A full year into the worst pandemic the world’s seen since the 1918 Spanish Flu, and San Luis Obispo County finds itself on what appears to be the downhill side of the coronavirus outbreak.
Positive test numbers continue to fall, as have deaths from the virus, and hopes are that the numbers continue down a path that seems to end with the economy being fully opened once again and life returning to normal.
But there’s a long ways to go for SLO County, which is stuck in the “Red Tier” of the Governor’s “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.”
The Centers for Disease Control and State Department of Public Health continue to tinker with the public health guidelines now releasing recommendations for people who’ve already been vaccinated and for how fans can attend sporting events, respectively.
No Immunity for the Immunized
Though everyone pinned hopes that the approval of multiple vaccines against COVID-19 would mean people would be safe; the CDC’s March 8 guidelines would appear to counter that.
“Anyone who has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19,” the SLO County Health Agency said on March 9, “now has new interim public health recommendations for safely visiting with each other or with unvaccinated people in private, non-healthcare settings, and how to approach isolation, quarantine and testing.”
The County Health Officer, Dr. Penny Borenstein said, “We urge all SLO County residents, including those who are fully vaccinated, to continue taking health precautions in public. Please continue to wear a mask in public, get tested if you’ve been exposed, and avoid large gatherings.”
The CDC did ease up slightly on the lockdown guidelines that have had people staying at home and staying away from each other, so called social distancing. Fully vaccinated people can also:
• Gather indoors with fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask;
• Gather indoors with unvaccinated people from one other household without masks, unless they or anyone they live with has an increased risk for severe COVID-19 illness; and,
• Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic.
And getting fully vaccinated also doesn’t free a person from the pandemic protections — wearing a mask, washing hands often and social distancing.
And the Governor’s orders to wear masks even when outdoors is still in effect, at least until he’s recalled.
Vaccines Shooting Up, Eligible Age Lowers
SLO County reported that as of March 9 some 18% of the county’s population of about 230,000 had received at least one shot of the 2-dose Moderna vaccine.
Some 58 million had been administered nationwide (that number was 100 million as of March 19, according to the President).
Nearly 110,000 doses of vaccine have been administered in SLO County to date, thanks to increased vaccine supply from the State, as well as federal supply to local pharmacies.
The County has lowered the eligible age for getting vaccinated to 50 and older and opened it up to teachers, health care workers and other essential people, as well as those with certain ailments, and continues to have everyone make appointments, see: www.RecoverSLO.org/VaccineAppointments or call (805) 543-2444. Several pharmacies have begun administering the vaccines as well. The County Public Health Department has enough vaccine supply to administer 10,000 first doses this week and plans to have enough for at least 10,000 first doses next week as well. Other vaccine providers also have more vaccines and will open more appointments throughout the coming days and weeks.
County Warns of Scammers
As if half a million people dead in the U.S. from COVID-19 weren’t bad enough, the County sent out a warning about scammers trying to bilk people desperate for the vaccine.
“Scammers are using telemarketing calls, email, text messages, social media platforms, and door-to-door visits to perpetrate COVID-19-related scams,” the County warned in a March 18 news release.
In general, the scammers try to get people to sign up for a vaccine appointment, making promises that seem too good to be true.
The County put out tips on how to spot a potential scam:
• Being asked to pay out of pocket to get the vaccine sooner;
• Requirements to provide credit card information for “shipping purposes;”
• Charging a fee to gain access to a vaccine or to add a person’s name to a vaccine waiting list (the vaccines are free);
• Offers by marketers to sell or ship doses of vaccine for payment;
• Receiving ads or surveys for vaccines through social media platforms or unfamiliar email addresses; and,
• Claims of FDA approval for a vaccine or treatment of which you’ve never heard.
Dr. Borenstein commented, “The vaccine brings great promise that we will soon be able to return back to a more normal life. Unfortunately, some people want to take advantage of people’s desire to get vaccinated for their own criminal benefit.”
The County advises that protecting yourself is the best way to combat this skullduggery. “Always verify the spelling of web addresses and email addresses that look trustworthy, as they may be imitations of legitimate websites. However, if you are unsure if a message you receive is legitimate, reach out to family, friends, or the [County’s] Phone Assistance Center at (805) 543-2444 and a staff member will help you determine if the message you received is real or a scam.”
If readers have fallen prey to these scoundrels, they can report it to:
• HHS-OIG Hotline: 1-800-HHS-TIPS or tips.hhs.gov;
• FBI Hotline: 1-800-CALL-FBI or ic3.gov; or,
• CMS/Medicare Hotline: 1-800-MEDICARE.
