Santa Clara County Moves into Orange Tier as SARS-COV-2 Variants Spread

As vaccination supplies drop further in Santa Clara and the county moves into Orange Tier, new worry is arising from the spread of UK (B.117) and African (B.1351) variants of SARS-COV-2


David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP

A healthcare worker directs a person to self-administer a COVID-19 test. Tests that are currently used may not detect all variants of the disease, including the new UK and South African variants.

Jason Lin

On March 17, Santa Clara county declared a second case of the SARS-COV-2 variant, the B.1351 South American variant. Furthermore, novel cases of the UK B.177 SARS-COV-2 variant have increased in Santa Clara to 15 in total. Since genomic testing for SARS-COV-2 only covers a fraction of the SARS COV-2 cases, the true scope of these variant strains’ prevalence remains known. 

Additionally, Santa Clara County announced its first case of the P1, Brazilian, variant of SARS-COV-2 on March 25. This variant of SARS-COV-2 is noted to be resistant to the vaccines currently administered for Covid-19.  In response, Santa Clara health officials have intensified their requests to prevent further transmissions and infections.

“There is still a lot we are learning, but we do know some very key things about COVID-19 and how to protect ourselves,” said Dr. George Han, Deputy Health Officer for the County of Santa Clara. “Even with these variants circulating in our community, the best tools to protect ourselves and our loved ones remain familiar to us and are available now. ”

On March 20, Santa Clara County announced it is ramping up its testing to track the spread of coronavirus variants and is promoting vaccinations as a spread prevention method. However, recent “Vaccine Frustration” has arisen because of quickly dwindling supplies of vaccinations. “There is growing confusion and deepening concern over when members of the general public will become eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine and if there will be an adequate supply.” Devin Fehely reports on Yahoo News

In a press release to the public, Governor Newcom issued that all Californians age 16 and older will be eligible for a vaccine beginning April 15. Furthermore, Californians aged 50 and older can receive their first doses starting April 1. This new agenda is placing even more pressure on Santa Clara’s growing vaccine deficit which has been growing over the course of this week. According to SuburanStats, around 400,000 people aged 50+ and 1.5 million people aged 16 or over live in Santa Clara. While the county has the capability to vaccinate around 200,000 people a week, it has only been vaccinating a third of this capacity because of vaccine shortages. 

Despite these concerns over vaccination supplies, Santa Clara affirmed its vigilance in targeting outreach to the most disproportionately affected communities. These efforts include vaccination clinics for agricultural workers in Gilroy and Morgan Hill, as well as first dose vaccinations clinics in East Jose and Eastridge Mall. Santa Clara health experts expect vaccine supply to increase statewide starting early April, including the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. For now, the majority of vaccines are administered to those receiving a second dose. New appointments are being rerouted to other, non-government agencies such as Kaiser Permanente.  

“The County of Santa Clara has built a highly effective vaccination distribution system, and we continue to bolster potential capacity,” said County Executive Dr. Jeffrey Smith. “All we need to dramatically expand access to vaccinations is more vaccines, and we are ready and waiting for it.”

Interestingly, on Wednesday 3/24, Santa Clara signed an agreement with the state legislature to gain control over the county’s own vaccine distribution. Several weeks back, 7 Bay Area health directors sent a letter to the state urging for control over local distribution in response to persistent criticism from residents regarding Myturn, Blue Shield’s vaccination distribution website.  The directors hope that self-management of vaccines will ensure that more people will be vaccinated and that communities of color will also get more representation.

 “If you live in Santa Clara County and you wanted to be vaccinated we can make sure that can happen,” said Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez.

Despite growing concerns over these new strains and vaccine shortages, the county is still pushing for school reopenings as per the state’s request. Governor Gavin Newcom’s recent law, Assembly Bill 86, gave school districts a 6.6 billion dollar incentive to reopen by April. The majority of Santa Clara’s high school districts are planning to open by mid-April with a hybrid model of both in-person and virtual learning. 

Furthermore, on March 23, Santa Clara County announced that it has met the requirements necessary to shift into the state’s Orange Tier. Restaurants, retail stores, gyms, and other indoor businesses will now be allowed to open with double their red tier capacity. However, the detection of new SARS-COV-2 variants has convinced the county to reopen with caution. Under the October 5th risk reduction order, mask-wearing and 6-feet social distancing will continue to remain in effect to minimize SARS-COV-2 transmission. Santa Clara health officials stressing the value of patience as the march to normalcy progresses.