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January 19, 2022 – Message from the Chief
Louise Rogers, chief, San Mateo County Health

Health Officer Updates Messages from the Chief

The Martin Luther King Jr. holiday we observed on Monday reminds us of the struggles and stamina so many before us endured to keep working toward a more just tomorrow. I draw strength from that perseverance in all that we are working through today. In Martin Luther King’s words: “We are in an inescapable network of mutuality. Whatever affects one directly, affects us all indirectly.”

This remains a very challenging period as you all are experiencing in which many lives are being disrupted by high transmission of the virus, imposing greater strains on hospitals and the 911 system, schools, child-care providers, law enforcement and almost every sector of the economy. There are ripple effects across communities, especially in those bearing higher virus exposure that occurs through work or living situations, which continues to disproportionately impact populations of color. We also see the many ways our residents are extending themselves and protecting each other to get through this difficult time. 

The Biden administration is making at-home antigen tests available to every household in America at with tests shipping within 12 days after being ordered. Testing demand continues to be high locally. You may find this refresh of the SMC public testing website and many improvements helpful. We have joined with emergency physician and healthcare leaders across our region urging that residents avoid going to emergency rooms for a COVID test. We have also advised residents with flu-like symptoms not to call 911 and instead consult with your primary care provider if experiencing mild symptoms and needing medical guidance.

We remain very humbled by all we cannot predict about the duration of this current surge, noting that reports of less Omicron presence in wastewater in Boston and other areas first hard hit, as well as in our region, may offer some continued intelligence but the current situation requires vigilance. Because hospitalizations lag behind cases by a couple of weeks and will likely still increase, we are maintaining focus on supporting our hospital and other hospital partners. The County increased from one to three hotels to support those who are COVID positive and unable to safely isolate at home. The priority for these rooms is those able to be discharged from the hospital but not able to return to a congregate setting as well as unhoused residents living in shelters. The number of residents protected in these hotel settings has been between 65 and 79 during the past week. We continue to urge vaccination and boosters, mask-wearing indoors, testing if symptoms and isolating if sick. 

Virus Transmission

The level of virus transmission climbed further with our 7-day lagged case rate average reported by the State yesterday at 217 cases per 100K in the population, compared to 116 a week ago. This is an average of 1,692 new COVID-19 cases per day compared to 905 new cases per day in last week’s data. Our current case activity keeps us in the CDC’s “high” level of community transmission. Test positivity rates countywide (17.6%) and in the Health Equity Quartile census tracts (25.1%) have increased in the 7-day lagged data that goes through January 9th. The testing level reported by the State yesterday (incorporating a 7-day lag) was 1,700 tests per day per 100K population.  Our lab dashboard shows that in several days during the last week, more tests have been administered than at any time since the pandemic began. 

As of yesterday, the census of hospitalized COVID-19 patients has increased and was 145 with similar levels each day this past week though thankfully still the census has not approached the highest levels we saw last winter over 200 and the proportion of patients hospitalized with COVID requiring ICU-level care is lower than what was experienced last winter. 

Vaccination Update

We are encouraged by the hundreds of families who have brought their 5–11-year-old to a school site to be vaccinated in the last week as we strive to close reach gaps in South San Francisco, East Palo Alto, and Belle Haven. Our countywide vaccination rate for 5-11-year-olds is 59% and our targeted community and school-based efforts in collaboration with San Mateo County Office of Education and an amazing group of school nurses has vaccinated approximately 2,100 kids (of which 1,500 were first doses) in 9 community and school-based vaccine clinics within the first weeks of January so far. This is in addition to targeted pediatric clinics hosted in the months of November and December and at the Event Center. Additional pediatric clinics are also scheduled for this week in Redwood City. We will continue to use data to assess where gaps in pediatric vaccination rates persist so we can strategically place future vaccine clinics.  Our overall County vaccination rate (including all eligible and ineligible residents) is currently at 88% for those who have received at least one dose and 80% for those who are fully vaccinated. As of January 17th, a total of 679,053 residents have received at least one shot. Kudos to the County Health staff who continue to engage, refer, and vaccinate our own patients/clients — we are now up to 76% of San Mateo Medical Center patients with at least one dose, 86% of Aging and Adult clients, and 83% of BHRS clients. 

The number of residents who have received a COVID-19 booster has now surpassed 350,000, and we want to see that all eligible residents receive a booster to maintain optimal protection. It is great to see that 77% (92,883) of the 65+ population that is fully vaccinated has received a booster. We continued to coordinate with various congregate facilities over the past few weeks to provide on-site boosters. In the last week, 8 additional congregate facilities were scheduled for on-site vaccination, and we continue to offer support to these high-risk settings as the need arises. 

While 2022 has not begun as any of us would wish, I remain grateful for the ways our residents and our frontline workers have persevered to protect our community and hopeful that this will be a year of more health for all. 

All Together Better,