Last week, San Joaquin County health officials said they knew it would soon be time to begin vaccinating agricultural and food workers for COVID-19.

That time arrived Monday, as a mass vaccination event was hosted at the Lodi Grape Festival grounds.

Mark Armstrong, manager of the Grape Festival, said the plan to host the vaccination event came together last Friday. The facility has hosted vaccination testing events over the last few months.

Armstrong said about 750 people lined up outside the festival grounds at 413 E. Lockeford St. to get vaccinated.

“We wanted to help provide this service so everyone can get the vaccine,” he said. “This will help us all open back up and get back to business, and it’s just another part of the process to help us get back on our feet.”

Salida resident Blanca Jaramillo has been working in San Joaquin County fields for 30 years and was one of hundreds awaiting her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

An apricot quality control specialist, she was worried about contracting the virus because she has asthma and knows people with underlying conditions are more vulnerable to COVID-19.

She said she has seen many coworkers and relatives become infected with the virus, which makes it more challenging for her to maintain social distancing.

Jaramillo said she was hesitant of getting the vaccine at first because of possible side effects or consequences down the road, but after seeing others get their first and second shots and that they’re doing well, she feels she will be fine.

“I’m so happy, feeling so good,” she said of being able to get the vaccine. “If we want a normal life then we have to do it.”

The mass vaccination was conducted as county public health officials announced on social media that COVID-19 rates are decreasing.

According to the California Department of Public Health, the county’s new case rate was 25.1 per 100,000 residents as of Monday, and its testing positivity rate was 7.8%. The county’s health equity rate was 10.3%.

Sacramento County had a new case rate of 18.7 per 100,000 residents, and its test positivity and health equity rates were 6% and 9.2%, respectively.

In order for counties to advance to the less restrictive red tier, its new case rate must be less than 7 per 100,000 residents, and both its test positivity and health equity rates must be less than 8%.

Updated numbers should be announced Tuesday.

San Joaquin County’s re-infection rate has also decreased, according to state health officials. The rate is currently at .73, which means for every resident currently infected with COVID-19, they have the potential to transmit the virus to less than one person. Sacramento County’s rate is .78, according to health officials.

State health officials said there were 126 COVID-19 patients in hospitals throughout San Joaquin County, and it is anticipated that there will only be a total of 44 by March 24.

There are 45 patients in an intensive care unit as of Monday, and only 9 are expected to be in an ICU by that time.

There have been 1,039 COVID-19 deaths in the county since the pandemic began, and the state is anticipating a total of 1,145 by March 24.

In Sacramento County, there are 177 patients in hospitals with COVID-19 and 50 in an ICU. The state is expecting 131 patients being treated by March 24, and 50 in the ICU. The state is expecting Sacramento County to have 1,669 total deaths from COVID-19 by March 24. There have been 1,431 since the pandemic began.

In addition to mass vaccination sites increasing throughout the county, many groups and organizations are stepping up to provide extra COVID-19 testing sites.

The Lodi Sikh Temple will begin offering free testing every Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 3123 Armstrong Road.

Congregation member Jag Bhatt said the temple was happy to provide testing to the community, especially for those who may not have immediate access to a computer.

“I remember trying to get a test at (San Joaquin General) hospital a few months ago, and it was very difficult because everyone was trying to get one at the same time,” Bhatt said. “(Having a test site) is important, because people that would like to get a test should be able to get tested.”

Testing will be available to everyone in the community who wants one, Bhatt said, and no appointments or prior registration is required. All testing will be conducted in the temple’s parking lot as a drive-through event, he said.

This is not the first time the Sikh Temple has provided health-related tests. Volunteers have provided blood pressure and sugar level screenings, as well as flu vaccines in the past.

“(COVID) testing has come a long way,” Bhatt said. “People are more educated about the virus and testing now. And more people are wearing their masks, washing their hands, and just trying to keep as safe as they can.”

Temples all over the county will be offering testing sites throughout the week for an undetermined amount of time. No insurance is required, walk-in opportunities are available and immigration status will be neither required nor reported.

The Stockton Sikh Temple, located at 1930 S. Sikh Temple St., will offer testing every Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; the Tracy Sikh Temple at 16101 W. Grant Line Road, will offer testing every Monday and second Thursday of each month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; and the VFW Manteca at 580 Moffat Blvd. will offer testing the first, third and fourth Thursday of the month from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

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