Merced County Officially In Orange Tier!
'Beyond the Blueprint' starts June 15
Merced County officially moved to Orange Tier on May 25 at noon, according to the Merced County Public Health Department.
Dr. Kristynn Sullivan, Merced County’s Supervising Epidemiologist, told the Times, “Our metrics have been in Orange for two consecutive weeks. Our daily cases are at 4.1 per 100,000 residents per day, and the requirement was less than 6. “This Tuesday [May 25] was the second week we met the criteria of less than 6 cases per 100,000 residents per day. The other requirement was less than 4% for test positivity, but we had been meeting that for a long time.
“In Orange Tier, capacity at businesses really increases, and that’s the most important. There are sectors that are not able to open until we get to Orange, and the biggest one that opens in Orange is bars which can now open outdoors.
“‘Beyond the Blueprint’ is June 15, and that is when all the guidances based on individual sectors are going to go away, such as social distancing and masking for vaccinated individuals, and the only thing that will be regulated is masking for those not vaccinated.
“Our businesses have been able to increase their capacity. We are happy that we were able to move to Orange to have a gradual transition instead of going from really restricted to no restrictions at all.”
What will life be like in “Beyond the Blueprint”?
Is the fear of contracting COVID diminishing; should people cast off their face masks or keep them?
Dr. Sullivan told the Times, “COVID had a significant impact on our county. Over 31,000 people contracted COVID, and nearly 500 people died.
“When June 15 arrives, people who are vaccinated can take off their masks.
“But there are exceptions. The biggest exception is an event with 5,000 people indoors or 10,000 outdoors, and in those situations, masking is recommended.
“Because our vaccination rates in Merced County are so low, there will probably be another wave of COVID in the Fall. The percentage of Merced County adults who have been fully vaccinated currently is 31%. There has been a significant slow down recently.”
When asked why there is a slow down on people receiving the vaccine, Dr. Sullivan said, “I think COVID has been more politicized, as opposed to any health condition before. It’s been politicized on both sides of the aisle, and there has been picking and choosing of what science to follow. I think that has made our jobs in Public Health harder and made the impact of COVID worse, and has been a frustration.
“If everybody who was eligible got a vaccine, we would have herd immunity by this summer, even without all the kids getting the vaccine, and we would be done with COVID, but without that, it’s going to continue to linger on.
“We’re far away from the 70% we need to get to herd immunity, and that’s why we think we have the potential to have another wave.
“That potential wave may trigger a return to the protocols such as masking, and that will probably mitigate another surge. So, it won’t be so big.
“Unfortunately, there will still be people who get sick and who die from COVID. We’re not going to be able to completely prevent that.
“There are people who cannot get vaccinated, such as kids 11 and under, so venues that deal predominantly with kids, such as schools, will probably still require masking until the kids can get vaccinated.
“The good news is at the beginning of the pandemic, we didn’t have any effective treatments. We had no protection, and now we have the vaccine. Now, if people are sick enough to be hospitalized, we have effective and better treatments at the hospital.
“Our vaccination rates are not at herd immunity, but vaccines are widely available so that if people want to take that step to protect themselves, they are able to do so.
Vaccines are effective against the variants in California for now
“The vaccine has done a great job holding off the variants, but we don’t know if the virus will evolve in such a way that the vaccines aren’t as effective for the variants.
“We are watching to see if at a year or 18 months out, you might need a booster, but so far, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson are standing up really well in terms of variants, especially when it comes to hospitalizations and deaths from COVID.
“We’ve had a handful of breakthrough cases of people fully vaccinated who tested positive for COVID, but they were either asymptomatic or very mildly symptomatic.
“We still know very little about long-term effects in asymptomatic people or lightly symptomatic people. It will take a long time to understand what happens to people who test positive after being fully vaccinated. But so far, even people who are really vulnerable are being protected by the vaccine from getting severe COVID.
“And that is significant because the reasons COVID has shut down our society is it’s so contagious and it’s deadly. So if it becomes significantly less infectious or significantly less deadly, that’s when we can look at reopening the economy. The variants which have made their way into California are more infectious, but the vaccines are able to make them significantly less deadly and that’s why we are able to move forward and reopen.
“The State has a sequencing program where they randomly sample COVID tests and sequence them, and most of the samples are the UK variant, but we have had examples of all the variants in California such as Brazil, India and a California variant. They’re typically more infectious, but there are no big differences in symptoms. We don’t know how many people in Merced County got the variants because we didn’t sequence everybody’s test results.
Vaccine and school-age children
“Those aged 16 and 17 were included in the original vaccine recommendation, and then recently the FDA approved the data on the 12 to 15-year-olds to get the Pfizer vaccine.
“We have an increase in our youth vaccinations, but we don’t have a number on that percentage yet. We’ve been hosting clinics in local high schools.
“Pfizer has now begun trials for the vaccination of those ages 2 through 11. They will study it, get all their data and then submit that to the FDA. The FDA will review it and approve it if it’s safe.
“It will be the same process for any changes as to who can get vaccinated.
“By late Fall, Pfizer will hopefully have all their data on ages 2 through 11 compiled and ready to submit to the FDA.
“All our elementary schools locally are back to in-person instruction [in addition to Distance Learning] already, and the goal is for next year to have the schools fully back in-person.
“I would say that before the end of the first semester of the 2021-22 school year or before the end of that school year, all the kids will have a vaccine available to them.
“We have seen outbreaks in schools, particularly linked to extra curricular activities such as sports and things like that. If COVID is found in 25% of their student body or three separate outbreaks in places in the school that aren’t linked, the school will be shut down. We haven’t even come close to that with any of our schools here.”
Pregnant women added to the list of those recommended to get vaccine
“Pfizer has really done a good job of expanding their reach for people.
“Pfizer has done some studies on pregnant women, and it’s widely accepted that it’s better for pregnant women to get the vaccine than risk getting COVID while pregnant. Pregnant women are at more risk for more severe COVID. The vaccine has been reviewed for pregnant women. The FDA did update its vaccine recommendation to add pregnant women. That group didn’t need a specific external review because it’s a subgroup of all adults.”