Staff at the vaccination clinic at the City of Nogales Recreation Department gym sign people in to receive their vaccines on Feb. 5.

The county’s COVID-19 vaccination clinic revved back up this week after storm-related delivery delays shut it down the week before. But for the time being, the focus remains on administering second doses before rapidly expanding the vaccination pool.

“We knew we were going to get to that point, that it was going to be basically second shots for a couple weeks in a row,” said Jeff Terrell, the county’s health services director.

The county is expecting 1,800 doses of the Moderna vaccine next week – the same number it received this week, on top of the delayed 2,300-dose allotment that finally arrived Monday. The large majority of shots administered this week were second doses, and Terrell estimated that around 1,400 of next week’s appointments will be for second doses as well.

“We are looking to start scheduling some first shots next week,” he added. “The majority of them will be second shots, but there will be some first doses as well.”

The week after that, Terrell said, they’ll need closer to 2,800 doses to fulfill the second shots for people who were first vaccinated during a week when the state sent the county an extra 1,000 doses.

(Note: A day after this story was published, Terrell said he had been notified by the state that Santa Cruz County would receive an additional 1,000 doses next week, on top of the 1,800 previously expected. He said those new doses would be used as a combination of first and second doses.)

Data posted Thursday by the Arizona Department of Health Services showed that 9,022 people had received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in Santa Cruz County. Of those, 3,083 had been given both shots, meaning that nearly 6,000 people were still in queue for a second dose.

The local vaccination effort so far has focused on people in the 1A priority group – namely health professionals – and certain subgroups in the 1B category, including public safety workers, teachers, people 75 or older, and those working in specific “essential” industries like produce distribution.

Meanwhile, people in other essential employment sectors and 1B subgroups such as those ages 65-74 have been added to the mix on an individual basis, but not given wholesale priority.

Terrell said this week’s catch-up effort at the ad-hoc vaccination clinic set up by the county at the City of Nogales Recreation Center and operated by the Mariposa Community Health Center had gone well.

“Everybody who had an appointment last week got moved to this week and we kept those that were scheduled for this week as well,” he said on Thursday morning. “So we’re moving through them, we’re doing probably … at least 700 a day.”

That meant they’d be able to keep their usual Tuesday-Friday schedule, and not add appointments on the weekend, as had been previously discussed. Next week’s plan also calls for the Rec Center clinic to operate Tuesday through Friday, Terrell said.

Now at ‘moderate’ level

Weekly benchmark data published Thursday by the Arizona Department of Health Services reflected the county’s steadily improving COVID-19 picture.

For the first time since last fall, the county reached the “moderate” transmission level on two key benchmarks, which are meant to guide schools in their decisions about offering in-person instruction.

Santa Cruz County’s test positivity rate was at 8 percent for the week of Feb. 7-13, the most recent period for which statistics were available. That was down from 12.3 percent the previous week and well below the nearly 30-percent levels seen in December.

Meanwhile, the county’s per-capita new case rate during the week of Feb. 7-13 was 88 per 100,000 residents, down from 126 new cases per 100,000 the week before. That metric had reached a high of 999 cases per 100,000 people during the first week of December.

To reach “moderate” transmission levels, a county’s weekly test positivity rate needs to be below 10 percent and the new case rate must be less than 100 per 100,000 residents. Previously, Santa Cruz County’s benchmark data had put it in the “substantial” transmission category.

Despite the recent gains, the state was still recommending virtual schooling for the county as of Thursday, since the moderate-level numbers hadn’t been replicated for two consecutive weeks.

Patagonia Public Schools have been planning to resume on-campus classes beginning March 1 – five days a week for grades K-5, every other day for older students. The Nogales and Santa Cruz Valley unified school districts are poised to implement a hybrid distance/in-person model starting March 15.

In other local pandemic trends, data posted Thursday by the County Health Services Department showed no COVID-

19 deaths confirmed in the community during the past week. There had been six new hospitalizations during that period and 32 new infections confirmed.

That brought the county’s pandemic totals to 7,592 confirmed cases, 166 deaths and 530 hospitalizations.

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