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Sonoma County gets first doses of Moderna coronavirus vaccine

Local hospitals are now receiving vaccine shipments directly from Pfizer and Moderna, with most early doses being used to inoculate front-line health care workers.|

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

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Sonoma County public health officials received 5,800 doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, with 3,000 more expected next week, bolstering the growing local arsenal against a deadly virus that has claimed the lives of 180 county residents since March.

The county public health laboratory’s first doses of the Moderna vaccine arrived, after it already received at least 7,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and additional doses are on the way.

Separately, Wednesday county public health officials acknowledged Graton Resort and Casino in Rohnert Park plans to host a private New Year’s Eve party indoors with 4,000 guests. Casino owner Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria is a U.S. sovereign entity not subject to county or state public health orders, local public health officials said.

Therefore, county officials can’t do anything about the planned large gathering or force its cancellation. County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said the casino operator will take steps to reduce the risk of party attendees contracting the coronavirus.

A spokeswoman for Graton confirmed late Wednesday night there will be a private New Year’s Eve party at the casino, but declined to reveal details about it other than what is on the casino’s website. The casino will become a “private venue” and close to the public from Dec. 31 at 5 p.m. until Jan. 1, 2021 at 4 a.m., according to the Graton website, but no further information such as who the event is for is noted online.

In response to a reporter’s inquiry, Graton also released a statement from Greg Sarris, tribal chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, that said in part that the rancheria continues “to work closely with the Sonoma County Public Health Officer. Graton Resort & Casino will remain open on a limited basis and continues to exceed all CDC safety requirements. In addition to those safety measures already in place, team members are tested for COVID-19 every two weeks and wear digital devices that ensure social distancing.”

Bars at the casino are closed and “walk up alcohol service” ends nightly at 9:00 p.m., according to the statement.

Meanwhile, local hospitals are now receiving vaccine shipments directly from Pfizer and Moderna, with most early doses being used to inoculate front-line health care workers. For example, Petaluma Valley Hospital’s nurses and doctors were among those Wednesday who got Moderna vaccinations.

Next week residents and staff at nursing homes in California will start receiving vaccinations through a partnership with CVS and Walgreens.

The county public health division is responsible for vaccinating first responders, including paramedics, firefighters and other emergency services workers, as well as staff at local kidney dialysis centers, the psychiatric hospital in Santa Rosa and the county’s psychiatric emergency center.

County public health officials reported that as of Wednesday evening they had inoculated 350 local emergency services workers with the Pfizer vaccine, with the goal of vaccinating 1,400 first responders.

Dr. Kismet Baldwin, the county’s deputy health officer, said that those with high priority to receive the vaccine likely will get whichever is available either from Pfizer or Moderna. Both types of COVID-19 vaccines require two doses, with Pfizer’s 21 days apart and Moderna’s 28 days apart.

“We don’t right now have any reason to only give one of the vaccines to certain people and one to another group,” Baldwin said during a press briefing.

However, Baldwin said some of the county public health lab’s vaccine distribution to local health clinics will depend on the capability to store the respective doses at the proper temperatures. Only the county public health lab and the county’s three largest hospitals Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Kaiser Permanente’s Santa Rosa Medical Center and Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital can store the Pfizer vaccine at the required ultracold minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit.

While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines work similarly, the Moderna vaccine does not require such frigid storage, only needing to remain at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit. That makes the Moderna vaccine the best choice for some of the county’s health care partners, such as rural clinics and medical providers, Baldwin said.

During the Wednesday press briefing, county Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase again urged local residents to avoid gathering for the Christmas and New Year’s Day holidays.

Mase’s request came the day after county public health officials released data showing Thanksgiving gatherings of extended families and friends significantly contributed to the dramatic spike in local virus transmission in the month since the holiday.

“In some instances where individuals gathered with people outside their household, 50 to 100% of the guests at the gatherings ended up testing positive for COVID-19,” she said.

Mase also said traveling to visit friends or relatives for Christmas and New Year’s holidays could increase the risk of contracting the highly contagious virus, and she reminded that local gatherings with members of another household is prohibited under the regional stay-home order.

“Wear a mask when you leave home and when you’re with anyone you don’t live with,” she said. “Keep your distance, especially from older family members and those with chronic health conditions.”

County health officials suggested virtual holiday season celebrations or dropping off meals for older “loved ones” and those with medical conditions so they can stay home.

“Safe practices over the holidays are especially critical, as we continue to see a sharp increase in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the state and in our county, as well,” Mase said.

The county’s latest seven-day average transmission rate is 45.3 new daily cases per 100,000 residents — more than double the number in the past week and triple in the past month.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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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