The message is obvious and clear: Tulare County's continued progress in battling COVID-19 will depend on making sure as many eligible residents as possible are vaccinated.

That was the message presented by Tulare County Health and Human Services Director Tim Lutz during his weekly update on the status of COVID-19 in the county at Tuesday's Tulare County Board of Supervisors.

And in the wake of more infectious variants being discovered in Tulare County, Lutz said vaccinating everyone who's eligible is more important than ever. The health department announced on Friday two UK variants and one South African variant were found in the county. Lutz announced at Tuesday's meeting an additional UK variant was found in the county over the weekend.

But Tulare County still continues to progress through the tiers as it's now in the orange tier and has avoided a possible surge that could come with the variants so far. And vaccinations are the key, Lutz said.

Everyone 16 and older is now eligible to be vaccinated in Tulare County. As of Tuesday, 118,453 Tulare County residents had received at least one dose or 34 percent of all those who are eligible. There have been 67,000 residents who have been fully vaccinated or 19 percent of all those eligible.

Lutz also noted 34.2 percent of Tulare County's population in its most disadvantaged areas have been vaccinated. He said that number “still tracks above the state averages.”

Lutz said the key to number is the county offering mobile vaccine events in its rural communities. The county has a goal to provide vaccines to all of its rural communities by the end of May. “We're on track to meet or exceed that,” Lutz said.

The mobile vaccine events have been popular in rural areas, Lutz said. “They show up and they show up in droves,” he said.

Another key event will be the major three-day vaccine event for agricultural and food workers to be held at the Porterville Fairgrounds April 18-20. Another key to the event, Lutz said, is 3,000 doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, which requires just one dose, will be administered.

Vaccinations will be offered from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday and noon to 7 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.

Agricultural and food employers should have their employees register at Limited walk-ups will be accepted for those arriving on buses. The county is also providing free bus rides for those going to vaccine appointments.

The Pfizer vaccine, which requires two doses, can be administered to those 16 and older. The Moderna vaccine, which also requires two doses, and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine can be administered to those 18 and older.

Lutz said beginning today the county will also partner with Porterville's Imperial Ambulance and Visalia's American Ambulance to provide vaccines for homebound seniors.

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