Santa Clara County could move to orange tier next week; vaccine eligibility expands
A San Jose Fire Department volunteer administers a COVID-19 vaccine to an educator. Photo by Eugene Luu.

Santa Clara County’s COVID-19 cases are still on a downward trend, meaning the county could move to the state’s orange tier next Wednesday.

Santa Clara County Public Health Officer Dr. Sara Cody confirmed at the county’s Health and Hospital Commission meeting Wednesday that if the county continues to see decreasing COVID cases and hospitalizations through next Tuesday, more businesses can open at greater capacities. Changes would go into effect March 24.

Under the orange tier, indoor dining can open with a max 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer, while amusement parks can open at 25% capacity or 500 people, whichever is fewer. Churches can also open up to 50% capacity indoors, while fitness centers and gyms can open indoors with up to 25% capacity.

Santa Clara County last changed tiers on March 2, when it moved from the purple tier — the state’s most restrictive — to the red tier, which was welcome news for many hard-hit businesses.

Case rates and hospitalization numbers are at similar levels to mid-November, Cody said.

“I would say we re just now starting to recover from the fall and winter surge,” Cody said. But she said residents should still be cautious.

“Just because it’s open doesn’t mean it’s a good idea,” Cody said.

Vaccine eligibility opens up

Vaccine eligibility also opened up across the state Monday to include those 16 and older with chronic health conditions. Qualifying individuals include cancer patients, those with stage 4 or above chronic kidney disease, individuals with chronic pulmonary disease that are oxygen dependent, individuals with down syndrome, recipients of solid organ transplants, pregnant individuals, and patients with sickle cell disease, among others.

A list of qualifying conditions can be found on the state’s website here.

But just because eligibility has opened up doesn’t mean that Santa Clara County residents will have an easier time making their first vaccine appointment.

“Vaccine allocations are not meeting our capacity, so very few first-dose appointments are available,” said County Executive Jeff Smith. “And we have ongoing concerns regarding Blue Shield’s role and timing.”

According to numbers presented to the committee Wednesday, county health care providers received a total of 61,640 vaccines between Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson. That’s much less than the 200,000 weekly vaccines the county says it has capacity to administer.

But it’s also more than the 53,300 vaccine doses county providers received last week.

Image courtesy Santa Clara County Public Health.

Last week, county supervisors pointed fingers at Blue Shield, the state’s new vaccine administrator, for allegedly denying extra vaccines when county health care providers fell short.

Blue Shield shot back, saying that it had actually advocated for more vaccines for the county.

County executive Smith said that the county might end up bypassing the state entirely, going to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ask for help and extra doses. Currently, two mass vaccination sites in the state are receiving doses from FEMA, the Oakland Coliseum site and California State University Los Angeles site.

“We’re trying every avenue we possibly can to get as much vaccine as we can,” Smith said. “I think we’re making progress slowly and steadily.”

Contact Madelyn Reese at [email protected] or follow @MadelynGReese on Twitter.

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