Covid-19 vaccinations have begun to reach residents of Morgan Hill and Gilroy, where the pandemic continues to take a disproportionate toll compared to other communities in Santa Clara County.
The county’s public health department, in coordination with city officials, hosted a vaccination site at the Morgan Hill Community and Cultural Center—in the heart of the city’s downtown—on Feb. 23-24.
And on Feb. 24, a mass vaccination clinic site opened at Gilroy High School, where eligible residents from anywhere in the county can make an appointment for a vaccine.
At the Morgan Hill site on Feb. 23, public health officials served about 100 patients with a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to county public health spokeswoman Quan Vu. The temporary vaccination site has the capacity to administer up to 200 vaccines in a five-hour period, but Vu said Wednesday was a “soft launch” to allow staff to make sure everything was running smoothly.
As of this week, only senior citizens and healthcare workers are eligible for the Covid-19 vaccine. Most of those in line at the Morgan Hill site were older residents. Those seeking a vaccine could show up at the site, without an appointment, and gain a wristband and a time to return for a vaccine.
Among those vaccinated Feb. 23 was Barbara Hooper, 85, of San Martin. She visited the Morgan Hill site with her husband Jim, 86, who was not yet receiving his vaccine on that date.
The vaccination appeared to be painless, as Barbara Hooper asked her nurse when she was going to administer the dose, after the nurse had already stuck the needle in her arm and removed it.
City officials have been in talks with county staff for several weeks trying to schedule a vaccination site in Morgan Hill. The county’s public information office said the CCC was selected as a “convenient location for the public” in South County, and the facility “provides an equitable location for communities disproportionately affected by Covid-19.”
Morgan Hill Mayor Rich Constantine said that a prevailing topic of discussion in his weekly calls with mayors throughout the county is how each city has attempted to provide resources to more vulnerable communities that are harder to reach. These include Gilroy, Morgan Hill and east San Jose, which have been identified as the top three “hotspots” for per-capita Covid-19 cases in Santa Clara County. Latino and African American populations have also been disproportionately impacted by Covid-19.
Constantine said this week’s local vaccination event in Morgan Hill, coupled with the opening of a site at Gilroy High School, are signs of the county’s progress in reaching the areas more impacted by Covid-19. But he added that the county and private healthcare providers are limited by the available supplies.
“The county is definitely trying to get more vaccines to those areas that need it most,” Constantine said. “The plans are in place, but there is not a huge supply of the vaccine.”
Morgan Hill City Manager Christina Turner has previously said the CCC would be a suitable location to administer Covid-19 vaccines.
As of Feb. 23, county staff did not know if and when another vaccination event might take place at the CCC or another location in Morgan Hill.
For more information about the Covid-19 vaccine in Santa Clara County—including eligibility and how to schedule an appointment at other vaccination sites—visit sccfreevax.org.
Earlier this month, Morgan Hill became the second most-impacted city in Santa Clara County in terms of the per capita spread of Covid-19. As of Feb. 23, Morgan Hill has seen 7,615 cases of Covid-19 per 100,000 population, according to the county’s coronavirus dashboard. Gilroy’s rate is 12,967 cases per 100,000, making it the most impacted city in the county. San Jose has seen 7,023 cases per 100,000 population.
In the San Martin zip code, which is unincorporated, the Covid-19 case rate is 9,743 per 100,000 population, according to the county’s website.
At the Feb. 17 city council meeting, Turner said 45 residents of Morgan Hill have died of Covid-19. On a more encouraging note, Turner added that almost all residents of long-term care facilities in Morgan Hill have received at least their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
“We want people to continue wearing masks, and even double up” on masks, Turner said, citing recent data that shows wearing two masks can be more effective in containing the spread of airborne viral particles.
Starting Feb. 28, vaccine eligibility in Santa Clara County will expand to workers in education, childcare, emergency services and the food and agricultural industries.
County officials announced the expanded eligibility Feb. 17 after citing strong progress toward vaccinating the current group of eligible residents, which include healthcare workers and those age 65 or older.
According to Public Health Officer Sara Cody, the Santa Clara County Health System is currently scheduling nearly 10,000 vaccination appointments at sites across the county daily, in addition to several vaccination sites now operating in both Gilroy and East San Jose that do not require an appointment.
More than half of county residents age 75 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine, Cody said, and soon half of those 65 and older will have received at least one dose.
“As we make progress toward our goal of vaccinating at least 85 percent of our residents age 16 or older by this summer, we are laser focused on ensuring equitable access to vaccinations for those communities most disproportionately affected by Covid-19,” she said.
Vaccine supply remains a challenge, but Cody said the county’s allocation from the state has been “slowly increasing” each week.
Gov. Gavin Newsom said Feb. 16 that many counties in California could move from the Purple Tier of the state’s Covid-19 reopening guidance to the slightly less restrictive Red Tier in the coming weeks, based on falling case rates and hospitalizations.
Cody said Santa Clara County is “trending in the right direction,” but it is unknown when it will qualify to move up the tiers.
“We’re doing much better, and we’re coming out of a very difficult time,” she said.
According to data released by the state on Feb. 23, Santa Clara County meets the case and positivity rates to qualify for the Red Tier.
Beginning Feb. 26, the county will once again allow a range of outdoor activities to resume, including youth sports, performing arts and other activities.
The change follows an announcement by Newsom on Feb. 19, who said outdoor youth sports will be allowed in counties that have case rates of fewer than 14 new cases per day per 100,000 residents.
Erik Chalhoub contributed to this report.