Breakthrough cases, COVID-19 infections among vaccinated individuals, are becoming more prevalent with 700 of the 850 infections since late December coming between July 13 and Aug. 13, according to San Mateo County Health officials.
While COVID-19 conditions continue to improve in San Mateo County, health officials say breakthrough cases will likely become the norm as more people guard themselves against serious illness caused by the virus but community interactions remain high.
“That will be the new normal, that COVID is going to be here with us but with time the community prevalence will be much lower,” Deputy Health Officer Dr. Curtis Chan said.
Still, the figure only accounts for 18% of the total number of infections that occurred during the same period and unvaccinated people continue to be the most vulnerable to both infection, hospitalization and death, Chan noted.
“That vast majority is still in a small minority,” Chan said.
Since the start of the pandemic, more than 50,000 residents have tested positive for COVID-19, 2,582 just in the last 30 days, and 607 residents have died. In that time, between 40 and 50 people, predominantly the unvaccinated, have been hospitalized with COVID-related illnesses as well.
But conditions do appear to be improving according to state data released Tuesday which shows the county is experiencing an average of 10.4 new cases per 100,000 residents. Three weeks ago, that rate was 15.4 new cases per 100,000 residents with an 11.2 average the week after, translating to about 90 infections a day, reported Chief of Health Louise Rogers during a Board of Supervisors meeting last Tuesday.
Ultimately, the goal is to vaccinate as many residents as possible, preventing the virus from spreading to vulnerable residents or in large groups, Chan said.
To date, 628,409 people ages 12 and older have received at least one vaccine dose for more than 93% of those eligible. Pfizer is also expected to seek emergency federal approval by the end of September, potentially granting children as young as 5 access to its vaccine later this fall.
Though infection rates among children have also increased as the delta variant took hold of the region, those figures also appear to be decreasing, County Superintendent Nancy Magee said. Chan suggested the county’s rate of child COVID-19 infections is likely similar to those experiences in neighboring communities but credited robust school testing protocol for better identifying cases.
Magee echoed Chan’s praise for school district testing efforts and other safety measures, adding that campus spread of the virus is greatly limited. Since Aug. 15, more than 300 children have tested positive for COVID-19 in the county, Chan estimated, but the cases were mild and only 10 outbreaks, meaning at least three connected cases, have been identified.
Magee and Chan both shared hope that federal vaccine approval for children would create broader community protections into cooler winter seasons when illnesses are more common.
Regional health officers are also routinely reviewing conditions to determine when to lift COVID-19 mandates including an indoor masking requirement, Chan said. While masking mandates may be lifted in the future for specific low-contact groups, he said masking will likely remain a recommendation during holiday travel.
Chan also doubled down on his prediction that the holiday season this year would look far different than the last though masking and testing will likely remain recommendations.
“I believe our holidays this year should be much more joyous than last year,” Chan said. “The holidays will be much safer and we want to keep it safer by encouraging vaccinations.”
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