After a summer surge in COVID-19 cases, San Mateo County officials shared strong optimism for the continued improvement in pandemic health conditions while also taking a stand against vaccine and virus misinformation they say is prolonging the crisis.

“We’re coming through this and all signs point to our turning the corner on the fourth surge in California and in the Bay Area, including in San Mateo County,” Chief of Health Louise Rogers said during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

The number of county residents contracting the virus has steadily decreased week to week and is now at eight new cases per 100,000 residents a day for a daily average of 62 cases, Rogers said.

Hospitalizations have also continued in a downward trend with hospitalizations ranging between 10 and 25 over the last seven days. The latest hospitalization number was 10 with four people in the intensive care unit.

The county’s vaccination rate is also still slowly improving. As of Monday, 94.6% of eligible residents ages 12 and older have received at least one dose. When accounting for all county residents eligible and not, the rate is closer to 82%.

Officials have been monitoring the pandemic figures as they grapple with whether to remove an indoor masking mandate instituted during the peak of the recent surge caused by the delta variant. County Health spokesperson Preston Merchant said a statement related to the mandate is expected to be released this week.

“Even as our overall metrics improve, we continue to urge COVID-19 vaccination for all who are eligible, that this is the most important action to take to protect oneself, one’s loved ones and our community,” Rogers said, noting the grave risk the delta variant still poses for the unvaccinated.

The Pfizer Inc. vaccine is expected to receive emergency federal approval by next month for children as young as 5 years old after federal support for booster shots was issued recently for select groups.

Mass vaccination clinic

County Health officials say they’re prepared to respond to the additional need. Starting this Thursday, the county will be relaunching a mass vaccination clinic at the San Mateo County Event Center where people needing a booster shot or first or second Pfizer dose can be treated.

People ages 65 and older, those living in congregate care facilities and people ages 50 to 64 with underlying health conditions or experiencing social inequities are recommended to get a booster shot at least six months after their second Pfizer dose.

People ages 18 to 49 with underlying health conditions and people at increased risk of infection due to occupational or institutional settings may also receive a booster at least six months after their second dose.

“Access is not a challenge for those who are recommended for the third Pfizer booster dose,” Dr. Anand Chabra, section chief of mass vaccinations, said. “There’s plenty of supply.”

Despite the county’s strong vaccination progress, rates among some communities have trailed behind the county average. Black, Hispanic, Pacific Islander and mixed-race communities and the areas of Broadmoor, El Granada, Loma Mar and Moss Beach are still below the 80% vaccination rate goal set by County Health.

Chabra said the percentages are likely an undercount of the actual number of people in those groups who have been vaccinated given the number of people who were categorized as either “unknown” or of “other race” when being vaccinated.

About 36,000 eligible residents are left to be reached, Chabra said, noting the figure is down by 4,000 since last week’s report.

Health misinformation

Supervisors pointed to misinformation as a reason some remain hesitant to access COVID-19 vaccine shots. With a unanimous vote Tuesday, they passed a resolution declaring health misinformation a public health crisis.

David Canepa, president of the board, lambasted celebrities, politicians and public figures for spreading additional false information. He encouraged those who remain hesitant around vaccinations to speak with a medical professional.

“Lies and myths about the COVID vaccine are costing lives and that’s not an opinion,” Canepa said in a press release after the vote. “This is a national public health crisis and I urge everyone to get information about the vaccine from trusted sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and not from social media influencers.”

Since early on in the pandemic, Health officials have worked with various local partners to dispel myths and false information about the virus and vaccine in culturally sensitive ways. In July, U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy issued an advisory warning of the “urgent threat” misinformation poses in overcoming the pandemic.

Supervisor Don Horsley, who sponsored the item with Canepa, also highlighted the fatal toll COVID-19 has cost the nation while acknowledging the long history of vaccinations in the country against various diseases, some of which have been eradicated due to medical advancements.

“Millions of people in the United States and millions of people throughout the world have been vaccinated and the people who are vaccinated are relatively safe and the people who are unvaccinated are not,” Horsley said. “So the idea that there isn’t sufficient information about the vaccine is simply incorrect.”

Visit the County Health website at smchealth.org/post/booster-shots-third-doses for more information on booster shots, vaccine appointments and other information.

sierra@smdailyjournal.com

(650) 344-5200 ext. 106

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