Approximately 5,000 Santa Cruz County residents pre-registered for a COVID-19 vaccination after an online sign-up form went live on Saturday, though some of them will still have to wait until they are eligible to be inoculated.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 Santa Cruz County residents – primarily those 75 and older – were set to receive their first COVID-19 vaccinations this week, most at a temporary inoculation center set up at the City of Nogales Recreation Department.

Dr. Eladio Pereira, chief medical officer at the Mariposa Community Health Center, said that around 3,200 or 3,300 people will have received the vaccine by the end of this week. In addition to staffing the recreation center vaccination clinic, MCHC is administering some shots at its own facility in Nogales.

Pereira said 450 people were vaccinated on Wednesday and similar numbers were expected on Thursday and Friday.

That was possible after the county received an unexpectedly large vaccine shipment on Tuesday, with 1,400 doses to be used for initial vaccinations and another 1,000 to give booster doses to those who’d already received a first shot. Last week, county officials had said they were expecting roughly 200 new doses to come each week going forward, but had asked state authorities for more.

Arizona Department of Health Services data on Thursday showed that 2,291 vaccine doses had been administered in Santa Cruz County. However, the state’s local vaccination figure has moved erratically, showing an increase of six or seven doses on some days and even dropping by nearly 100 doses on one day.

The county is expecting another 1,300 first doses and 500 second doses next week, according to Jeff Terrell, director of the County Health Services Department.

Terrell said that means the county will likely finish up vaccination for its 75-and-older population by next week.

Who’s up next? Terrell said that’s the conversation that public health officials are having right now.

Three subgroups within the state’s 1B vaccine priority category still aren’t eligible to receive a vaccine in Santa Cruz County: teachers, essential workers in most industries, and adults age 65 and older.

The 65-and-up group was initially part of Arizona’s 1C prioritization category, but state and federal authorities earlier this month began recommending that vaccine distributors open up appointments to any adults in that age group. It’s a group that is ready to roll up their sleeves for the shot: of the roughly 5,000 sign-ups on the pre-registration portal, Terrell said approximately 1,200 were in the 65-74 age category.

Of the 1,300 new doses expected next week, 1,200 will be administered through MCHC and 100 will be sent to the Rio Rico Pharmacy, which Terrell said would coordinate inoculation for its clients. That will be the first vaccine distribution in Santa Cruz County outside of Nogales. Holy Cross Hospital in Nogales previously received 100 doses of the vaccine, but wasn’t slated to receive any next week.

Case numbers slow

As vaccination continued to ramp up, the rate of new COVID-19 cases in Santa Cruz County slowed slightly this week, according to numbers released by the County Health Services Department.

As of Thursday morning, a total of 7,127 cases had been detected in the county, that was an increase of 282 in the past seven days. It was the lowest weekly total (for weeks ending Thursday) since mid-November, when a second surge of cases began sweeping through Santa Cruz County.

New hospitalizations and deaths were also down slightly from the first two weeks of January, when the county confirmed the deaths of more than two local residents per day, on average, from the disease. In the seven days leading up to Thursday, 15 Santa Cruz County residents were reported hospitalized and nine deaths from COVID-19 infections were reported, county numbers showed.

“We saw that bump, I think, due to the Christmas holiday. I’m not sure we got quite as big a spike as most people may have been expecting from New Year’s, so I think it’s kind of tapered off,” Terrell said. “Hopefully people are getting the message… and using some of those mitigations, wearing a mask, social distancing.”

Still, the county remained well within the “substantial transmission” category according to state benchmark data intended for determining whether it’s safe for schools to open.

For the week of Jan. 3-8, the most recent for which the data was available, the county recorded a percent positivity of 22.4 percent, meaning nearly one in four COVID-19 tests for local residents came back positive.

That figure was down slightly from its high on the week of Dec. 27, 2020 at 24.2 percent.

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