Pictured: Residents waiting at Sarzotti Park in Ojai for coronavirus testing on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. Photo by Kimberly Rivers. 

by Kimberly Rivers

Well over 100 people were lined up on Monday morning, Dec. 21, at Sarzotti Park in Ojai for coronavirus testing, but county testing officials said they only had 80 testing kits available that day. Later that same day, the county reported zero percent capacity in intensive care units across the county. 

“There’s an adjustment factor that the state applies to the count based on percent of COVID patients that makeup the ICU bed capacity, so we actually had 13 ICU beds open and available today,” said Dr. Robert Levin, health officer with Ventura County Public Health.

Rigoberto Vargas, director of Ventura County Public Health, further clarified that the percentage reported on a given day is “referencing data reported by hospitals yesterday, not today. Actual available adult ICU beds was 12 yesterday, which equals 8.82 percent,” of total ICU beds regularly available. He said the county “got a downward adjustment of 11.54” because the rate of COVID-positive cases in the adult ICU was over 50 percent. 

On Monday afternoon there were 68 people with COVID-19 in ICUs across the county and 303 people being treated in area hospitals for the virus. The county reported 2,049 new cases over Friday, Saturday and Sunday. No additional deaths were reported. 

“Exceeding that limit”

County officials cite supply chain issues and large testing demand for test site closures and report that an outbreak at a testing lab led to delays in results being reported. 

“The supply chain issue has resulted in variable shipments and has caused problems in keeping all the test sites supplied with the necessary test kits,” said Barry Zimmerman, chief deputy director with the Ventura County Health Care Agency, responding by email to the Ventura County Reporter. “Currently, the volume of testing is at a high level. As a result, the quantity of kits that we can secure with our current laboratory is limited and we are exceeding that limit.”

Zimmerman explained that different testing supplies are delayed from the manufacturers. “We have had shipments delayed in customs, there are a number of international manufacturers (Ireland, Mexico, etc.), as well as the demand has just made it harder to get a quantity of tests that is required to keep up with the demand for testing.” In response, the county has “contracted with another lab and are starting to convert some of our current sites to get more capacity with our supply chain and lab capacity.”

Results have also been delayed recently due to an outbreak at the lab that led to some staff shortages.  

The county is bringing a new local lab online in Camarillo. “We hope with the new lab we will improve upon those turnaround times,” said Zimmerman.

Vaccination rolls out across county hospitals

Since Dec. 16, the county has been administering the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine throughout all hospitals in the county. Healthcare workers and other staff in targeted units such as emergency rooms and ICUs are the first to be able to volunteer to get the vaccine. 

Karen Beatty, RN, CEN, MICN, senior hospital systems coordinator with Ventura County Public Health and the Emergency Medical Services Agency, said about 2,000 people in the hospitals have volunteered to receive the vaccine, and about 40 percent of those have received their first dose as of Dec. 21. The remaining hospital staff in qualifying departments who have volunteered should be administered by the end of this week. 

County officials previously reported that they expected to receive a total of 6,800 of the Pfizer vaccine. Each person requires two doses, 21 days apart. 

Beatty said that the county received 9,400 doses of the Moderna vaccine, which the FDA issued an emergency use authorization for on Dec. 18. “We are contacting the long-term care facilities today that were not covered by the Federal Pharmacy Participation Program, to begin vaccinating their staff and residents over the next few weeks.” Two doses are also required for the Moderna vaccine, 28 days apart.

The Federal Pharmacy Participation Program receives vaccine doses directly through the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The other vaccines coming to the county for the hospital workers are through the state’s procurement efforts working directly with the vaccine manufacturer or, in the case of the Moderna vaccine, with the intermediary-distributor McKesson. 

Beatty said more vaccines are expected to arrive the week of Dec. 28, “however we do not know the allocation of doses at this time. We are usually told on Wednesday for the following week.” 

County health officials have emphasized that it will still be several months until vaccinations are available to the general public. Twenty thousand doses total are expected in the county by the end of the year, meaning 10,000 people can be vaccinated. 

“I urge all residents to abide by the current regional stay-at-home order to help flatten the current surge curve. It is stressing our hospital system and staff that are working around the clock to treat COVID patients,” said Vargas.

In his Dec. 21 press conference, Gov. Gavin Newsom said two state advisory committees that are developing the prioritization lists for who gets the vaccines are meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2-4 p.m. The meeting is open to the public and can be viewed online through the state’s COVID information website at www.COVID19.ca.gov