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BREAKING: More contagious COVID-19 variant likely in Ventura County

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Slide presented at Jan. 12 Ventura County Board of Supervisors meeting.

 

The more contagious COVID-19 variant is likely in Ventura County, in small numbers so far, according to Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin reporting to the Ventura County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Jan. 12.

"It picked a good time to come out," Levin said, noting that with the expanded rollout of COVID-19 vaccines this week, "we are on the right track to protecting ourselves from any negative impacts it would have."

In a follow-up with the Ojai Valley News, Levin wrote: "It (the COVID-19 more contagious variant) is likely pretty much everywhere, but also likely in most places in small numbers." However, he added, that there is not yet concrete evidence that the variant, first reported in the United Kingdom, is in Ventura County.

"This week is critical," Levin told the supervisors.

Watch the recorded Ventura County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 12, at:

https://ventura.granicus.com/player/clip/5505?view_id=100&redirect=true

The dramatic spike in new COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and death could be a result of people gathering over the holidays, said Ventura County Public Health Director Rigoberto Vargas.

Public Health reported on Jan. 12 that there are 21 new deaths over the day before. He also announced 1,325 new COVID-19 cases in a one-day period as of Jan. 12. "Our heroes in the hospital are just exhausted — they need our help," he said.

Vargas said that Ventura County's seven-day adjusted case rate per 100,000 population of 72.7 is  among the highest in the state and is "very concerning."

County Emergency Medical Services Director Steve Carroll said that 1,002 people are hospitalized in Ventura County — 449 of them with COVID-19 and 89 of those in intensive care units. He said these are record numbers. 

So many people are dying that the decedents are sometimes in hospitals for up to three days since county morgues are full, he said. He added that morgues usually do four embalmings a day and now they are dealing with significantly more. He said a mortuary that normally deals with seven to eight families a day is now serving 50 families. "It is something that is significantly concerning," he said.

Before the grim numbers were reported, Barry Zimmerman, chief deputy director of the Ventura County Health Care Agency, reported on the vaccine rollout in Ventura County. He reported that a total of 15,500 people have been vaccinated as of Jan. 12. Also, he said a total of 28,000 of the first of two doses of the Pfizer vaccine have arrived. The Pfizer vaccine requires a second dose administered after 21 days and the county has 28,000 doses of those as well.

He said there are some logistical challenges to disbursing the Pfizer vaccine since it requires subzero storage temperatures, but that they are working through those. He said currently 2,500 people are being vaccinated each week, with the goal of vaccinating 5,000 Ventura County residents a day. However, he said, the capacity to provide the vaccine will outrun its availability.

County CEO MIke Powers estimated the county will run through its vaccine allotment in a week and a half unless more vaccines are delivered from the state.

Levin has been reaching out to state health officials requesting more of the vaccine and was able to secure 9,750 more doses of the Pfizer vaccine that will arrive in the "next couple of days." He said he requested 10,000 more doses on the evening of Jan. 11 and was waiting for a response as of the morning of Jan. 12.

Levin also reported that residents in 17 of 19 skilled nursing facilities in Ventura County have been vaccinated, to date, which he said should "mean a significant decrease in hospitalizations and death."

Zimmerman reported that vaccines were given to those with priority status, such as health care workers and other first responders, at the fairgrounds on Jan. 11. He added that the county is also working to secure more locations for people to get vaccinated, including pharmacies and grocery stores and a location in the east county.

Supervisor and new board chair, Linda Parks, suggested providing vaccines 24 hours a day if possible.

Zimmerman added that volunteer vaccinators are being sought. Those who meet the requirements to administer vaccines are requested to sign up on this county government website:
https://www.venturacountyrecovers.org/vaccine-information/subscribe-volunteer-vaccinator/

To find out who is eligible to vaccinate people, visit:
https://www.cdph.ca.gov/Programs/CID/DCDC/Pages/Immunization/Authorized-Licensees.aspx

So far, there have been 185 signups, he said, noting that hundreds more are needed.

 For up-to-date information from the county government on COVID-19, visit www.venturacountyrecovers.org 

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Ojai physician Dr. Jim Halverson, who writes a weekly column on COVID-19 for the Ojai Valley News, wrote a column about the more contagious COVID-19 variant on Jan. 8. His column can be read at:

https://www.ojaivalleynews.com/?view=article&id=19479:ask-dr-halverson-what-to-know-about-new-covid-19-strain&catid=856 

 

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