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San Mateo County Health's Street & Field Medicine team works in partnership with community organization Puente to provide vaccinations in Pescadero.

With the spread of COVID-19 decreasing in San Mateo County, health officials say the county could move into the state’s least restrictive tier next week along with other neighboring Bay Area counties after having remained in the orange tier for weeks.

“Like some of the neighboring counties, we have the possibility of moving forward May 4 but not today,” Chief of Health Louise Rogers said during a Board of Supervisors meeting Tuesday.

As of Tuesday, the state reported the county as having an adjusted case rate of two new cases for every 100,000 residents, a positivity rate of 0.9% and a Health Equity Metric, a figure indicating the spread of COVID in underserved communities, of 1.4%.

To move into the yellow tier the county will need its adjusted case rate to fall below two new cases. Infections have steadily been on the decline with 15 people currently being hospitalized with the virus, four in the ICU.

The move would allow hotels and gyms to open to 50% capacity and to reopen hot tubs, saunas and steam rooms, capacity limits would be lifted on museums and zoos and restaurants would be permitted to open at 50% without a 200-person limit.

Vaccine progress

Progress has also been on the vaccine front despite reduced shipments of doses into the county. To date, 406,209 residents have received at least one vaccine dose, accounting for 63.2% of the county’s population ages 16 and older.

Nearly 90% of residents ages 75 and older have been vaccinated and more than 80% of those 65 and older. More than 380 long-term care facilities have also completed first dose clinics through a federal program with commercial pharmacies Walgreens and CVS. Second clinics have also been held at all but four facilities.

Dr. Anand Chabra, the section chief of COVID-19 mass vaccination and medical director of Family Health Services, told supervisors the aggressive federal program is coming to an end but the county would assist any unvaccinated facilities or those still needing second doses.

Rogers applauded the effort, noting that COVID-19 cases have not been reported out of long-term care facilities in over a month. County Health will continue monitoring the facilities as the federal program ends, she said.

“The progress in long-term care, protecting our older adults really has been one of the major milestones of the response to the pandemic,” Rogers said.

Vaccine hurdles

Despite having made progress in slowing the spread of the virus and inoculating the public, Chabra noted the county has faced hurdles. State allocations to all counties are still being cut by a third due to federal supply constraints, giving San Mateo County 11,180 doses for first- and second-dose clinics last week.

The allocation is down from the 11,650 doses received two weeks ago but Chabra said many vaccinating entities are receiving shipments directly from the California Department of Public Health, accounting for the change.

Pausing the use of Johnson & Johnson, or Janssen, doses have also slowed the county’s vaccination efforts, said Chabra. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Federal Drug Administration called for the doses to be held following blood clot complications in six women out of the 6.8 million doses administered, he said.

Frustrated by the low number of doses being shipped into the county, Board of Supervisors President David Canepa questioned the health officials about the discrepancies between the number of doses the county has received compared to Santa Clara County.

He suggested the state could be penalizing San Mateo County for having made strong progress with its mass vaccination events, having launched clinics at both the San Mateo County Event Center and the San Francisco International Airport.

County Manager Mike Callagy agreed with Canepa’s assertion and criticized the state’s partnership with the Oakland insurance agency Blue Shield, now responsible for vaccine distribution.

“I think that we are being overlooked in some way,” Callagy said. “I don’t think this move to Blue Shield has helped in the way that they imagined it would. We still have no insight into week over week how many doses we’re going to get so it impacts our planning. I just don’t think it’s been very helpful to date.”

Rogers assured the board the county was receiving proportionate doses when compared to each counties’ population, noting Santa Clara County receives 2.5 times what San Mateo County receives but also has a population about 2.5 times bigger.

When more doses are made available to the county, she said staff is prepared to mobilize mass vaccination clinics. Canepa noted Santa Clara County is currently hosting mass vaccination events but Rogers said a higher percentage of San Mateo County residents have been vaccinated.

“I don’t think we’re being penalized by our success. I think that the state is really struggling, as is Blue Shield, on how to meet the needs,” Rogers said.

Continued vaccine efforts

In the meantime, the health officials said the county will continue offering targeted clinics in underserved communities. Six first-dose clinics will be held in Daly City, East Palo Alto, North Fair Oaks, San Mateo, South San Francisco and La Honda. Second-dose clinics will also be held.

Ravenswood Family Health Center in East Palo Alto will also be offering 1,200 first doses on Saturday, April 24. Stanford’s Redwood City campus will continue its weekly clinics, Chabra said.

An additional 60 restaurant workers will be vaccinated through a new county partnership with Lucky Supermarkets in Daly City.

Officials are also focused on vaccinating 2,135 homebound residents identified through multiple aging and adult services sources, Health Plan of San Mateo membership records, the county’s vaccine notification tool and other referrals. More than 52% have been vaccinated, Chabra said.

As more residents get vaccinated, Rogers highlighted the importance for all to continue practicing safety measures like wearing a mask and sanitizing while also encouraging the public to continue getting tested for the virus.

“Testing remains important,” Rogers said, noting free testing is available through the county. “It’s important for us to understand the prevalence of the virus in our community and it’s important for us to prevent the spread.”

Visit the County Health website at smchealth.org/covid-19-vaccination-program-overview for more information on accessing a vaccine.

sierra@smdailyjournal.com

(650) 344-5200 ext. 106

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