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Home Health Napa County’s frontline health care workers receive first round of COVID-19 vaccinations...

Napa County’s frontline health care workers receive first round of COVID-19 vaccinations – Napa Valley Register

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DEER PARK — It was nothing more than muscle memory for Patty Hsu, who’d given countless flu shots while volunteering at clinics over the years. But this time was different.

As Hsu, the director of critical care for Adventist Health St. Helena, gave her patient the shot, the room went quiet — almost airless — and then broke into boisterous applause as she removed the needle and took a step back.

“That’s it,” Hsu told her patient, Monica Flores, a registered nurse at the hospital, who beamed — a smile visible even underneath her blue surgical mask.

Flores, 26, was the first of more than 200 people vaccinated at Adventist Health St. Helena on Saturday morning. A Napa resident, she’d been deployed to New York City to serve at Lincoln Memorial Hospital in the early spring, when the roiling toll the virus was taking on the city seemed relentless.

To receive the shot now — just as she’d been speaking with friends and colleagues in Southern California, where ICU capacity recently hit 0% — seemed especially meaningful, Flores said. And it made her hopeful she’d soon be able to see her own father, who is immunocompromised, in the near future.

“We see each other from 10 feet apart, but I haven’t gone in the house or anything,” Flores said. “Last time I actually hugged him was at the beginning of February.”

Adventist Health St. Helena received enough vaccinations from Pfizer to vaccinate around 700 of its front line workers this first round, according to the hospital’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Tim Lyons. Staff prioritized for immunizations range from emergency room attendants and ICU nurses to clinic and facilities staff, Lyons said. As of Monday afternoon, the hospital had vaccinated around 420 employees, a spokesperson confirmed.

Lyons, who received his vaccination shortly after Flores, said he was “very excited” about the arrival of such a vaccine.

“We’ve watched people die from it — we’ve watched people get very sick,” he said of the virus. “We’ve also dealt with the fear. These are health care providers on the front line. Even though we take care of PPE, and we’re as cautious as can be, it’s still not perfect. We’re still at risk. So this is a hopeful day, because we’re beginning to protect our staff as they continue to care for the community.”

Queen of the Valley Medical Center as of Monday afternoon had vaccinated around 250 of its staff, according to Chief Medical Officer Dr. Amy Herold. The hospital received between 975 and 1,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine, she said, explaining some of the vials had come with extra doses. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approved the extra doses for use, she said.

Among those prioritized for immunization are emergency room and ICU staff, housekeepers and labor and delivery staff, she said.

This first round of vaccinations comes as a third wave of coronavirus infections has thrown itself upon Napa County and the larger Bay Area. The number of patients in Queen of the Valley’s COVID-19 unit has increased “by a factor of almost 10” over the past six weeks, Herold said, adding that she was “very concerned” for the weeks after Christmas because the last surge had arrived in the weeks after Thanksgiving.

“We are concerned about the surge we’re seeing. Right now we’re fine, we’re taking care of everyone, but looking ahead — will it get worse?” Herold said. “Then it becomes, do we have the resources to take care of everyone in Napa that needs our help? When that’s our job, it’s scary to have that unknown.”

The hospital needs ICU capacity and staff to care for folks having medical emergencies unrelated to the pandemic, like heart attacks, strokes or car accidents, she noted. Those patients are kept in an ICU ward separate from coronavirus patients, she said.

Though the county last week reported a 5% decrease in cases week over week, it has repetitively broken its single-day case counts, reaching as high as 136 on Dec. 15. Weekly totals at one point in October were less than half of that.) Nine Napa County residents have died in the last two months. The county began its latest, state-ordered restrictions beginning Friday.

Once its health care staff has been vaccinated, the community will proceed with what Adventist Health’s Lyons called “phase 1B,” in which civil servants like first responders will be prioritized for vaccination. From there, vaccinations will be made available to the general public, Lyons said. An advisory panel to the CDC on Sunday announced it would recommend that essential workers and individuals older than 74 be next in line for immunization.

Between 75% and 85% of the population must be vaccinated in order for life to return to normal, White House Advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has said.

Herold, who has a fear of needles, said she “could not wait” to roll up her sleeve and get vaccinated.

“It’s a joyful experience to get that needle in your arm — and I don’t think I’ve ever said that before,” she said. She urged community members hesitant in their own resolve to get the vaccine to read the available literature from Pfizer and the other manufacturers. The vaccine was produced incredibly quickly, she said, but the evidence from the trials was enough to make her “confident” in the science behind it.

“The alternative is to continue to watch this decimate our community,” Herold said.

Queen of the Valley is expecting an additional shipment of the Moderna vaccine this week, according to Herold, which will allow the facility to vaccinate the rest of its staff.

Editor’s note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join.

SARAH KLEARMAN’S MOST MEMORABLE NAPA VALLEY REGISTER STORIES OF 2020

Sarah Klearman’s most memorable Napa Valley Register stories of 2020

On a Sunday in mid-March of this year, I stood watching as Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the coronavirus had arrived in California – and that the state would soon shut down to prevent its spread. He began listing impacted businesses and industries; the moment I heard ‘wineries,’ I knew I was on the clock. 

It feels now like that press conference, held just before the nation plunged deep into lockdown, was a clear demarcation of ‘before’ and ‘after.’ In both my professional and personal life, I’ve sometimes struggled to come to terms with just how much has changed this year, and with how much has been lost: 300,000 dead from the coronavirus in the United States. So many small businesses seem to be facing extinction. It’s enough to make my head spin, and that’s not even touching upon the wildfires that ravaged Napa County this year.

So I’ve been making sense of everything that’s happened to our community through my work at the Register, because my reporting this year has been all about listening. I’ve lent my ear to anyone who will talk to me: folks made homeless by the wildfires; communities, including the valley’s agricultural workforce, disproportionately impacted by the virus; business owners and their employees who rightfully fear for their future. This list – my top five stories of this year – is all about them. 

Twin economic crises – the pandemic and the wildfires – threaten the housing security of a substantial number of renters in Napa County. More than a third have asked for help.

Low wages, cramped living conditions and the fluidity of the agricultural workforce make the farm worker community particularly prone to COVID-19.

The homes at Spanish Flat Mobile Villas burned to the ground. A number of uninsured residents now have no where else to go.

Tasting room closures and restaurant cutbacks have sent a shock through the valley’s workforce.

The National Guard has been called in to help with the explosive growth  in demand at Napa’s food bank.

CATCH UP ON NAPA COUNTY’S TOP NEWS STORIES

Catch up on Napa County’s top news stories

You can reach Sarah Klearman at (707) 256-2213 or sklearman@napanews.com.

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