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Safeway to open drive-thru coronavirus vaccination site at Sonoma County Fairgrounds

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Sonoma County will expand its vaccination campaign this week when Safeway Pharmacy employees begin inoculating about 5,000 county caregivers who help low-income seniors and people with disabilities remain in their homes.

The drive-thru vaccination site, which opens Wednesday at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa, will join the COVID testing site operated by OptumServe at the fairgrounds. Next week, Safeway will begin offering in-home supportive services workers first doses of the coveted shots at 11 state-approved locations in Sonoma County.

“We are drastically scaling up our efforts to deliver the COVID vaccine, which is our most important tool to end the pandemic,” Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said Monday.

Mase said she was unsure how many in-home care workers might be vaccinated per day at the fairgrounds.

“It depends on, first, the number of vaccine doses we receive. And then the number of staff we have to vaccinate. But just like testing, we’ll get started and really ramp it up to the capacity that we feel is appropriate for the county,” Mase said.

The county’s Human Services Department is supposed to call the eligible in-home caregivers to schedule appointments.

Those currently being added to the vaccination schedule via Safeway are among the essential workers in Phase 1A, Tier 2 of the state’s prioritization system. Others in that tier include community health workers, public health field staff and those employed at primary care facilities such as the county jail and urgent care clinics.

Most of the vaccinations within the county thus far have been devoted to Tier 1, made up of front-line hospital staff and residents and staff at nursing homes. Mase said at least one category of workers in Tier 3, those at dental health clinics, also are beginning to receive first doses of Moderna or its alternative, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.

Eventually, members of the public will be able to go to Safeway for vaccinations, too. The county hopes to open Phase 1B access by Feb. 1, but says the actual date is speculative. That phase will include seniors 75 and older, plus people working in education, child care, emergency services, food and agriculture.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom has not altered the state’s ranking of eligible groups, though on Monday he called for more flexibility in distributing doses when surpluses arise.

In-home supportive services are often seen as a way of allowing people to live safely in their homes and avoid congregate settings like assisted living or residential skilled nursing facilities. The services include housecleaning, meal preparation, laundry, grocery shopping, bathing and bathroom breaks, transportation to medical appointments and paramedical aid. The program is reserved for low-income residents who are over 65 years of age or disabled.

“We are working closely with the County of Sonoma and following their guidelines for administering the vaccine to eligible Phase 1A individuals,” Safeway said in statement offered in response to a request for more information. “The vaccine will be administered free of charge.”

Residents can sign up to receive updates on the timing of availability, and to schedule an appointment, at safeway.com/pharmacy/covid-19.

The partnership with Safeway is one of several initiatives aimed at increasing local vaccination capacity. Mase said the county is also working with the Sonoma County Medical Association and Clinical Health Appraisals to cover workers in Phase 1A.

As of Sunday, a total of 11,179 immunizations had been administered in Sonoma County, a number that does not reflect the seniors who have received doses in nursing homes via a program run by the CVS and Walgreens pharmacy chains and overseen by the state. A county representative said the eventual goal is 2,000 doses per day from the county alone, exclusive of vaccinations at hospitals or through pharmacies.

Mase said the county hopes to open drive-thru vaccination sites with up 18 to 20 lanes in Sonoma County as supply increases, 10 to 12 of which would be sited in the Santa Rosa area.

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Skinny_Post.

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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