Vaccination rate, variants, re-infection: What you need to know about COVID-19 in Siskiyou

Kelsey Shelton
Mount Shasta Herald
A syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown at the Wilson County Health Department on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 in Wilson, NC. (Robert Willett/The News & Observer via AP)

Siskiyou County is lagging behind the rest of the state in COVID-19 vaccinations, public health director Dr. Aaron Stutz told the board of supervisors at their meeting Tuesday, with about 20% of the population fully vaccinated against the virus compared to 49% statewide.

Stutz noted the rise in local cases and said there have been three COVID-19 variants, which are prevalent in Northern California, that could potentially be contributing to the quick rate of spread Siskiyou County has been noticing lately.

As of Tuesday, there were 54 active cases – down almost 20 reported from the day before, Stutz said. Seven people were hospitalized, four of whom were in intensive care, and another death was reported, upping the total to 26. 

"All over, Northern California is experiencing a surge in contrast to the rest of the state where numbers are down," he said.

Dr. Aaron Stutz

District 2 Supervisor Ed Valenzuela asked Stutz if the county's reopening tier should have changed by now, given the rise in cases. According to Stutz, Siskiyou should have moved back a tier, but leadership is working with state entities to lower numbers. 

More vaccination clinics are being planned through public health and third party entities have been offering assistance in helping with clinics, testing and vaccine efforts; however, Stutz said a lack of access may not be the predominant reason for Siskiyou County's low vaccine rates.

He noted that there has been lack of interest in the vaccine.

"We haven't had full engagement at our mass clinics over the last few weeks, and we've had the capacity to vaccinate more people than have expressed interest," he said. A lack of demand in the county for the vaccine could be contributing to the climb in case numbers.

District 4 Supervisor Nancy Ogren asked Stutz to speak on the inconsistent mask requirements throughout the county. As of June 15, the State of California will begin to follow CDC guidelines for masks, which means masks won't be necessary for fully vaccinated individuals. Stutz believes that the county will follow suit.

"I think the CDC recommendations are warranted, I think its fine to not wear masks if fully vaccinated. However, the last month I've been surprised at the number of direct cases we've had in the county. We've had outbreaks all over the county, and have noticed an uptick in cases in people who are already vaccinated," said Stutz. 

Stutz said this can happen in people who didn't have a proper immune response to the vaccine. "We do have breakthrough cases, and some have become ill, even after vaccinations," he said. "It speaks to the fact that we should use caution.

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District 5 Supervisor Ray Haupt expressed concern regarding lack of information on case numbers, especially as it pertained to those who have been re-infected. 

Stutz noted that maybe fewer than 10 reported cases have been re-infections. It was also noted that those who have been infected and recovered could have fewer antibodies than anticipated after their first infection, due to their short life.

What does Stutz recommend? He believes that individuals who have already been diagnosed with COVID-19 should still get a vaccination due to the short life of COVID-19 antibodies, especially if it has been over a year since their initial infection or since their initial vaccination. Stutz said the vaccine is widely available in the county for everyone age 12 and up through Rite Aid pharmacies, tribal entities, pop-up clinics, mobile units and public health clinics.