Bay Area professional sports franchises are eager to see their stadiums turn into mass COVID-19 vaccination sites, but neither team nor local officials seem to know if and when this will happen.
Spokespeople for the San Francisco Giants, Oakland A’s, San Jose Sharks and San Jose Earthquakes have all confirmed their organizations have been in contact with government officials and local healthcare providers about using stadiums as vaccination centers. San Francisco 49ers CEO Al Guido even took to social media to offer up Levi’s Stadium so Santa Clara County residents can get vaccinated.
During a press conference Wednesday, Santa Clara County Counsel James Williams said the county still hasn’t received enough vaccines to inoculate all local healthcare workers.
“We don’t know how much vaccine will be coming to the county,” Williams said. “And that’s really a challenge.”
Petco Park in San Diego became a “vaccination superstation” this week, opening its doors so 5,000 people can receive vaccines daily. The Dodger Stadium parking lot in Los Angeles, the biggest coronavirus testing site in the United States, will transform into a vaccination hub where 12,000 people can be inoculated each day by the end of this week.
In the Bay Area, the vaccine distribution process has presented a variety of challenges leading to widespread frustration.
Santa Clara County executive, Dr. Jeff Smith, told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday the county recently requested 100,000 additional doses of COVID-19 vaccines from the state. The request was met with an assurance that only 6,000 vaccines are on the way.
“Once we get to (January) 18th, then weekly we will be able to deliver 35,000 doses with one huge caveat,” Smith told the board. “Right now, we do not have in our freezers enough to last one week, let alone being able to do 35,000 a week.”
San Francisco’s Director of Public Health, Dr. Grant Colfax, said opening a mass vaccination site is also a consideration, but like Santa Clara County, San Francisco lacks enough doses.
“When we have a sufficient supply of vaccines to meet the need for a mass vaccination site, we expect to have that site up and running,” Colfax said Tuesday. “Our goal is to open such sites as fast as possible when the state supplies us with more vaccine. We really need to get more doses and move through the phases of the state levels.”
One of the most significant obstacles county officials have faced in the first month of distributing COVID-19 vaccines is tracking the number of people who have received them. The federal government has allocated vaccines directly to state health departments, companies including CVS and Walgreens to administer at long-term care facilities, as well as to Veterans Affairs hospitals and Indian Health centers. State officials have provided huge quantities of vaccines directly to private multi-county healthcare providers such as Kaiser Permanente, Palo Alto Medical Foundation and Sutter Health, as well as county health departments for public and local private hospitals like Stanford.
The California Department of Public Health has tracked the number of vaccines distributed (about 2.5 million) and the number of people who have received them (889,000). But to date, the state has not created an easily accessible public dashboard with detailed data on vaccinations.
In Santa Clara County, a health order implemented last week now requires vaccine providers to turn over data on a daily basis that includes the number of vaccines that have been administered, appointments available per day, unused vaccines, clinic sites and information on who has been vaccinated. In San Francisco, District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney is advocating for a similar level of transparency.
“There’s a lot of unevenness in vaccine distribution and the access to information to how many vaccines we have and we’ll be receiving,” Haney said. “Some counties are getting more vaccine doses than San Francisco. A lot of the vaccine doses are going to multi-county entities which are mostly private providers. But with that said, counties can request more doses and should expect to receive tens of thousands of additional doses in the coming weeks.”
With nearly two-thirds of the vaccines distributed throughout the state yet to be used, California is lagging far behind other states in its pace of vaccinations. The lack of transparent data has created a massive problem because local health departments responsible for updating the public on the vaccination process don’t know how many doses private providers still need to distribute.
Some issues may soon be rectified as officials in both San Francisco and Santa Clara County have expressed optimism they’ll receive an influx of doses shortly after President Joe Biden is inaugurated, but they also know the ability to vaccinate a high percentage of the population will rely on urgency –and a willingness to cooperate — from private providers.
“We know other providers in the county like Stanford and Kaiser are working to expand their own sites, including mass vaccination sites,” Smith said. “They get direct allocation of vaccines and they have a majority of the county’s population.”
It’s private providers, not county health departments, who could be the driving force behind turning stadiums into mass vaccination sites. Counties, including Santa Clara and Alameda, have created online portals that allow people to sign up to be notified when it’s their turn to get vaccinated, but most residents will likely receive their vaccines from private providers.
With Gov. Gavin Newsom announcing Wednesday that all Californians age 65 or older are now eligible to be vaccinated, private providers are facing immense pressure to scale up their vaccination process and find spaces outside of hospitals and clinics to inoculate people.
In San Francisco, Haney sees an avenue for collaboration between private providers and the public health department to speed up the vaccination process.
“In San Diego at Petco, they’re doing 5,000 vaccinations a day with thousands of volunteers and a massive public-private partnership to get it done and we need that in San Francisco,” Haney said. “It feels to me like common sense to use the sites and the opportunities we have to distribute this vaccine. The longer it takes to vaccinate everyone, the longer this pandemic will go on.”
Smith told the Board of Supervisors the Santa Clara County Public Health Department is currently looking for a mass indoor site with ample parking where 10,000-20,000 vaccines can be administered daily, but a site hasn’t been finalized.
Despite the SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks, being an obvious choice in Santa Clara County because of its size and the site’s recent use as a COVID-19 testing center, no local or team officials have provided an indication that any Bay Area stadiums will open as a vaccination site in the immediate future.
Until vaccine data provided by both public and private providers is made accessible in a centralized location and counties receive clarity on the number of doses available in their jurisdictions, it appears the process of vaccinating Bay Area residents will remain a maddening slog.