In the span of two weeks, hospitalizations related to COVID-19 have over tripled in San Mateo County, driving concerns among officials who noted the county is “buying time” until a vaccine can be widely distributed.
“What the hospitals continue to plan for is the staffing needed at every level,” Deputy Chief of Health Srija Srinivasan said during a remote press briefing. “[It’s about] how do we make sure we don’t tax them any more than necessary.”
Currently, 72 patients are receiving care in hospitals across the county due to the virus, 18 of which within the ICU. For weeks up until late November, the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in the county steadily remained in the low 20s, dipping into its lowest points in early November since the pandemic began.
“We do have surge beds and we’ve been planning for this but we don’t want to be overtaken. We’re trying to head this off before we get there,” said County Manager Mike Callagy, noting the San Mateo County Event Center has capacity to hold more than 100 additional patients.
The surge in cases, nearly infecting 15,000 San Mateo County residents to date, has predominantly been attributed to gatherings among different households, said Callagy, noting the trend has been represented in all ethnic groups, though steeper spikes have been detected among white and Asian populations.
Fatalities from the virus have most frequently occurred among white residents who account for 80 of the county’s 170 deaths, followed by Latino residents with 40 deaths and Asian residents at 39.
Srinivasan said health experts are working to dissect data collected over the past two weeks, adding that cases have not been fully shouldered by underserved communities. Since COVID-19 struck the region in mid-March, the Latino community has been an area of focus for officials who recognized the population was at greatest risk of infection and was contracting the virus at higher rates than other ethnic demographics.
Today, Latino’s represent nearly half of all 14,812 infections reported in the county, at 7,290 cases. Younger residents ages 20 to 39 have also been a group of concern, accounting for nearly 6,000 infections.
San Mateo County was moved into the state’s most restrictive purple tier, effective Sunday, Nov. 29, after reporting a daily new case average of more than 15 cases per every 100,000 residents, resulting in an adjusted case rate of 7.6 new cases per 100,000 residents.
Now in the purple tier, places of worship, movie theaters, restaurants, gyms and museums are limited to outdoor operations only while shopping malls and retailers may open to 25% capacity. Nonessential gatherings and businesses must also end by 10 p.m. to honor a purple tier curfew though residents are permitted to go outside alone or with others from their household. The seven-hour curfew ends at 5 a.m. each morning and will expire on Dec. 21.
Callagy said county officials are awaiting news of additional restrictions following a suggestion Gov. Gavin Newsom floated during a press conference Monday of possibly reinstating a statewide shelter-in-place order.
Casting a stronger stance against health order violations, Callagy said the county’s enforcement task force has shifted away from warning business owners of violations toward writing citations. Nearly 750 complaints have been filed against establishments, he said, but no figures on how many businesses had received citations were available.
The crew was created to help educate businesses on health orders and bring establishments into compliance but commercial violators of health guidelines could be susceptible to a maximum fine of $3,000. Repeat offenders may also face criminal prosecution.
“Sacrifices have been made and we’ve lost so many people. It’s time to really bear down and get through these next few weeks or so before we see trends change,” said Callagy. “We’re trying to buy time for vaccination to get here to be rolled out in some fashion. … We’re heading into darker days but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
The light, Callagy said, is predominantly emanating from news two U.S.-based life science companies, Pfizer and Moderna, each had developed promising vaccines which would be administered in two doses 21 days apart. Previously, Srinivasan said medical professionals in close contact with COVID-19 treatment could begin receiving their first round of doses around the end of December. General public access to the vaccine would likely take months, according to local and national experts.
Until a vaccine is made available, and well into its distribution, officials implored residents to remain vigilant in washing their hands, wearing face coverings, socially distancing from others and getting tested.
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