Disneyland vaccine site reopens; OC to open 2nd vaccination super site, smaller POD locations to focus on harder-hit areas

After two days of closures due to high winds, the COVID-19 vaccination site at Disneyland reopened Thursday, and county officials plan to open another large-scale location to administer doses this weekend along with smaller POD sites opening across the county.

The Disneyland "Super POD'' -- point of distribution -- site was closed Tuesday and Wednesday as Santa Ana winds battered much of the Southland. There was concern about gusts uprooting the tents being used at the site.

Orange County Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said the next Super POD site for vaccinations will open Saturday at Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo. The vaccinations will be administered in the university's gym beginning, with reservations expected to be accepted starting Thursday, Bartlett said.

She said the Soka site will be more convenient for seniors in Laguna Woods.

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One of the smaller POD sites is located at a senior center in Santa Ana.

"These are very small operations. We're talking about 400 to 500 distributions, very small, very targeted groups of people," said Molly Nichelson, spokesperson for the County of Orange.

These locations are in the hardest-hit areas that might not have the access and care as other areas.

"Not everybody can get to our super POD site at Disneyland. We understand that, so we're coming to you," Nichelson said.

It's a relief for many seniors who were able to get appointments.

"Once I get both my shots, and then after a little while, I'll feel a little safer going to the grocery store," said 69-year-old Nancy Chatteinier, who's excited to have it offered to her.

Santa Ana Mayor Vicente Sarmiento hopes they can use this as first step to partner with the county.

"We as a city have the capacity, we have the venues and we have the personnel to be able to deliver these effectively," he said.

He thinks these smaller POD sites can be more effective.

"Many of our seniors don't drive, many of our seniors can't access these sites just because they don't know how to navigate these online applications," he said.

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Meanwhile, county officials remain concerned about a slowdown in the supply of vaccines, county CEO Frank Kim said. The county received 30,675 doses on Wednesday and are expecting another 14,000 by week's end, he said.

The county hopes to ultimately open up to five large-scale vaccination sites, but until supplies of vaccines are assured, it likely won't happen.

State officials had directed the county to stop using a batch of Moderna's vaccine from lot 41L20A in response to a series of allergic reactions among people who received the shots in San Diego. There have been no other reports of adverse reactions anywhere else, including Orange County, where 5,217 people received doses from the batch before it was pulled from use.

The state's epidemiologist Wednesday night lifted the restriction on the batch, saying an investigation by local and federal authorities found no issues with the medication.

Kim said the news should not dissuade anyone from getting the Moderna vaccine.

"There have been very few adverse reactions to both Pfizer and Moderna,'' Kim said. "From a scientific perspective we have been assured by our public health professionals and the CDC that the vaccines are safe... We remain confident that the vaccine remains good for our community and is safe to be administered.''

Meanwhile, the county's Medi-Cal program, CalOptima will soon begin offering $25 gift card incentives to members to get the vaccine after getting approval from the state today.

"There is some hesitancy among certain communities on vaccine, and specifically for CalOptima's population, which is low income, many times non English speaking, there is some myth out there and just some hesitancy in general," said CalOptima CEO Richard Sanchez.

The Health Care Agency has also updated the way vaccine appointments will work after issues with the Othena app. Notifications will be sent to registered residents via email from Othena.com and there will be four hours to confirm a date and time. People who had Disneyland vaccine appointments that were cancelled Tuesday were all rolled over to Thursday, each with the same time slot.

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Orange County on Wednesday reported 31 more COVID-19 fatalities, hiking the death toll above 2,500. The county also reported 1,701 new cases, but the good news is that case rates and hospitalization rates are trending down.

Of the deaths reported, one was from a skilled nursing facility. Since the pandemic began, 766 of the fatalities were skilled nursing facility residents and 275 were assisted living facility residents. The death toll now stands at 2,508.

Since Sunday, the county has reported 188 coronavirus-related fatalities. Last week, the county reported 279 deaths, up from 140 the prior week.

The reporting of the fatalities is often delayed as they come from multiple sources. The death toll for December, the deadliest month since the pandemic began, stands at 703, far outpacing the previous high of 379 in July during the summer surge.

The deadliest day since the pandemic started was Dec. 22 when 44 people died.

January appears to be shaping up to even deadlier with 103 deaths. But the county's adjusted daily case rate per 100,000 has decreased to 67.1 from 78.8 last week.

Hospitalization numbers continued to dip, dropping from 2,007 on Tuesday to 1,975 Wednesday, according to the Orange County Health Care Agency. The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care increased from 523 to 527.

The county's state-adjusted ICU bed availability remains at zero, and the unadjusted figure stood at 5.4%. The state created the adjusted metric to reflect the difference in beds available for COVID-19 patients and non-coronavirus patients. The county has 34% of its ventilators available.

The Southern California region remains at zero ICU availability.

"Hospital numbers are down, so that's good,'' said Andrew Noymer, a UC Irvine professor of population health and disease prevention.

"ICU numbers are down from the peak, so that's good, too... Also, testing positivity is going down, so I'm cautiously optimistic that we're seeing a decline, but heavy emphasis on cautiously optimistic.''

Noymer said he assumes the so-called U.K. variant of coronavirus, which is much more contagious and has been located in San Diego and Los Angeles, is also present in Orange County.

The Orange County Sheriff's Coroner's Department has had to provide trailers with freezers to store an average of about 100 bodies until funeral homes can catch up and take them, Kim said.

Bartlett said there have been problems with hospitals getting bodies to the coroner's freezers, which have capacity for 1,100 bodies, because physicians are struggling with the paperwork as they care for patients. Other issues include caps on cremations, which the county may have to lift, and burials at cemeteries, which will have to be negotiated with union workers, Bartlett said.

The 16,310 test results reported Wednesday raises the cumulative total to 2,474,297.

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The county's Othena.com app and website, where residents can get vaccination information and make appointments to get inoculated at the Disneyland mega-site that opened last week, have been heavily used since going online last Tuesday. There are about 250,000 people registered in Othena, officials said.

The county has improved from about 3,000 vaccinations to 4,500 a day over the weekend, Kim said.

The delays in dropping off patients from ambulances to local hospitals increased from an average wait time 90% of the time of 29 minutes, 14 seconds Monday to 37 minutes, three seconds on Tuesday.

City News Service contributed to this report.
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