SAN JOSE (CBS SF) — Santa Clara County on Wednesday announced it will expand access to the COVID vaccine to workers in education and childcare, emergency services, and food and agriculture sectors beginning in less than two weeks.
The announcement about the expansion of vaccinations to the state’s Phase 1B/Tier 1 vaccine group on Feb. 28 comes as the county continues to increase its capacity at both large vaccination centers and smaller community-based and mobile sites.READ MORE: Lake County Luxury Hotel, Housing Project Raises Concerns Over Wildfire Risk
County Director of Public Health Dr. Sara Cody said Wednesday the expansion to additional eligible groups would also be focused on the most impacted areas of the county, while older residents and those most at risk from COVID-19 will continue to be prioritized as well.
“This expansion of eligibility will help ensure that many of our essential workers, particularly, those essential workers who are living in communities that have been hardest hit will have access to vaccines,” said Cody. “We’ve made this transition because we are making good progress on the group that we’re vaccinating now; that is, people living in the county who are ages 65 years and up. We have vaccinated over 50 percent of those 75 and over, and nearly half of those 65 and over.”
Randy Musterer, owner of Sushi Confidential in Campbell and San Jose, said the news of eligibility comes sooner than he thought. He said it’s exciting to think he and his staff, who have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic, could be vaccinated in less than two weeks.
“We’re working in close quarters within the restaurant, whether it’s the front of the house or back of the house,” Musterer said. “We want to get back to some sort of normalcy.”
But not everyone is jumping to return to a building for work.
Marisa Hanson, who is a school board member with the Evergreen School District and a high school math teacher with the Eastside Union High School District, said that the green light to get a vaccination doesn’t necessarily mean a green light to step back into a classroom.
“By the time I get to the second dosage it’s already in the middle of April, you can’t just turn around say, ‘School’s open today,'” Hanson said. “People have to really think, what does it look like, can we get enough staff to come back after the vaccinations, will we have teachers take leave, will we have teachers retire.
She said it is still welcoming news that teachers will soon be eligible to get the vaccine so that the hundreds of thousands of educators statewide are ready for when the new school year begins this fall.
“If they don’t do it now we won’t make the deadline to be ready for August,” said Hanson. “Let’s be real.”
The county has a goal of vaccinating at least 85 percent of residents age 16 or older by this summer, and the expansion will involve a multi-layered outreach, including new clinics in the hardest hit communities, drop-in and evening/weekend options, scheduling help for residents, and door-to-door outreach.
“We are working closely with a large network of trusted community partners to ensure that our most impacted communities have access to vaccinations,” said county Deputy Director of Public Health Rocio Luna in a press statement.READ MORE: Theft Leaves San Jose Couple Bereft: 'We’re Heartbroken, All Our Precious Things Are Gone'
The rollout will also include public service announcements through various channels and in multiple languages.
The county is currently scheduling nearly 10,000 vaccination appointments at sites across the county each day, in addition to several vaccination sites in East San Jose and Gilroy that do not require appointments.
Cody urged older residents who have not yet been vaccinated to schedule an appointment now. The county’s vaccine website includes updates and information on those newly eligible for the vaccine and when they can start to vaccine appointments.
A new pop-up vaccination site opened on Wednesday at the Gilroy Senior Center.
The new site is a part of the county’s effort to ensure vaccine distribution and access to its hardest-hit communities located in East San Jose and Gilroy.
“We now have the highest, and second highest second infection rates in the county, which is a distinction we no longer want,” said Gilroy City Council member Rebeca Armendariz.
The site has a half a dozen tents set up in the parking lot, and will distribute 200 doses every Wednesday to anyone 65 and older.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez said bringing a pop-up site to Gilroy versus making residents drive 30 miles into San Jose for the vaccine was aimed at creating more “on ramps” to distribute the vaccine quickly.
“It recognizes that we have to take the services where people are. And I think it demonstrates a very sincere respect for the communities that we serve,” said Chavez.
Currently, there are 6,500 residents in Gilroy who qualify for the vaccine. The county is urging the elderly to beat the rush and schedule a vaccine now before the doses opens up to the next group.
Raymond Ynzunza received his vaccine Wednesday, after waiting in line for 45 minutes. Ynzunza waited for the vaccine to come to Gilroy in order to save a long drive into San Jose and also to stay close to his ailing wife.
“Means a lot, because we didn’t want to go all the way out. Well, I’m pretty excited. I feel like celebrating when I get home,” said Ynzunza.MORE NEWS: Indoor Restaurant Dining Resumes, Movie Theaters Reopen in SF and Santa Clara Counties
Kiet Do and Maria Medina contributed to this story.