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Marin virus chief backs Newsom proof-of-vaccination, testing plan

In an effort to curb the rampaging Delta variant, Marin’s top public health official said Monday he backs a plan to require all health care workers to verify they’ve been vaccinated against the coronavirus or to undergo regular testing.

The verification system, announced Monday by Gov. Gavin Newsom, applies to both public and private health care centers — as well as all 238,000 state employees.

“We completely support this policy and will be working to help our providers implement this in Marin,” Dr. Matt Willis, the Marin County public health officer. “The real message is to get vaccinated if you work with vulnerable people.”

Newsom’s order, which goes into effect Aug. 9, means that if state employees or health care workers continue to choose to remain unvaccinated, they will be subject to testing once or twice weekly. The unvaccinated workers will also be required to wear N95 masks. Vaccines are not being mandated.

“Regular testing of unvaccinated health care workers mitigates risk by making it more likely we’ll identify infection before it spreads to coworkers and patients,” Willis said. “That’s helpful, but being vaccinated is a far better way to be protected and protect others.”

Newsom’s order means health care and state workers will no longer be allowed to “self-attest” that they had the shots.

“We’re here at an important juncture in the history of this pandemic,” Newsom said at a news conference at a Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland. “Because too many people have chosen to live with this virus, we’re at a point in this pandemic where individuals’ choice not to get vaccinated is now impacting the rest of us and in a profound and devastating and deadly way.”

The new requirement comes amid a sharp upturn in COVID-19 case rates, mostly among those who have not been vaccinated. According to the California Department of Public Health, the daily case rate per 100,000 people is about 2 for the vaccinated and 14 for the unvaccinated.

Newsom said close to 75% of Californians have had at least one dose of a vaccine.

In Marin, where the vaccination rate is the highest of any county statewide, the daily case rate as of Sunday was about 4.5 per 100,000 people for the vaccinated and 16.3 for the unvaccinated. The total average daily case rate is about 7.6 per 100,000.

More than 85% of Marin’s 12-and-over population is fully vaccinated. Nonetheless, there were 258 active cases confirmed in the most recent two-week period, more than five times the number reported in mid-June.

In early June, for example, Marin had 2 cases or fewer per 100,000 residents, allowing the county to move into what was then the less-restrictive yellow tier.

Over the weekend, Marin officials announced the first COVID-19 death of a county resident since mid-May. The resident had not been vaccinated against COVID-19 and died July 21 after being admitted to a hospital with respiratory symptoms.

“It’s especially hard to see people dying from COVID-19 when we know how preventable it is,” Willis said. “We’re sharing this information so our community sees it’s not safe to be unvaccinated.”

The fatality was the 186th in Marin during the pandemic. The county did not release additional information about the patient.

All the Marin County residents who have died from COVID-19 have been unvaccinated.

“This latest death has two lessons for us,” Willis said. “The first is how good the Delta variant is at finding unvaccinated people, and the second is that unvaccinated people lack protection against severe illness and death.”

Information on vaccines is online at GetVaccinatedMarin.org. Daily pandemic data are at coronavirus.marinhhs.org.

Bay Area News Group contributed to this report.

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