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LVMC distributes first dose of coronavirus vaccine to 400 Santa Barbara County school employees Thursday

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Over 400 educators and classified school staff from across Santa Barbara County arrived on March 4 at the Lompoc Valley Medical Center to receive their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Unlike other Phase 1B groups such as agriculture, food and emergency workers, who have to make their own appointments online, educators were offered appointments directly through schools and districts in collaboration with the county Office of Education.

Through the collaboration, around 1,100 employees, with priority going to those working with medical fragile students and those with face-to-face contact, are being vaccinated over the next three days at the Lompoc hospital.

"I was amazed at the organization and how fast it went today," said Nicole Gillon, a psychologist in the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District. "I wasn't expecting to be prioritized, so I'm excited. It feels like we're really turning a corner." 

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Arlene Sardina had her daughter Cielo, left, take a picture as she was vaccinated during a clinic for educators at the Lompoc Valley Medical Center on March 4. Sardina is an instructional assistant at Adam Elementary School in Santa Maria.

At the hospital, patients checked in with Office of Education staff before being brought in to receive their shot in the main entrance. Afterward, they endured a 15-minute observation period to watch for any allergic reactions, and were sent on their way with a rose in hand.

LVMC Chief Operations Officer Naishadh Buch said the collaboration with the Office of Education made the whole process go smoothly, since they handled all the patient sign-ups. At the hospital's previous vaccine clinics for those 65 and older, the hospital sometimes had to turn away individuals who were not Lompoc residents.

"Before, we were required to vaccinate in the regional area. This works out nicely because we know everyone has an appointment," Buch said. 

For some individuals, the vaccine gave the sense of security they needed to return to the classroom.

Deedee Garrigues, who has taught in the Orcutt Union School District for the past 25 years, said she was planning to retire early due to her concerns about the safety of teaching in-person. However, she changed her mind after receiving an email about an appointment.

"I was thinking about retiring, because I really wanted that protection since I'm almost 60, so this is such a gift for me," she said, adding that her kindergarten class will return to campus on Tuesday. "I'm so excited to see my kids." 

Santa Barbara County is complying with state guidelines requiring 30% of all dose allocations to be set aside for those in Phase 1B, including 10% specifically for the education sector. 

However, new vaccine guidelines announced Thursday may add another twist to the state's complex vaccine rollout plan.

New vaccine guidelines

To ensure equitable vaccine access in the state's most high-risk areas, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that 40% of all state vaccines will be allocated toward the 400 lowest-ranked ZIP codes in the California Healthy Places Index.

The index identifies census tracts that fall into the lowest quartile for health determinants such as access to health care, transportation, education and a clean environment. 

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While most of the 400 ZIP codes are located in the Los Angeles and Central Valley areas, three are in Santa Barbara County, including Isla Vista's 93117 tract, Lompoc's 93436 tract and Santa Maria's 93458 tract. 

The new guidelines mean that vaccine allocations to these specific areas will increase in the weeks to come, with more details to be released by the county Public Health Department.

According to state data, wealthy residents are being vaccinated at twice the rate of more vulnerable populations, and COVID-19 case rates among households with an income of $40,000 are double that of households making $120,000 or more. 

Daily COVID-19 cases

The Santa Barbara County Public Health Department confirmed 76 new COVID-19 cases and one death from the illness on Thursday.

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Beth Laurie, a county schools psychologist in the Montecito school district, receives a flower from volunteer Janet Tieso, after she was vaccinated during a clinic for educators at the Lompoc Valley Medical Center on March 4.

According to county public health data, 32,219 total cases have been confirmed in the county, including 358 cases that remain active.

The additional death was of a Santa Barbara resident over the age of 70, according to county data. COVID-19 deaths confirmed in the county now total 421.

As of Thursday, 52 individuals are hospitalized for COVID-19, including 18 in the intensive care unit.

In Santa Maria, 88 out of 10,850 total cases remain active and 148 individuals have died.

In Orcutt, 25 out of 1,700 total cases remain active and 27 individuals have died.

In Lompoc, 50 out of 3,884 total cases remain active and 44 individuals have died.

In the Santa Ynez Valley area of Solvang, Buellton, Los Olivos, Los Alamos, Santa Ynez and Ballard, six out of 956 total cases remain active and 17 individuals have died.

In the North County area of Sisquoc, Casmalia, Garey, Cuyama, New Cuyama and Guadalupe, four out of 1,233 total cases remain active and 21 individuals have died.

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Santa Maria City Reporter

Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Laura Place covers city government, policy and elections in Santa Maria and Santa Barbara County. Follow her on Twitter @itslaurasplace

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