Vaccine Rollout a Roller Coaster

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

February 12, 2021

The San Luis Obispo County Health Department has had a roller coaster ride over the past several weeks with the rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, seeing starts and stumbles with getting people a shot in the arm, but saw some lessening of restrictions on businesses and personal liberties with the lifting of the Governor’s stay-at-home orders.
Jan. 25, the State Public Health Department issued a statement about the changes. “Officials with the California Department of Public Health [CDPH] today ended the Regional Stay at Home Order, lifting the order for all regions statewide, including the three regions that had still been under the order — San Joaquin Valley, Bay Area and Southern California.”
SLO County falls within the Southern California Region, and the announcement simply puts everyone back to the conditions of last December. “This action,” CDPH said, “allows all counties statewide to return to the rules and framework of the Blueprint for a Safer Economy and color-coded tiers that indicate which activities and businesses are open based on local case rates and test positivity. The majority of the counties are in the strictest, or purple tier,” including SLO County.
State Thinks Lockdown Worked
“Californians,” Dr. Tomás Aragón, CDPH director and state public health officer said, “heard the urgent message to stay home as much as possible and accepted that challenge to slow the surge and save lives. Together, we changed our activities knowing our short-term sacrifices would lead to longer-term gains.
“COVID-19 is still here and still deadly, so our work is not over, but it’s important to recognize our collective actions saved lives and we are turning a critical corner.”
With the end of the stay-home order, so too ends the State’s curfew. “The ‘Limited Stay at Home Order,’ which limits non-essential activities between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., expires with the Regional Stay At Home Order ending,” CDPH said.
So while one may now venture out into the night, bars remain closed and restaurants can’t use their indoor dinning rooms. But they can again use the outdoor seating areas many have built.
Jail Outbreak Over
In one bit of good news, the Sheriff’s Department declared that its COVID-19 outbreak was over. “The San Luis Obispo County Jail’s COVID-19 outbreak, which started Dec. 10, 2020 and infected 63 inmates and seven sworn staff, has been declared over by Public Health,” the Sheriff’s Department announced Jan. 27. “The last positive case linked to the outbreak was diagnosed Jan. 12.”
Of the Jail patients, one had to be hospitalized and two others were sent to the emergency room. “Everyone has been cleared from isolation, and the area of the Jail affected is no longer under quarantine.”
They’ve worked hard on stopping the virus rampaging through a captive population. “Since March, the Jail has been isolating symptomatic individuals, quarantining anyone entering the facility or exposed to the virus, requiring personal protective equipment, performing COVID-19 testing, screening staff for symptoms daily, limiting outside visitors, and increasing cleaning measures.”
With the support of the County’s COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force, they offered the vaccine to jail staff and inmates.
Since March 2020, the County Jail had a total of 84 inmates test positive, as well as 36 Sheriff’s deputies — 16 patrol and 20 correctional deputies, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
Vaccine Rollout a Bumpy Ride
The County has moved fast to get the vaccine out, opening two full time clinics in SLO and Paso Robles — but following State guidelines has led to a few missteps, including ceasing to vaccinate when a particular batch of the medicine caused several adverse reactions, all at one clinic in Southern California.
But the bigger issue has been supply. “The County is carefully allocating its supply to ensure that recipients get both doses in a timely manner,” the Health Department said on Feb. 1. “On Jan. 18, the County extended eligibility into early Phase 1b, progressing quickly through plans to vaccinate 26,000 people over age 75 currently residing in SLO County. As many as 9,000 residents over age 75 have received their first dose of vaccine over the last two weeks.”
And people who got their first of two shots were told they might have to wait a while to get the booster. “Do not be alarmed if you cannot receive your second dose of vaccine on the exact day that you are eligible to,” said County Public Health Officer Dr. Penny Borenstein. “While the goal is to administer second doses close to the recommended interval, a few-weeks delay poses no health risks to recipients and will not require that they restart the vaccine series.”
By Jan. 27, the County said it had vaccinated 10,539 people with the first dose but only got 9,035, second doses from the State. The shortage was apparently mitigated when the CDC updated its “vaccine administration guidance” to say it is OK to wait 6 weeks for the second needle prick.
Storm Closed SLO Clinic
A vaccine clinic the County set up at the Health Department on Sierra Way in SLO was relocated in anticipation of the big, Jan. 27 storm.
The County was already planning to move the SLO Clinic to Cuesta College on Feb. 1, but the storm sped things along. The SLO clinic is now at the Cuesta Performing Arts Building on the Hwy 1 campus.
“We continue to ask the State for more vaccines,” Dr. Borenstein said. The County closed its clinics in Paso Robles and Arroyo Grande when it ran short of the vaccine. “We want to continue to vaccinate those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 exposure or serious health outcomes.”
Adjustments Were Made
With the vaccine supply uncertainty, the County has had to be flexible and on Feb. 3 revised its predictions.
The Health Department said “more than 7,300 people in San Luis Obispo County will get a dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at one of the County’s three public vaccine clinics by the end of this week.”
The supply shortage caused the County to suspend appointments for the first dose focusing on second doses.
“We were able to schedule more COVID-19 vaccine appointments in this one week than any other week of the pandemic,” Dr. Borenstein said, “and while we had hoped to book even more appointments, our vaccine allocation from the State this week is not as large as we expected. We do not want to be forced to shut down our vaccine clinics altogether, which has been done in other communities like Merced County, but will if we don’t have vaccines to provide.”
And that’s what happened temporarily at the County’s clinics in Arroyo Grande and Paso Robles, which were to be closed for a week before reopening again.
Call for Appointment
At this point the County is vaccinating anyone 75-over in the Phase 1b category. The County quickly ran through the Phase 1a people, basically medical, residential and in-home health care workers.
There are three County clinics, none of which are on the North Coast. Clinics are currently at: Cuesta College (Harold J. Miossi Cultural and Performing Arts Center), Hwy 1 San Luis Obispo; Paso Robles Event Center (Mid State Fairgrounds) at 2198 Riverside Ave., Paso Robles; and at Arroyo Grande High School at the Clark Center for the Performing Arts, 487 Fair Oaks Ave.
Eligible community members can make an appointment either by visiting or by calling the County’s Phone Assistance Center at (805) 534-2444.
The County will have the latest on when and where someone can get the vaccine.
Morro Bay Update
The City of Morro Bay has been running parallel to the County and in turn the State’s mandates on everything from mask wearing to business closures throughout the pandemic.
Mayor John Headding recorded a new video to give residents an update on what’s going on. The over 9-minute video is posted online at:
In essence, the City remains under the Governor’s Purple Tier restrictions listed in the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.”
Schools like Morro Bay High had been hoping to open again at the start of February, but under the Purple Tier, they can’t. A County must be in the less restrictive, “Red Tier” for 3 straight weeks before schools can reopen.
But with the test positivity rate of 8% (eight positive tests out of a hundred) being the threshold for moving into the red, the bar is high for reopening schools.

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