It’s been almost one year since San Jose resident Patricia Dowd became the first person to die of COVID-19 in the U.S.
As of Jan. 29, nearly 100,500 individuals have been diagnosed with COVID-19 in Santa Clara County, according to the Public Health Department dashboard. About 1,344 county residents have died from the disease.
“It’s quite a milestone that none of us ever wanted to see,” said Dr. Marty Fenstersheib, the county’s COVID-19 testing officer.
Since Dowd’s death on Feb. 6, 2020, more than 433,000 Americans have died from the disease.
Fenstersheib reflected on the county’s response in the past year.
“The fact that we were the first county to have a stay-at-home order (and) a shelter-in-place order likely prevented a lot more deaths and a lot more hospitalizations in this community,” Fenstersheib said. “Could we have done better? Sure, every community could have done better. But the idea is that we have the information (and) the knowledge so our community can respond, be safe and protect one another.”
Fenstersheib and Dr. Jennifer Tong, associate chief medical officer for Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, stressed that the county was prioritizing equity as vaccine distribution continues.
More than 80% of deaths from the disease have been in people 65 years and older, Fenstersheib said.
“Again with the high mortality rate in our senior citizens, getting the vaccine into the arms of our seniors in this community will go a long way to preventing further deaths and hospitalizations,” Fenstersheib said.
About 28% of county residents over 75 years old have received at least one dose of the vaccine, or about 1 in 4 residents above that age threshold.
“Our system and our county as a whole, we stand strong with an infrastructure that is further ready to expand our capacity,” Tong said. “However, we need more vaccines availability to expand our capacity.”
The county will begin taking vaccine appointment registrations by phone starting next week. Until now, most appointment registrations have been online, and the county has directed residents to www.sccfreevax.org to access sign ups.
State health officials announced this week eligibility will change and become solely based on age after Phase 1B, Tier 1, which primarily covers people age 65 and older. The idea, state officials said, is to accelerate vaccine distribution across all 58 counties and allow the state to increase capacity while ensuring the vaccine goes to disproportionately impacted communities.
According to Fenstersheib, 8% of all county residents over 16 years old have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Santa Clara County’s health system began offering vaccines to residents 65 and up on Jan. 27.
Fenstersheib said that while there are plenty of challenges to getting the vaccine into arms, the county has a “massive and efficient” system in place already.
About 148,000 county residents have received the first dose of the vaccine, while more than 37,000 residents have received both doses.
“The infrastructure is poised to deliver as much vaccine as we receive,” Fenstersheib said. “The more vaccine we receive into the county, the more (people) we can vaccinate.”
But there is still not enough vaccine delivered weekly to the county to take advantage of its vaccination capabilities, leaders said. Currently, about 6,600 doses are administered in the county every day, while about 60,000 vaccine appointments have been scheduled for the next seven days.
The county earlier this month announced an ambitious goal of vaccinating 85% of its eligible population with both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by Aug. 1. There are an estimated 1.5 million-plus eligible residents by that standard, according to the county.
To be able to reach that target, Fenstersheib said, between 13,000 and 15,000 county residents would need to be vaccinated per day.
“That’s still the goal,” Fenstersheib said. “I think the federal government is doing its best and we’re confident and hopeful we’ll get enough vaccine.”