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Hospitals offer COVID-19 vaccines to all inpatients 

After nearly squashing COVID-19 this past spring, San Luis Obispo County hospitals are seeing the coronavirus return with a vengeance, this time in the form of the Delta variant, filling up emergency room beds to levels not seen since before vaccines were available.

"I think the general public is unaware of how bad this new Delta surge is," said Dr. Tom Vendegna, chief medical officer at French Hospital Medical Center in SLO.

click to enlarge GIVING SHOTS French Hospital (pictured) is one of three local hospitals that have started to offer COVID-19 vaccines to all unvaccinated emergency room patients. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • File Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • GIVING SHOTS French Hospital (pictured) is one of three local hospitals that have started to offer COVID-19 vaccines to all unvaccinated emergency room patients.

"Just about everyone" who's hospitalized at French with COVID-19 right now is unvaccinated, Vendegna told New Times.

In an effort to take a more "proactive" approach to vaccinations, French Hospital has started offering the COVID-19 vaccine to all inpatients at the hospital who haven't yet received it. The free vaccine offer is now embedded into its patient discharge protocols.

"We tell them we have it available. Then that's basically it. It's pretty easy," Vendegna said.

Vendegna said the initiative started two weeks ago and came out of the hospital's preparations for the Delta variant surge. The rollout aligned with a recent COVID-19 outbreak at the 40 Prado Homeless Services Center in SLO—which provided the hospital an opportunity to vaccinate unhoused residents who often lack access, he said.

The hospital is providing the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which makes the process simple for both the hospital and patient.

Three local hospitals are now offering the vaccine in this way: French, Arroyo Grande Community Hospital, and Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria.

Vendegna said he doesn't know how many vaccines French has administered thus far, or what percentage of patients accept the offer, but he's heard that many are receptive to it.

"We've had a fair amount of people do it," he said. "When we offer it and present it right, I think we get a fair response."

Vendegna emphasized how effective and important the COVID-19 vaccine is. As of Aug. 15, about 60 percent of eligible residents in SLO County are fully vaccinated, which trails the statewide rate.

Between Aug. 10 and 17, SLO County reported four new deaths from COVID-19—including one death of a person in their 20s, the youngest ever to pass away from the virus locally—and nearly 800 new cases. On Aug. 17, 32 residents were hospitalized, including eight in ICUs.

The current COVID-19 metrics are getting close to mirroring what they were in December 2020 and January 2021—the worst months of the pandemic.

"We're getting close," Vendegna said. "It's really alarming because it's been more rapid. It's been a lot of younger people."

On Aug. 18, at a special press briefing, SLO County Public Health Officer Penny Borenstein "strongly urged" all businesses to ask employees and patrons to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Santa Barbara County on Aug. 6 issued an indoor mask mandate.

"I am urging all of our business owners and all of the owners of any public setting to go along with what I'm asking of them in this moment of time, at hopefully the peak of the surge," Borenstein said. "There is a lot of research about the effectiveness of [masks]. It really makes a difference."

Vendegna also spoke to the important role that masks play in reducing the spread of COVID-19.

"It's something that's not being addressed very well. It's become political," Vendegna said. "But for medical reasons, I don't think we're going to beat this Delta variant unless we wear masks indoors." Δ

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