Siskiyou sees decline in COVID as some residents receive second vaccine dose

Kelsey Shelton Skye Kinkade
Mount Shasta Herald
A nurse  prepares a dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 2, 2021.

Siskiyou County is seeing a decline in COVID-19 cases, but public health officials urge residents to continue protecting themselves by social distancing, washing hands and wearing masks until more vaccines can be administered.

Although a great emphasis is put on vaccinations, Siskiyou County moving down the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy tier system depends on testing to concretely illustrate a decline in case rates.

As of Feb. 2, 6,527 COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered in Siskiyou County from state allotments, Public Health Director Shelly Davis told the Siskiyou County Supervisors at their meeting Tuesday. "Of those, 4,666 have been administered," Davis added. "We have both hospitals participating, including Fairchild and Dignity Health, (which) are administering them to patients who meet the criteria."

Ryan Sorenson, avalanche forecaster for the Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center, received his second dose of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine during a clinic at Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta on Tuesday morning, Feb. 2, 2021.

On Tuesday morning Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta was holding a vaccination clinic for those who received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine last month. Among those getting their second dose was first responder Ryan Sorenson, an avalanche forecaster for the Mt. Shasta Avalanche Center.

He said he was receiving his second dose in order to safely provide first aid and care to those who need it, including travelers recreating in the Mt. Shasta area.

Sorenson said he had no side effects from the first dose, although many people experience arm soreness and some feel tiredness and other symptoms the day following the second dose.

During Tuesday's supervisor's meeting, Davis noted that specific clinics which are CalVax certified have started the process to receive doses for their patients who meet the county's criteria.

"We want to get as many people as we can vaccinated," said Joyce Zwanziger, Mercy's Director of Ancillary Services.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Siskiyou County Public Health reported 61 active COVID-19 cases. Three people were hospitalized with COVID-19 symptoms, none of whom were in the ICU. There have been nearly 19,500 tests administered in the county since the pandemic struck Siskiyou in March of last year, Davis said.

"Many seem to think that testing has taken a backseat, but that is far from the truth," said Davis.

More:COVID-19 in Siskiyou County: Here's our coronavirus 2020 timeline

While there have been 13 deaths in the county due to the virus, numbers are beginning to trend down as a result of the Governor's recently lifted stay-at-home order and residents and businesses following mask mandates and health recommendations, Davis said.

The drop in local cases could allow Siskiyou to reopen more of its businesses if the state decides the county can move into a less restrictive tier. Siskiyou County has been in the purple, or widespread tier, since November. According to the state's Blueprint for a Safer Economy, the county is experiencing 13.3 new COVID-19 cases per day (per 100,000 residents) and a 7.9% 7-day average positivity rate.

"We still want people to get tested if they are ill," said Davis. She noted that some residents have an issue with "being a number" in the COVID system but, according to Davis, that is how the county will eventually open back up – showing a concrete drop in COVID-19 numbers.

"(Testing) is still happening and is extremely important," said Davis. "We have to see those numbers ... how many positives compared to what is being done testing-wise.

Ultimately, the more  tests the county records, the sooner the state would potentially adjust Siskiyou's placement in the tiers.

During the county's first mass COVID vaccine clinic, held at the Siskiyou Golden Fairgrounds on Jan. 22, public health staff and volunteers administered 1,546 vaccines to qualifying residents, including medical and health professionals, essential workers, those with pre-existing health conditions, and those 65 years of age or older. The second round of vaccinations for those who got their first dose at the clinic should have their second vaccine on Feb. 12.

"We had an alarming amount of individuals at the clinic," said Davis. She went on to note that the amount of people interested in getting the vaccine indicates that there is support for vaccination plans in the county.

More:These Siskiyou County clinics will offer COVID-19 vaccines

More:PHOTOS: Eager people line up for COVID-19 vaccine in Yreka

Davis said vaccine allotments are distributed across California, with high priority areas receiving more than others. This could explain why Siskiyou has not received as many doses as counties like Los Angeles, which has case rates that are skyrocketing daily.

District 3 Supervisor Michael Kobseff expressed interest in non-COVID related illness numbers and deaths, such as the flu. He said he is frustrated with the state's lack of consistency regarding the tier system and stay-at-home mandates.

Davis said she has heard from medical staff that influenza numbers are down this season, most likely due to regular hand washing and mask wearing.

Siskiyou County remains in the purple, or widespread, reopening tier as of Feb. 2, 2021.

"Hospitals are not seeing nearly the amount of flu patients that they have seen in the past this time of year," said Davis. 

When asked about the rescinding of the stay-at-home order, and why the county is still considered in the purple tier, Davis said it all relates to ICU capacity by region. "Our ICU capacity is great, but we are in the northern region," she said. The northern region includes Siskiyou, Del Norte, Modoc, Shasta and Butte counties. 

Davis reminded supervisors that while the county's ICU capacity is lower, beds could potentially be offered to surrounding counties who are running out of ICU space. She said currently, Siskiyou's ICU capacity is at 10%.