County Gets J&J Vaccine
The County got a boost in the vaccine supply March 10 when it received the first shipment of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose COVID-19 vaccine.
The Health Department sent out some 1,400 doses of the J&J serum to be administered by local pharmacies.
The County’s three vaccination clinics — located at Cuesta College, the Paso Fairgrounds and at the Clark Center at Arroyo Grande High School — continue to administer the vaccines made by Moderna and Pfizer, which are double-doses.
The J&J vaccine is the third that’s been approved for use in the U.S. and “has been through a rigorous testing and review process nationally and additionally by the Western States Scientific Safety Review Workgroup,” according to the County.
Dr. Borenstein said, “The COVID-19 vaccine by Johnson & Johnson is very effective at preventing severe disease, hospitalization, and death from COVID-19. Adding a third safe and effective vaccine to our arsenal will be instrumental in the fight against COVID-19. This is great news for our community.”
This new serum is different than the others because it doesn’t need to be stored at below-freezing temperatures. And like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, it doesn’t have any coronavirus in it and so cannot give one the disease.
The vaccines are all three safe and effective according to Dr. Borenstein. The problem has been getting their hands on enough of it.
“From the beginning,” Dr. Borenstein said, “our biggest challenge has been limited supply of vaccine. Adding a third vaccine manufacturer means more supply will be available for SLO County residents to get vaccinated as quickly as possible.”
Sports Return; Some Fans Too
Local schools have reopened at least partially, and some 16 sports teams are playing again at Morro Bay High. But don’t expect to get a wiener and soda and sit down to watch the Pirates compete, unless you are one of the family, literally.
The State Department of Public Health on March 3 gave the go-ahead for sports to start again but then issued restrictions that make it all seem laughable.
“Local officials,” the County said, “have clarified that spectators for outdoor school sports will be allowed with capacity limits and precautions in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.”
The County added, “All participants and attendees must comply with COVID-19 safety precautions, including wearing face coverings and maintaining physical distance from other households. Venues will limit attendance to 20% capacity. Spectators are not currently allowed at indoor events.”
Additionally, “State guidance recommends that schools offer ways for family and friends to watch practices and competitions remotely by live stream if feasible. It also requires organizers of youth sports to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 while returning to play, through steps such as regular testing of players and limitations on tournaments.”
But if you think your softball team’s Friday Night beer league would be exempt, you’d be wrong. “The State guidance applies to all organized youth and adult recreational sports, including school, community programs, private clubs and leagues.”
Hooch Factories Get to Reopen
With the County’s “Red Tier” classification, restrictions on wineries, breweries and distilleries were eased a bit.
“Breweries and distilleries can operate outdoors with modifications,” the County said March 15. “These businesses must require reservations, limit visits to no more than 90 minutes, regularly sanitize tables and surfaces, space tables at least six feet apart, and require use of face coverings by employees and guests [when not seated at their table].”
“This gives our community a chance to safely support these businesses that have struggled over the past year,” Dr. Borenstein said. “Cheers to this step in SLO County’s safe reopening.”
Rent Relief Program Begins
The County has begun taking applications for the “California COVID-19 Rent Relief Program” that can help eligible people pay rent that they’ve fallen behind on due to the coronavirus pandemic response’s business shutdowns.
“Many renters and landlords are struggling right now,” said Dist. 4 County Supervisor Lynn Compton, who chairs the Board of Supervisors. “This program provides much needed relief to help people pay their bills and make ends meet.”
Of course the State-run program is only for certain people. “The State program is for those who have experienced a financial hardship due to COVID-19; have past due rent or utilities; and have a household income at or less than $58,800 [which is 80% of the area median household income],” the County reported.
The program has a catch. “Landlords who participate in the CA COVID-19 Rent Relief program can get reimbursed for 80% of an eligible renter’s unpaid rent between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, if they agree to waive the remaining 20% of unpaid rent,” according to the County. “Eligible renters whose landlords do not participate in the program may apply on their own and receive 25% of unpaid rent between April 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021. Paying this 25% by June 30, 2021 can help keep tenants in their home under the extended eviction protections in Senate Bill 91.”
Like many of California’s social welfare programs, you don’t have to be a citizen.
“Applicants will not be asked about their citizenship, nor will they be required to show proof of citizenship.” See: www.RecoverSLO.org/RentRelief or call (833) 430-2122, 7-days a week, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to see if you qualify.
For updates on COVID-19 in SLO County, see: ReadySLO.org or call the Public Health Information Line at (805) 788-2903. A staffed phone assistance center at (805) 543-2444 is available 7-days a week, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to answer COVID-19 questions.