MARIN COUNTY (CBS SF) – Although Marin County’s COVID-19 cases are rising again, there are some key differences between that surge and the last one: more vaccines, fewer deaths, and fewer serious illnesses.
At a county board meeting Tuesday, Marin County’s public health officer Matt Willis presented new statistics and asked questions about vaccines, testing and the reopening of schools.
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The county is well into its fourth wave of COVID-19, said Willis, which is mainly powered by the county’s more contagious Delta variant and unvaccinated residents. However, there are only 11 COVID-19 patients in the district hospitals. The last time the falls were this high it was about 45, Willis said.
After first appearing in the county in mid-April, the Delta variant quickly rose to account for 100 percent of the samples tested from July 11 to August 1, Willis said. Although the Federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say the Delta variant is about twice as transmissible as other strains due to a larger number of virus particles and longer duration of infection, it has not been shown to cause more serious illnesses.
All forms of COVID-19 continue to pose a threat to those who have not been vaccinated, but Willis said that despite the spread of the Delta variant, vaccinated people continue to experience mild, if any, symptoms.
Acquiring immunity from prior exposure to COVID-19, on the other hand, is not as successful. Infection can lead to different amounts of the virus, Willis explained, resulting in “very different” antibody rates. That variance can result in different levels of immunity while the vaccine delivers an equal dose each time, he said.
Although 94.2 percent of the residents of the district over 12 have received at least one dose and 87 percent are fully vaccinated, the reluctance, especially among black residents, persists. Currently, 20 percent of Marin’s black residents have not yet received a single dose of the vaccine, but Willis told the board that vaccination rates among black residents rose the highest in the past month compared to other races.
Vaccination is especially important during the recent surge in cases, Willis said, as unvaccinated people account for 95 percent of hospital admissions and 100 percent of deaths in the county.
One of the largest populations of unvaccinated residents in the county are children under the age of 12 who are still not eligible for the vaccine. This is a particular concern in view of the 2021-2022 school year, which is set to take place entirely in person.
A cornerstone of school safety during face-to-face contact is establishing public health links within schools that meet weekly to discuss issues and challenges, Willis said. Students must also wear masks and have a test indoors if they have COVID-19 symptoms.
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In a public comment, local residents expressed concerns about whether the vaccine could have long-term health effects and the effectiveness of home testing.
In both situations, Willis warned residents not to make the perfect the enemy of the good.
Although, given the freshness of the vaccine, it’s impossible to know if there might be long-term effects, Willis said the data collected through the U.S. Department of Health’s vaccine adverse event reporting system was despite nearly 200 million Americans who received at least one dose of vaccine have shown no serious concern.
The risk is particularly small compared to the likelihood of contracting COVID-19 and experiencing severe symptoms without the vaccine.
Willis also said that rapid at-home antigen tests, like the BinaxNOW COVID-19 test, are still effective tools despite some concerns about effectiveness. Rapid antigen tests are less sensitive to those with lower virus levels and occasionally give false negative results. However, Willis said that infectious people, as well as those infected with the Delta variant, have higher levels of the virus, making the tests an effective way to quickly measure infectivity.
The nasal swab polymerase chain reaction tests performed in laboratories are still the best option available, Willis said, and are available through community testing sites and healthcare providers. Due to the high demand, appointments for PCR testing in Marin County are required or highly recommended.
Willis concluded on a message to residents who may view rising case numbers as criticism of the vaccine’s effectiveness. With cases increasing in unvaccinated and even some vaccinated individuals, Willis emphasized the importance of vaccinating to prevent serious illness and death.
“We recognize and acknowledge that vaccinated people are infected and can infect others, but that is actually a reason for everyone to get vaccinated,” he said.
Residents can learn more about Marin County’s response to COVID-19 and monitor data such as cases, hospital admissions, and vaccines by visiting https://coronavirus.marinhhs.org/.
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