After a summer of surging COVID-19 cases and a monthslong push to vaccinate as many eligible San Mateo County residents as possible, health officials signaled optimism as infections begin to fall and vaccine progress trickles on.
“If we raise our vaccination rate, protect ourselves and others with masking and expanded tested and identify people who have been infected, we can and we will turn the tide on COVID-19,” Chief of Health Louise Rogers said during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
Roughly 50,270 county residents have tested positive for the virus with nearly 3,000 infections occurring in the last 30 days. The summer spike in cases is largely due to the spread of the more infectious delta variant but assertions from officials that conditions would improve by October appear to be coming true.
According to state data on a seven-day lag, the county is experiencing about 90 new cases a day or 11.5 new cases per 100,000 residents. The figures are a drop from those reported last week which put the county at an average of 121 new cases a day.
Hospitalizations have also slightly decreased from an average of 50 patients seeking medical treatment to about 40.
Rather than aim to fully eliminate the virus, Rogers said County Health is instead focused on vaccinating residents to reduce the potential for severe health problems.
“We continue to see steady progress in San Mateo County in closing the vaccine reach gaps while also recognizing we have more work to do together with the support of the actions of the federal government,” Rogers said. “The goal is really more at this point about eliminating the grave disease and disability resulting from the spread of the virus than it is about eliminating the virus altogether.”
To date, 623,627 residents have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose for nearly 93% of eligible residents ages 12 and older. Still, progress is left to be done to achieve the county’s goal of vaccinating at least 80% of every community by the year’s end with about 45,000 eligible residents still unvaccinated.
Areas of focus include Broadmoor, El Granada, Loma Mar and Moss Beach, Dr. Anand Chabra, section chief of COVID-19 mass vaccination, said. Officials are also aiming to boost vaccinations among Latino, Black, mixed-race and Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander residents with vaccination rates ranging between 55% and 63%.
County Health has frequently looked to trusted partners for support with the vaccine effort, a move officials have doubled down on in recent weeks, Chabra said. Attention has been directed at Latino supermarkets and high school campuses and officials have engaged with various faith leaders.
Census data are also being used to better identify communities with low vaccination rates within areas of strong progress, Rogers said. Once an area with lower rates is spotted, the county then reaches out to local nonprofits to partner on smaller popup vaccine events, 68 of which have either been completed or are coming up, she said.
Board President David Canepa encouraged staff to also host popup clinics in those areas on their own if a partner is unavailable.
Two additional county-sponsored clinics will also be added along the coast and in the south county, at Coastside Hope in El Granada and the Ravenswood Gateway Retail Center in East Palo Alto.
“We really are eager to meet the need wherever there is demand,” Rogers said, encouraging supervisors to contact local partners in their district who may be interested in popup clinics as well.
While work is still needed, some progress has been made in hard-to-reach areas, Rogers said in her opening remarks to the board. Chabra noted both North Fair Oaks and East Palo Alto are now more than 80% vaccinated.
Teens ages 12 to 15 have also surpassed the 80% marker. County Superintendent Nancy Magee said her staff is working to verify the vaccination status of employees as mandated by the state.
With all districts now returned to in-person instruction, Magee said faculty has been focused on implementing various safety measures including hand washing, improved ventilation and modified quarantine.
Unvaccinated staff are required to be tested weekly. Increased testing has also enabled districts to better respond when a student or staff member tests positive for the virus.
“We’re ensuring that our workforce is both protected and protecting our students,” Magee said.
Cases have been spotted within the first few weeks of instruction but Magee said spread was not occurring within school settings. Though a county-wide dashboard on school campuses infections has not been developed, she said her office would work with County Health to include a link to the Office of Education website where links to each district’s COVID-19 data dashboards are or will be available.
Visit the County Health website at smchealth.org/coronavirus for more information on vaccines, testing and other safety measures and mandates.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 106