Public health approves 42 facilities for vaccine distribution
Public health officials are declaring the presence of COVID-19 in Santa Barbara County “dire” as cases overwhelm ICU capacity. While the COVID-19 vaccine offers hope, healthcare providers are tasked with an additional responsibility administering the vaccine.
“The hospitals are preparing to implement crisis care,” Dr. Henning Ansorg, Santa Barbara County public health officer, said in a news conference Tuesday. “Crisis care means people with urgent health needs other than COVID may not receive the level of the care they need.”
Santa Barbara County Public Health Department lists the current ICU capacity at an adjusted rate of 0%.
“We are continuing to see a record number of community members test positive, so that leads us to believe that our hospitalizations will only increase,” Dr. David Fisk, medical director for Cottage Health’s infection control program and infectious disease physician at Sansum Clinic, said in an interview with the News-Press.
Although Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital has surge capacity beds and cots, it lacks the staff to tend to these extra beds. Dr. Fisk says staff members are getting sick, likely at home or in the community, and hospitals don’t regularly employ the numbers they need to take on a pandemic.
Cottage is recruiting people from other aspects of the healthcare industry and has had some success in recent days.
“Given that healthcare institutions across the country are particularly stressed and strapped right now, it is extremely difficult,” he said.
Particularly for vaccine distribution, healthcare providers are looking to retired physicians who still have the ability to administer the vaccine.
Cottage Health is one of 42 facilities working with the Public Health Department in a distribution plan for the vaccine.
The county is currently able to administer 350 doses of the vaccine per day but will soon increase that to 500. Dr. Van Do-Reynoso, director of the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department, estimates they will be able to reach 1,000 vaccinations per day by early February.
“My hope, with my fingers crossed, is that by March we are able to offer the vaccine to the community at large,” she said in Tuesday’s press conference.
Tuesday, the California Department of Public Health authorized Santa Barbara County to administer vaccines to all three tiers in Phase 1a. (To see a chart of the vaccine distribution phases, go to publichealthsbc.org/vaccine/.)
“We are hopeful that more and more people get vaccinated, and less people will get sick from COVID,” Dr. Fisk said. “We hope that people take the opportunity to get vaccinated when it is presented to them. It’s the best way through this challenge.”
Cottage Health providers have begun to receive their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. He has received his first dose and says he “fully endorses” the vaccine.
Although he feels confident in the vaccine, some Cottage Health staff members have refused it for various reasons. He says some may have severe allergic reactions to vaccines.
Overall, 60% of Cottage Health staff offered the vaccine have already gotten it. Many more are scheduled, he said.
To cut down on waste, Cottage Health created a list of eligible recipients. When appointments are canceled, individuals are contacted to come receive their vaccine.
He thinks appointment cancelations make up the majority of waste we see nationally.
“I think the vaccine wastage has been very low and less than what you would see in other medical products,” he said.
Dr. Ansorg estimates it will be “weeks or months to get everyone the vaccine who wants it.”
For now, health officials are urging community members to only meet with those inside their own household.
“What used to be less risky is now risky given the widespread infection in our county,” Dr. Van Do-Reynoso said.
Because it is hard to find the staff to treat new patients, Dr. Fisk puts responsibility on the public to avoid a more desperate situation.
“We want to get the message out that we need the cooperation of community members to avoid getting COVID so we have those hospital beds available,” he said.
When Dr. Ansorg was asked if Santa Barbara County would have to start making triage decisions, like those in Los Angeles turning away patients deemed too sick to survive, he answered:
“Unfortunately, I see that in the future of Santa Barbara County. We are seeing Santa Barbara County lagging behind Los Angeles about three weeks.”
He was somber in tone addressing the press.