Jessica Cejnar / Tuesday, Feb. 9 @ 3:45 p.m.

Del Norte Graduates To Red Tier; After Distributing 300 COVID-19 Vaccines On Saturday, County Is 'Tapped Out'

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Del Norte graduated to the less restrictive Red Tier on the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy on Tuesday, which is good news for businesses, especially restaurants.

But after administering 300 doses during a drive-through COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Del Norte County Regional Airport on Saturday, Public Health Officer Dr. Warren Rehwaldt said the Public Health Branch is “tapped out.”

“We can’t set up any first-dose clinics until we have a larger vaccine supply to work with,” he told supervisors. “What we have on hand is pretty much committed to supplying second doses, and also second doses for the clinics because right now we’re redistributing to all the primary care offices in the county.”

After more than two months of being in the most restrictive Purple Tier, which indicates widespread risk of COVID-19 spread in the community, Del Norte County moved into the Red Tier. Being in the Red Tier means the risk of spread is still substantial, but it allows restaurants to operate indoors again, Rehwaldt said.

Rehwaldt noted that COVID-19 cases have declined gradually over the last few weeks, though there was a slight bump toward the end of last week. He’s also not sure what impact Super Bowl Sunday will have on Del Norte County’s overall case count, noting that the main driver of the disease in the community has been people getting together with family and friends.

On Monday, three new cases were reported to the Public Health Branch, bringing the total number of active cases to 39, according to the county’s COVID-19 Information Hub.

Three new cases among the community’s incarcerated population were also brought to the attention of public health staff on Monday.
Since the pandemic began last March, there have been about 904 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Del Norte County.

“These last couple months have been hard on restaurants,” Rehwaldt told county supervisors. “We had a handful of events that have been traced to restaurants (and) food service environments, but they’re not on the top of anyone’s list. Around the state I hear reports from other counties, they’re maybe fourth on the list of potential problem areas. As we’ve learned over the last few months quite clearly, the main driver has been personal contacts.”

Under the Red Tier, restaurants can offer indoor dining at 25 percent capacity. Del Norte County is one of two in California to be in the Red Tier currently.

On Tuesday, supervisors said they were frustrated at the trickle of vaccine coming into the county. During the report to her colleagues, District 2 Supervisor Valerie Starkey mentioned a Rural County Representatives of California meeting that discussed how vaccine distribution has been inequitable for rural counties.

Her colleage, Board Chairman Chris Howard, who attended a recent virtual town hall meeting hosted by State Sen. Mike McGuire, said it was good to see McGuire and Assemblyman Jim Wood equally frustrated with the COVID-19 response in rural counties. He said he also spoke with staff at the California State Association of Counties “about Del Norte’s specific problems in trying to reopen quicker.”

“Obviously we’re all aware that the issues that have plagued the rest of the state have not plagued us and in turn, we’re trying to move forward at a quicker pace to get into some of these tiers, like yellow and orange, to get our businesses reopened,” Howard said.

The Del Norte County Board of Supervisors District 3 representative was also dubious about Blue Shield of California being tapped to ramp up coronavirus vaccinations in the Golden State.

On Jan. 28, the AP reported that the health insurance nonprofit based in Oakland will manage a statewide vaccination administration network to allocate doses directly to providers, including pharmacies, public and private health networks and hospitals as well as pop-up sites and community health centers.

Kaiser Permanente will also help distribute vaccines across California, according to the AP.

On Tuesday, Howard asked Rehwaldt if he felt the state’s push for a third-party administrator to deliver vaccines would add “another layer of bureaucracy.”

Rehwaldt said he’s keeping an open mind about the issue because Public Health staff don’t yet know what Blue Shield’s exact role and authority is going to be. He noted the insurance entity’s contract is still being finalized with the California Department of Public Health.

“They might help us fine tune our allocation,” Rehwaldt told Howard. “If they bring a fresh look at the data (and) demographics in our county, they might help us get a little more supply.”

Allocating a steady stream of vaccine to the county and leaving it up to local public health staff to divvy it up based on first and second-doses would be more helpful than the current system, Rehwaldt said.

“Just give us a steady supply to work with so we can predict that,” he said. “If we can predict what we’re going to get then we can do local planning to make it work.”

Since the first vaccines made their way to Del Norte County in December, getting them in patients’ arms has been a start and stop prospect, Rehwaldt said.

“Right now we’re in stop mode,” he said, telling Howard he would put his concerns in writing to take back to CSAC. “We just had 300 doses at the airport this last weekend. We’re kind of tapped out in terms of what we can safely release until we know what our supply is.”


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