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Sonoma County in-home care workers get first vaccine doses at new drive-up center

Mass vaccination sites

Sonoma County officials confirmed three sites for mass vaccinations clinics that could begin serving larger groups of residents by the end of the month.

Sonoma County Fairgrounds: Up to 1,200 people per day.

Santa Rosa Junior College, Petaluma campus fitness center: Up to 300 people a day.

Huerta Gymnasium, Windsor: More than 300 people a day

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

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

Wayne Maultsby sat in his car alone, watching traffic whip past along Bennett Valley Road in Santa Rosa.

Maultsby had waited nearly 11 months for this moment – his immunization against COVID-19.

As the coronavirus pandemic has raged, killing at least 219 people in Sonoma County, Maultsby, 77, has done his level best to keep himself healthy. Same goes for his 71-year-old in-home care client, one of thousands of elderly or infirm residents who rely on home-based care that keeps them out of nursing homes and hospitals.

“I really don’t want to get COVID-19, and the vaccine, as soon as it was available, was what I wanted to do,” Maultsby said Wednesday as he sat in a parking lot on the north end of the Sonoma County Fairgrounds.

He’s among the roughly 5,000 local in-home support services workers now eligible for the shots in the coming days.

Peeking out below his cut off T-shirt was a small, tan bandage that covered the spot on his arm where he was inoculated with the first dose of the Moderna vaccine. While he waited the required 15 minutes after his drive-up shot, Maultsby reflected on the meaning of the moment.

“It’s peace of mind and the fact that progress is being made,” Maultsby said.

The vaccine distribution Wednesday was by appointment only, serving about 200 of the in-home care workers who’d signed up for the first appointments. They tend to clients, including their own family members, who are among the most vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19.

The caretakers are one of the largest local groups in the first tier of immunizations, and Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Chair Lynda Hopkins said she was “thrilled” to see them served.

“Traditionally, IHSS workers have been a hidden workforce in the community,” she said. “They play such a critical role in our society. It feels really good to take this step.”

Wednesday’s drive-thru clinic at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds featured Safeway pharmacists administering doses in three separate lanes. It was one of 11 countywide clinics run by Safeway and focused currently on in-home care workers.

But it offered a preview of the mass vaccination efforts to come in the weeks and months ahead as the race begins to inoculate ever wider bands of the general population.

“Right now, this is just the IHSS workers,” said Matt Brown, a county spokesman on hand Wednesday. “Eventually, we would like to ramp this up so we have even bigger mass vaccination clinics.”

County officials are eyeing an expanded footprint at the fairgrounds, capable of immunizing more than 1,200 people per day. Officials have approached Windsor for use of Huerta Gymnasium near the town green. The county also has reached an agreement with Santa Rosa Junior College for use of the fitness center at the college’s Petaluma campus. In Windsor and Petaluma, medical staff would have the ability to immunize more than 600 people per day.

Those sites, as well as satellite locations, are set to come online by the end of the month, opening to serve population groups that will first include teachers, law enforcement personnel and residents who work in the agriculture sector, Brown said. Going forward at all those sites, the county hopes to administer up to 2,000 doses per day.

“People are excited,” Brown said, referring to those who received vaccines Wednesday. “All of our appointments were booked. We’re going to do this again tomorrow.”

Vaccinations are currently being offered to essential workers in Phase 1A, Tier 2 of the state’s prioritization system, which includes community health workers, public health field staff and those employed at primary care facilities such as the county jail and urgent care clinics.

The timing for the county’s shift to Phase 1B, Tier 1, is elusive, but that shift will now make an estimated 40,000 more Sonoma County residents eligible next for the vaccine following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to shift all Californians 65 and older into that category.

The announcement, which came Wednesday morning, puts seniors ahead of emergency workers, teachers, child care providers and food and agriculture workers. But Sonoma County officials say their progress through the tiers is still dependent upon the amount of vaccine they can get their hands on.

The county fairgrounds clinic was using the Moderna vaccine, which is easier to store than the Pfizer doses, which require a strict, super-chilled regimen. Once out of the freezer, Moderna doses can be refrigerated for up to 30 days or kept out of the refrigerator for events like the county’s clinic, Brown said.

In-home support workers perform daily tasks ranging from house cleaning and meal preparation, to personal care, including bathing and grooming needs. Their help allows low-income people who are 65 or those who are disabled to live safely in their homes and avoid assisted living or residential skilled nursing facilities, which can be more costly and are more high-risk in a pandemic.

Ann Carpico, Safeway division pharmacy manager, runs pharmacy operations at stores from the Golden Gate Bridge to Eureka, and she called Safeway’s participation in the vaccination campaign “really epic.”

As of Tuesday, 13,245 immunizations had been administered in Sonoma County, not including seniors who have received doses in nursing homes via a program run by the CVS and Walgreens pharmacy chains and overseen by the state.

Carpico said many of those in her team at the fairgrounds had volunteered for the fieldwork.

“It’s incredible. We truly feel like we’re saving lives — including our own,” she said.

Sarah Kitchen, another in-home care worker in line for the vaccine, said it was a welcome relief. Her mom recently underwent open heart surgery. Her daughter endured a case of COVID-19.

So when she heard she was eligible for a shot, she signed up right away.

“I’m just glad it’s finally happening,” she said.

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com.

Mass vaccination sites

Sonoma County officials confirmed three sites for mass vaccinations clinics that could begin serving larger groups of residents by the end of the month.

Sonoma County Fairgrounds: Up to 1,200 people per day.

Santa Rosa Junior College, Petaluma campus fitness center: Up to 300 people a day.

Huerta Gymnasium, Windsor: More than 300 people a day

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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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