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Marin recovers from fourth COVID-19 wave

Marin County has moved past its fourth wave of COVID-19 cases, but public health officials are already looking ahead to Halloween and cooler fall weather with some dread.

“We are seeing significant decreases in COVID-19 activity in our community,” Dr. Lisa Santora, Marin County’s deputy public health officer, told Marin County supervisors Tuesday morning.

Santora said Marin was the first county in the state to move into the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “moderate” category, based on its coronavirus case rate.

As of Sept. 10, Marin had a rate of 9.8 cases per 100,000 residents per day. Marin is following the CDC’s recommendations for mitigation strategies, which vary depending on the level of transmission in communities.

Santora said Marin will participate in an Association of Bay Area Health Officials meeting this week to discuss adoption of consistent thresholds for adjusting mitigation strategies such as the county’s indoor masking mandate.

Santora cautioned that case rates in Marin had edged up again since Labor Day. She said it wouldn’t take many new infections to push Marin back into the CDC’s “substantial” transmission category.  By Tuesday afternoon, the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker showed that Marin had already slipped back to the substantial category.

Santora said, “We are preparing for a post-Halloween fifth wave. History does repeat itself. We saw increased risk for COVID transmission last year as temperatures cooled and people moved indoors and started celebrating. We’re hoping for it to be a much smaller, shorter fifth wave.”

Santora said Marin quelled its fourth surge more quickly than other counties in the state due to its high vaccination rate.

Currently, just over 90% of Marin residents age 12 and older are fully immunized, and 97% of residents in this same category have received at least one vaccine dose. The 39,793 Marin residents who remain unvaccinated include residents 11 and younger who have not received authorization for vaccinations.

Santora said approvals for pediatric vaccinations are not expected before late October, but she said public health, with the assistance of the Marin County Office of Education and the Marin Medical Reserve Corps, will be prepared to launch pediatric vaccination clinics as early as Oct. 28. She said vaccination teams will visit school campuses. The goal will be to vaccinate 75% of eligible youths within the first month.

“This is a critical population,” Santora said. “It’s one of our largest reservoirs of unvaccinated individuals.”

Santora said the number of people being hospitalized due to COVID-19 in Marin has increased, and those being hospitalized are younger than the Marin residents sent to the hospital before vaccines became available, but 90% of Marin hospitalizations have involved unvaccinated individuals. Marin’s case rate among just its unvaccinated residents is about 28 cases per 100,000 residents per day.

“The hardest part of my day,” Santora said, “is looking at who is in the hospital and seeing that a majority of those hospitalizations would have been prevented by vaccination.”

Santora said the department is seeing waning immunity among the vaccinated and breakthrough cases consistently.

“We also need to be prepared for new variants,” she said. “That may influence the peak of that fifth wave.”

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