would largely go away after the June 15 statewide reopening, but he’s since walked the comments back.
A Chapman University survey of roughly 700 OC residents found 70% of respondents said they support mask mandates, although the survey was conducted earlier this year.
California public health officials have indicated they’re looking into revising the statewide mask mandate.
California Department of Public Health officials didn’t answer questions about when new mask guidelines or mandates may come out.
CDPH is working hard with County Health Officers to update the mask guidance. We are pushing hard to release sooner, but CDPH also has to align with the CalOSHA guidance as well,” OC Health Officer Dr. Clayton Chau said in a Friday text message.
Now, questions are surfacing on how people can prove they’re vaccinated after CDC and FBI officials have issued numerous warnings, telling people to beware of fake vaccine cards.
“I think it will be difficult to find proof. It will put people who have not been vaccinated, for whatever reason, at risk of getting infected,” Chau told Voice of OC.
During a Chapman University panel on Wednesday, Chau said a Southern California pharmacist was caught selling fraudulent cards.
A majority of OC Supervisors voted to pause looking into providing people with digital vaccine documents, which would’ve been supplied upon request if a resident was vaccinated through a county-run site.
Many residents who speak during public comment at the Board of Supervisors express concerns about the potential deadly side effects from vaccinations.
Just over 4,000 people have died across the U.S. from the COVID vaccine, according to data from the CDC.
That’s less than 1% of the roughly 580,000 people killed by the virus itself, according to CDC data.
The CDC also says the vaccine death data may be incomplete because it’s voluntarily reported by hospitals, manufacturers and the public — meaning anyone can report data to the system.
“[The Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System] reports alone cannot be used to determine if a vaccine caused or contributed to an adverse event or illness. The reports may contain information that is incomplete, inaccurate, coincidental, or unverifiable,” reads a caveat, adding the report is designed to quickly see if vaccines develop a trend of negative effects.
Last month, Reuters published an article explaining the problems with the vaccine death report data.
Numerous claims have been made that Chau and the Health Care Agency is going to force vaccine passports on people and mandate residents get vaccinated.
Yet county officials have repeatedly said that’s not the case.
“There have been accusations that I’m [mandating] a passport, that I’m allowing businesses to discriminate, that I will mandate a non-approved vaccine … that I was secretly vaccinating children without parental consent,” Chau said. “Really false accusations that have been spread rampant.”
He largely attributed Orange County’s improving virus metrics to vaccinations and noted it’s a personal choice people have.
“In the time of the pandemic, that’s the beauty of our country — we respect individual rights — but you gotta think of the community because we don’t live alone,” Chau said.
State and local health officials are increasingly addressing vaccine hesitancy and fighting misinformation.
During the Wednesday panel, Chau said the county Health Care Agency will be working with local pediatric groups to help boost vaccinations now that the Pfizer shot is authorized for people 12 and older.
Dr. Jay Lee, the chief medical officer for the Costa Mesa-based community clinic Share Our Selves, said the county’s incoming switch from vaccination super sites to smaller neighborhood clinics should get more people vaccinated.
“The ground game is important because of the relationship that we have with people who might have been tainted with bad information, non-scientific information. Ultimately it’s about leaning in and answering those questions and engaging with people,” Lee said in a Wednesday phone interview.
He said the supersites, like at the Anaheim Convention Center and Soka University, were good in the beginning.
Lee said the sites were an “easy way to get to that pent up demand when the vaccine became available, but the systems favored people who had access to technology and the time and the resources to get themselves scheduled.”
He also said pediatricians and family doctors should be able to put a dent in vaccine hesitancy because they’re able to approach people on a more personal level.
“It comes down to trust and the ability to kind of talk through risk and benefit with a trusted source. Which is not going to be your supersite. It’s going to be your trusted pediatrician and family physician,” Lee said.
State officials are also looking to schools and family doctors to address vaccine hesitancy.
Secretary of the California Health and Human Services Agency, Dr. Mark Ghaly, said state officials are also going to partner with more community organizations.
“When it comes to hesitancy as we’ve talked about, there’s been quite a bit of work and we continue to build on that work. To make sure people who have questions and want more information are able to get it,” Ghaly said in response to Voice of OC’s questions during a Wednesday news briefing.
State epidemiologist Dr. Erica Pan said they’re currently doing a statewide survey to find the levels of hesitancy and people’s biggest concerns about the shots.
“There’s a lot of misinformation and disinformation out there,” Pan said. “There’s a large chunk that we do see that if we can do [address those concerns], that really moves the dial.”
She also noted state health officials are seeing an increase in cases for younger people.
Lee said he’s seen a similar trend locally.
“It’s becoming a child’s disease which is really a problem. We’re thinking about the Fall and going back to school. For a lot of parents normalcy means my child goes back to school. So we’re at a really important inflection point in the pandemic,” Lee said, adding parents should speak with their pediatricians about getting their kids vaccinated.
Meanwhile, OC’s hospitalizations continue declining.
As of Friday, 75 people were hospitalized, including 20 in intensive care units, according to the county Health Care Agency.
The virus has now killed 5,028 people — more than nine times the flu does 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.
A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to Dr. Erica Pan as the state health officer.
Spencer Custodio is a Voice of OC staff reporter. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @SpencerCustodio