Vaccines roll out in the nick of time

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Austin Widger, Ojai Valley News reporter
Ventura County officials moved forward with COVID-19 vaccinations this week, opening up registration to all who fall into Phase 1a, which includes hospital staff, medical first responders, long-term care staff and residents, all other health care providers, and more.
People who are in those categories can register to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on  The complete list of who can receive the vaccine under Phase 1a is on the website as well.
At the county’s weekly COVID-19 press conference Jan. 13, Ventura County Health Care Agency Chief Deputy Director Barry Zimmerman said more than15,500 people had been vaccinated as of that day. “We are in our first phase of the rollout at this point in time,” he said. “So far, we started Monday (Jan. 11) with nearly 500, yesterday (Jan. 12) over 600 individuals and today (Jan. 13) will be just under 1,000 individuals vaccinated. That is our goal is to continue to grow that capacity.”
The county’s capacity to rollout vaccines is based on how many are received from the state, which is averaging under 10,000 doses a week.
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 of the variant, noting that with the expanded rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, "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." 
"This week is critical," Levin told the supervisors.
Zimmerman said: “As we continue with Phase 1A, which is the healthcare workers and like occupations, we estimate that there’s about 35,000 to 40,000 individuals in that whole population who are eligible to be vaccinated. So we have reached out to them and asked them to register for an appointment. At this point, we only are offering appointments relative to the number of vaccines we have received. So if there is not an appointment available, that would come based on a weekly basis as we receive our vaccinations.”


After phase 1b, which is healthcare-focused, comes Phase 1b, which changes to a different segment of the population. Zimmerman said: “Many have read a priority to shift seniors, and I would classify them as 65 and older, up in the priority standing. The governor is making that as a priority order for us to serve a larger number of the senior population. But I want to be clear that we are moving them up in priority, but they are still in Phase 1b, which is our next phase to go into. We’re still in Phase 1a. When we get to Phase 1b, we are dealing with the senior population, as well as essential workers.”
The essential workers included in Phase 1b are grocery workers, agricultural workers, law enforcement, firefighters and so forth.
Though the vaccine rollout is underway, the county is currently facing another post-holiday surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. In fact, Ventura County had the fourth-worst rate — out of the state’s 58 counties — of new cases per 100,000 residents over the past seven days on Jan. 14, with more than 1,000 new cases a day.
Ventura County Public Health Director Rigoberto Vargas said: “We have an adjusted case rate of 73. We need to be at 7. When we need to be at 7 and we’re at 73, we know we have a serious challenge in Ventura County to improve our numbers. 
“Again, this is the adjusted number and it’s adjusted very favorably because of our outstanding test volume. Our actual unadjusted case rate went from 71 last week to 131. One-hundred-thirty-one is our actual seven-day average case rate per 100,000 residents.”
Vargas also reported a 17.5 percent seven-day test positivity rate, which means nearly one in every five people who got tested over the past week came back positive.

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Some of these cases end up in the hospital, and the county set a trio of grim records on Tuesday of 1,002 total people hospitalized in Ventura County — 449 of them with COVID-19 and 89 of those in intensive care units.
Dr. Rick Rutherford of Ojai, an emergency physician at Ventura County Medical Center and Santa Paula Hospital, said: “Each of us knows somebody who has suffered from COVID. Unfortunately, many of us now know somebody who has suffered long-term effects from COVID, or worse has even died from the disease. The sustained surge that we’re experiencing has put tremendous pressure on our hospitals. We are full. When I walked into my shift yesterday, more than half of our emergency department beds were occupied by patients who needed a hospital bed but were waiting for space to open up. Sometimes we’re having to treat patients who are very sick in the triage area, or worse still outside. This is not ideal. At times, members of our staff are physically, emotionally exhausted. We’re caring for a very large number of very sick patients. It’s challenging for us to address so much suffering.”
On Jan. 14, the county also passed the threshold of more than 400 county residents who have died with COVID-19. The county had reported a total of 201 deaths on Dec. 15, so the number doubled over the past month.
So many people are dying with COVID-19 that the decedents are sometimes in hospitals for up to three days since county morgues are full, said county Emergency Medical Services Director Steve Carroll. 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.
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:
To find out who is eligible to vaccinate people, visit:
As of Jan. 13, 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