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COVID-19 vaccine site in Placer County closing for 2 days to host anime event

The Roseville site that serves as Placer's main county-run vaccination center will be closed this Thursday and Friday as the venue hosts an anime event.

A county webpage showing dates and times for COVID-19 vaccine appointments available at The Grounds, formerly the Placer County Fairgrounds, says the clinic will be closed April 1 and April 2 due to an "event at venue."

The event in question is a swap meet organized by SacAnime. According to websites for the venue and for SacAnime, the event will be held Friday through Sunday at The Grounds, with face masks required and social distancing protocols observed.

County spokeswoman Katie Combs-Prichard in an emailed response to The Bee confirmed Thursday and Friday's vaccine clinic closures are due to "pre-existing events" planned at The Grounds.

Combs-Prichard said the clinic has extended its hours this Monday through Wednesday into the evening to "maximize the volume" of doses administered this week, compensating for the closures.

Additionally, Combs-Prichard said about 90% of this week's roughly 5,400 appointments at The Grounds are second-dose appointments, "so closure or not, the impact on first dose appointments available in that time window is not very large," she wrote.

Still, some social media users criticized the event being held in lieu of vaccine clinics.

"I'm so glad an anime convention is being held in the same area they're administering vaccines," one person commented on a recent SacAnime Facebook post. "Bonus points for delaying my 2nd dose past the recommended 28 days."

Combs-Prichard said the county doesn't anticipate major issues involving second doses, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says can be safely administered up to 42 days after the first dose without loss of efficacy.

Gov. Gavin Newsom last week announced adults ages 50 to 64 would become eligible for COVID-19 vaccination, regardless of whether they have health conditions, starting April 1. On April 15, that will expand to all Californians ages 16 and older.

The Grounds clinic, which doesn't usually operate on weekends, will therefore be closed the first four days of statewide 50-to-64 eligibility.

And it will shut down as the site hosts a multi-day, in-person event — the type that many health experts have been strongly discouraging for most of the pandemic. An event description on the Grounds website says more than 100 vendors and cosplayers are expected.

Another user commented on SacAnime's latest Facebook post: "(T)hey are taking away the largest vaccination center in the county for this."

SacAnime organizers defended themselves in comments, writing that the date was chosen by the county in late 2020. SacAnime held another swap meet, branded as "Roseville Comic-Con," at the same venue last October, about two months before the vaccine rollout began.

One Facebook commenter suggested SacAnime labeled its event a "swap meet" rather than the more typical "convention" to circumvent the state's COVID-19 restrictions. Under the state health department's reopening framework, convention center events are supposed to remain closed in all counties — but swap meets can proceed at up to 50% of normal capacity in counties classified in the red tier of COVID-19 activity, as Placer is.

SacAnime did not immediately respond to The Bee's emailed request for comment Monday morning.

Placer County has had great success since the earliest weeks of the vaccine rollout. California Department of Public Health data updated Sunday show Placer residents have received more than 193,000 total doses. That works out to over 48,000 shots per 100,000 residents, which is best in the Sacramento region and 13% above the statewide rate.

County health director and interim public health officer Dr. Robert Oldham in an interview with The Bee earlier this month said operations at the Grounds clinic have been smooth and that the site's centralized location in the most densely populated part of the county has been beneficial.

Though statewide supply is expected to ramp up in April, demand currently continues to outstrip supply of vaccine doses, with Sacramento-area providers still bracing for more bottleneck issues as eligibility expands. In the schedule announced by Newsom, adults ages 50 to 64 will have just a two-week head start over the 16-to-49 general public.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, SacAnime conventions and other events would draw thousands each year, usually to venues in Sacramento such as Cal Expo or the downtown convention center.

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