SACRAMENTO (CBS SF) — California is beginning to emerge from its troubles administering the COVID vaccine as the state continues to show case numbers falling across different metrics, according to the state’s top health official, who warned a spring surge is still possible.
At the same time, most of the state remained in the most restrictive Purple Tier Tuesday with only two – Trinity and Alpine counties – improving their position on the state’s colored tier system as of Tuesday. Counties must remain in their tier for at least three weeks, and have two consecutive weeks of meeting benchmarks for new cases, positive tests and health equity before moving to a new tier.READ MORE: Atmospheric River: Parts of San Mateo County Pummeled with Heavy Rain, Flooding
On Tuesday, State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly reported 12,064 postive cases Tuesday, well below the current 7-day average of 16,798.
“We haven’t seen a number like this in quite some time,” said Ghaly.
He also listed other improvements in the state’s COVID metrics, including a 38% drop in the 14-day testing positivity rate to 7.2%, with a 7-day rate now at 6.4%. Hospitalizations have dropped nearly 30% over the past two weeks to 14,221, and ICU admissions have dropped nearly 20 percent to 3,797.
Ghaly said the state projects hospitalizations to decrease to 6,557 by March 4. ICU capacity has shown large improvements across the state, with Bay Area ICU capacity now projected at 33%.
While all Bay Area counties remained in the Purple Tier, four counties – Marin, San Francisco, San Mateo, and Santa Clara – currently have case rates below 25 per 100,000 population, which meet the benchmark for Purple Tier counties to be allowed to have in-person school instruction for grades K-6.
Despite the improvements in case numbers, the virus is still affecting a huge number of Californians and Ghaly said a spring surge is possible especially with the proliferation of COVID variants that are more infectious.
“The chance for another surge in California is real. It’s still circulating, COVID is, in our communities. Our case rates are down, but not low. Before we started to see the fall / winter surge happening, we saw most counties knocking the door of the Red Tier, remember that’s seven cases per 100,000 per day, that’s much lower than we are now,” said Ghaly. “How likely is it that we will see another surge? I think, again, it comes back to the behaviors and our own sense of personal choices and personal responsibility on this.”
As far as the state’s much-criticized vaccination rollout, Ghaly said the last three weeks has seen the state ramp up the vaccine rollout now that more supplies are beginning to flow and there are more providers able to administer the vaccine.READ MORE: UPDATE: Atmospheric River Drenches Northern California With Historic Rainfall
California now reports 3,523,111 vaccines administered with 62 percent of the state’s supply getting used, an improvement from the state’s rock-bottom ranking of percentage of doses administered. While number of vaccinations are the most of any state, California is still lagging behind other large states in the percentage of vaccines given, according to the Bloomberg COVID vaccine tracker.
“The only rate-limiting step to vaccinating Californians should be the availability of the vaccine itself,” said Ghaly. “We continue to work with the federal administration, the manufacturers directly to understand what can be done to get more supply to California as we really build up our capacity.”
Ghaly said the state’s vaccine website, Myturn.ca.gov – currently a pilot program for Los Angeles and San Diego counties – would soon be operating across the state for residents to register and to get information on setting up a vaccination appointment.
Ghaly said the state was focusing on not just vaccinating the most vulnerable but also putting a focus on vaccine equity to make the communities hit the hardest by the virus are getting equal access to vaccinations.
As part of the effort, the state is exploring providing payments to groups that work to vaccinate minorities and those most affected, as well as providing targeted outreach, evening accessibility and translation services, Ghaly said. Currently, California has not released a breakdown of vaccines administration by race or ethnicity, and Ghaly said the health officials were working on making the data public.
California’s vaccine rollout effort also now includes public service ads in 18 different languages.
Ghaly again urged people to not gather for the upcoming Super Bowl and Lunar New Year celebrations as well as continuing with proper mask use.
“I often think about this moment … the 4th quarter of this situation that we’re in, now that we have a vaccine, that it’s an important time to remind ourselves of these fundamentals,” he said. “To remind ourselves to do them as much as we possibly can.”MORE NEWS: UPDATE: Streets Flood in San Rafael, Mill Valley as Wild Storm Lashes Bay Area