SACRAMENTO — Answering President Joe Biden’s call for a wave of new vaccination centers across the country, California Governor Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday the state is launching two mass COVID vaccination sites in Los Angeles and Oakland, urban areas that have been particularly devastated by the pandemic.
In collaboration with the federal government and local agencies, Newsom said new mass-vaccination sites in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area will begin issuing COVID-19 vaccine doses within two weeks. With a focus on ensuring underserved communities and low-income residents have access to the vaccine, Newsom says the sites will be capable of accommodating at least 6,000 people daily.
“Equity is the call of this moment,” Newsom said from the site of the future center planned in Oakland. “The reason this site was chosen…was to make sure that communities that are often left behind are not left behind and prioritized in terms of the administration of these vaccines.”
Prior to Newsom’s press conference, Biden’s COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients told reporters the mass COVID vaccination sites are being prepped for the Oakland Coliseum and another on the campus of California State University, Los Angeles.
Zients and Newsom said the centers were selected to ensure that vaccines are issued in an equitable manner and near communities at high risk for COVID-19. The pilot sites will be the first to open under Biden’s push for 100 new vaccination centers in 100 days, and more are apparently in the works for the nation’s most populous state.
“These sites in California are just the beginning,” Zients said in a separate briefing.
Several similar mass-vaccination sites are already in operation across the Golden State — including ones at professional baseball stadiums in L.A. and San Diego, Disneyland, and the Cal Expo fairgrounds in Sacramento — but they are being operated at the local level. The new planned sites will be jointly managed, with the federal government assisting with funding and staffing.
L.A. officials applauded the cooperation between the Biden administration and the state and thanked the university for loaning its facilities to fight COVID-19.
“Our county and in particular our Latinx residents have been absolutely devastated by COVID-19,” L.A. County Supervisor Hilda Solis said in a statement. “Establishing this large scale federal-state community vaccination center on the Cal State LA campus, in the heart of Los Angeles County and in a hard-hit community, is a welcome signal that we are ramping up at the federal, state and local level with the practical, boots-on-the-ground solutions we need to put an end to this deadly pandemic.”
During a limited press conference from the Oakland Coliseum in which a horde of public officials was allowed to attend but just one pool reporter, Newsom on multiple occasions touted recent progress the state has made on the vaccination front.
After a slow start in December and January that put California near the bottom in terms of doses administered per capita, Newsom claimed California has tripled its vaccination rate and noted is now ranked 30th in total supply used. He said the new mass-vaccination centers won’t impact supplies already dedicated for other areas and that the state has begun taking and reallocating doses from providers like CVS that have dropped the ball.
“We’re being more aggressive,” Newsom said. “No one is satisfied with the pace of distribution of these vaccines. Of course, we have more work to do, but we’ve made demonstrable progress and we will continue to build on that.”
The Democratic governor faces major criticism for the state’s troubled vaccine rollout, and recent polls show a considerable dip in his approval numbers.
Asked about the slipping support among registered voters, Newsom dodged the question and said he’s more concerned with fighting the pandemic. He said new agreements with Kaiser Permanente and Anthem Blue Cross will improve distribution capabilities and that the details of the nonprofit contracts will be made public later this month.
Wednesday’s announcement comes as California became the second state behind New York to register 41,000 deaths due to the coronavirus.
Despite the grim milestone, the state continues to see a drop in new infections and hospitalizations. The state’s positivity rate has dropped from 14.3% on Jan. 7 to 6.1% on Wednesday, and hospitalizations are down 30% over the last two weeks.
The positive trends are a sign the holiday surge has passed, but Newsom acknowledged the good news is dampened by concerns about the new coronavirus variants spreading throughout the state.
So far genomic testing has identified nearly 1,000 cases of the so-called West Coast strains that are thought to be extremely contagious and are spreading in Southern California and parts of the Bay Area. The state has also verified more than 100 cases of the fast-spreading U.K. variant, but Newsom said no California labs have yet identified the South African strain of COVID.
“The state leads this country in genomic sequencing, we have had a birds-eye view from day one in terms of some of these variants and mutations,” claimed Newsom. “The virulence, the transmissibility of those variants is obviously a concern and that’s why we have to be cautious.”
— By Nick Cahill, CNS