Health

San Benito County health officials issue COVID-19 update

There have been 75 reported infections in schools over the past month.

The San Benito County Public Health Department updated the Board of Supervisors on COVID-19 cases, vaccination rates and vaccination incentives.

As of Oct. 26, there have been 7,358 confirmed cases in San Benito County. In addition, there are 80 active cases and 74 deaths, two of which are of vaccinated individuals. There are also five hospitalized and 7,204 recovered patients. 

San Benito County Health Officer Dr. George Gellert said there has been a gradual decline in confirmed COVID-19 cases since August. 

“Moving in the right direction,” Gellert said. “Perhaps not as quickly as we’d hope.” 

In regards to the county’s vaccination rate being on par with statewide numbers, Gellert said it was a great accomplishment because California is among the best performing states in the nation. He said an emphasis should be placed on the 19.9% of residents that are not vaccinated.

According to the data, 71.8% of San Benito County residents are fully vaccinated and 8.4% are partially vaccinated. 

Data shows that residents 65 and older have the lowest vaccination rate, with 68.8% of the population being fully vaccinated, followed by the 12-17 and 18-49 age groups with 70.7% and 70.9%, respectively. The 50-64 population is 76.5% fully vaccinated. 

In the county’s effort to increase vaccination rates, it rolled out an incentive program that provides $25 gift cards for first doses and $200 in cash for residents who complete vaccination. 

The county will continue the gift card program, having received an additional $60,000 in funding after the first round of the program. 

The county still has $116,800 left in the $200 cash program totaling 584 vouchers. As of Oct. 26, it had issued 1,916.

The gift card and cash programs contributed to a 16.8% increase in the full vaccination rate since Aug. 10, Health and Health Services Agency Director Tracy Belton said. 

 

COVID-19 in schools

Students account for the majority of COVID-19 cases in schools, according to Gellert. He said that of the 75 reported COVID-19 cases by the school districts between Sept. 23 and Oct. 25, 68 were students and seven were staff. 

San Benito High School has the largest reported cases with 17, followed by Hollister Dual Language Academy with 10.

San Benito High School had an enrollment of 3,285, while HDLA had 801 in the 2020-21 school year, the latest California Department of Education enrollment data. 

Hollister School District, the county’s largest with an enrollment of 5,957 which includes HDLA, has reported the most cases—40—in the past month. North County Joint Union Elementary School District, which had an enrollment of 728 in 2020-21, had seven reported cases. 

“Most of these were not related to an outbreak,” Gellert said, with the data showing 12 cases were related to outbreaks. 

He added that there was not a significant change in the reported cases when comparing midsummer numbers to when students were back in school. 

According to Gellert, COVID-19 reported cases among sixth grade students are the highest with 16, followed by Kindergarten and fifth grade students with nine reported cases each. The remaining grades vary between two and six cases. 

“There is a substantial distribution across the age strata,” Gellert said. “That’s probably to be expected. We didn’t expect there to be any necessary clustering by level of grade at least at this juncture.”

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine was authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on May 10 for emergency use for children ages 12 and up. The FDA is also considering a request to authorize an extension for the emergency use of the Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5-11. 

 

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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.