COVID-19 cases continue to slow in Del Norte County, but the danger of the virus is clearly present.
Dr. Warren Rehwaldt, the public health authority for the county, announced Tuesday that the third person linked to COVID died. The person, who has not been identified, died last week at Sutter Coast Hospital.
During a presentation to the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, Rehwaldt said overall things are improving.
“Our trend has been pretty good,” he said. “Case numbers have declined quite a bit and seem to be holding that pattern. We’ll just keep our fingers crossed that it continues to hold but it’s good news.”
One of the big challenges now is getting people vaccinated.
“Overall, I think our operational picture as a county is pretty good,” Rehwaldt said. “We’re more or less on track with our operational plan we sent to the state. We’ve had a couple of setbacks.”
Last week, the state put a hold on one lot of Moderna vaccines after several people reported side effects. Del Norte County had approximately 500 doses of the vaccine. That hold has now been lifted, and the vaccine can be used.
While the county has been vaccinating people as fast as possible, Rehwaldt said there is a limited number of vaccines to be used.
“We just don’t have sufficient supply to expand our vaccination program in the way people would like for it to happen,” he said. “If we had enough vaccine, I would love to get everyone in our county vaccinated in a month. But our vaccine supply is just a trickle and it needs to be a flood. Until that is solved in a way that is way above us, we’re going to have a slow rollout.”
Rehwaldt said the health authority is planning mass vaccination events in next few weeks. Exact details have not been finalized. He said local clinics also want to participate and vaccinate patients, but the supply chain is the hold up.
Supervisor Gerry Hemmingsen asked Rehwaldt about the number of vaccines the county is receiving.
“It varies,” Rehwaldt said. “One week, we the ability to order 500 doses of Moderna, the next week zero. Last week, we ordererd 300 doses of Moderna, this week 100. That’s not a big supply. In Phase 1b, we have about 5,000 people we need to vaccinate. That’s going to take a long time if we get 300 doses a week.”
In some good news, the county now has freezers set up to receive the Pfizer vaccine, which must be stored in ultra-cold temperatures.
“That would help immensely because they would ship us 1,000 doses at a time,” Rehwaldt said. “It may not be every week, but even it was once a month, it would help.”
While the first phase of people to get vaccinated is limited to frontline healthcare workers and first responders, the county is preparing to vaccinate the general public. The first on that list will be senior citizens. Rehwaldt said people who want to get vaccinated, especially seniors, can call the health department or their medical provider to get on a waiting list.
“When the time comes that we have enough vaccine, we can start working with a list and contact people and set things up for them,” Rehwaldt said. “Right now, we just need to know whose interested because not everybody is. In some places, 50 percent of the eligible people are declining to get the vaccine. We don’t think that will hold with seniors.”
Rehwaldt said the health authority is working to set up a call center, but that, too, is a little way off.
Supervisor Valerie Starkey asked Rehwaldt how close the county is from dropping out the Purple Tier, the most restrictive in the state.
“That’s a tough question. I know it’s on everyone’s mind,” Rehwaldt said. “Doing the math, we’d probably have to average less than two cases per day and hold that for two weeks. Right now, our numbers are in that neighborhood, but we’re not quite there yet.”
Board Chair Chris Howard thanked Rehwaldt for the work he is doing, while stating it is time to begin to lift restrictions.
“We still have COVID to deal with in our community, but our businesses and our children, especially, are suffering as a result,” Howard said. “It seems like these starts and stops are impacting not only the mental health of our children but their educational futures.”