Concern for unvaccinated San Mateo County residents persists as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to tick up amid high spread of the delta variant, leading officials to implore residents to wear face coverings and get vaccinated.

“We urge people to wear masks and protect each other. Protect those who are unvaccinated and may not understand that the risk is very present, the virus is circulating,” Deputy Chief of Health Srija Srinivasan said during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors.

After months of dropping COVID-19 figures, the delta variant has resulted in a spike of new cases, about 41 new cases a day after accounting for a seven-day reporting lag, Srinivasan said. The figure is 27 cases greater than reported to the board at last week’s supervisor meeting, she noted.

Hospitalizations have also increased from low single digits to between 12 and 16 patients. As of Monday, July 19, the county had 15 confirmed COVID-19 patients with one suspected and five in the ICU.

While vaccinated residents are at risk of contracting the virus, Dr. Anand Chabra, section chief of mass vaccination, said those who do often face “relatively mild cases.” Srinivasan noted unvaccinated residents or those not completely vaccinated account for a majority of cases and hospitalizations.

Roughly 79,000 residents make up the remaining 11% of residents eligible for a vaccine but still unvaccinated. Supervisor Warren Slocum suggested the county establish weekly goals for reaching the unvaccinated with the aim of inoculating 100% of the county’s population.

Proud of the county’s current vaccination rate of 89.7% for those ages 16 and older, County Manager Mike Callagy said reaching 90% was already a “stretch goal” but was open to revisiting higher aims.

“I’m happy to revisit that mark and set new goals as I think it does help push us and is informative,” Callagy said.

Srinivasan noted County Health remains focused on its vaccination rollout. About 5,000 residents were vaccinated last week through large health care providers, standing vaccination clinics and popup events, Chabra said.

Chabra said the county’s vaccine equity gap which measures vaccination rates of underserved communities compared to the county as a whole is also decreasing. After peaking at around 15%, the gap has now dropped to 12% as of last week.

Given increased concerns for contracting the more contagious variant, Srinivasan doubled down on a joint recommendation from Bay Area health officers last week which encouraged residents to wear face coverings when indoors regardless of vaccination status.

“This is out of an abundance of caution that all residents indoors could protect ourselves and those unvaccinated in public settings in which vaccination status could not otherwise be verified,” Srinivasan said.

In other business, supervisors approved the allocation of $2 million of federal American Rescue Plan Act funds to the San Mateo Credit Union Community Fund for the allocation of small business grants through the San Mateo County Strong Fund.

Supervisors approved another $500,000 for a Micro Food Business Grant Program to also be distributed through the San Mateo Credit Union. “Cottage food operators” will be eligible for $2,500 grants while $5,000 grants will be available for caterers, food trucks and food carts and $10,000 grants for commissaries and incubator kitchens.

An additional $238,000 was directed toward the county’s Environmental Health Services Division to operate a pilot Microenterprise Home Kitchen Operation Program. With an additional $62,500 of ARPA funds, staff will provide $2,500 grants to up to 25 eligible home-kitchen business owners who have struggled due to the pandemic.

Permit fees will also be waived during the duration of the two-year program. Board President David Canepa, who sponsored the measures with supervisors Don Horsley and Dave Pine, said the investments are part of the county’s efforts to support small businesses, hard hit by the pandemic, while reinvesting in the local economy.

“What we did today provides new economic opportunities for those who need them most including women, immigrants and people of color,” Canepa said in a press release. “This ordinance will allow them to come out of the shadows.”

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