The people of Marin County, who have obeyed the rules as faithfully as any jurisdiction in America, remain stuck in what is shaping up to be another pandemic limbo year with uncertain twists ahead.
Last week, county health officials changed the mask rules in Marin to align with the more strict state rules. Marin residents now must return to wearing masks in all indoor spaces.
The guidance came as the Omicron variant picked up steam, sending COVID-19 case rates rising rapidly.
“Effective at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 30,” a health department press release said, p”revious local face covering exemptions carved out for indoor spaces with consistent cohorts of fully vaccinated people will no longer apply. Now, all people in Marin County, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear a mask in all indoor public settings, in accordance with the state-wide mandate. This includes gyms, fitness centers, office settings, employee commuter vehicles, religious gatherings, college classes, and similar settings.”
The first case of Omicron variant in Marin was identified on Dec. 17. Since then, average daily COVID-19 case counts have tripled, fueled by the highly contagious Omicron variant. On Dec. 28, 338 new cases were reported, exceeding the prior highest daily case count by more than 100 cases.
“When we see numbers like this, it’s time to respond,” said Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer. “The mask exemption for certain settings was a pre-Omicron policy. This variant behaves differently, and the risk of infection in a room full of vaccinated people who are unmasked is much higher now.”
The good news with Omicron comes in hospitalization rates. Hospitalization rates for COVID-19 infections have remained stable across Marin. That is attributed to Marin County’s very high vaccination rate; 92.1% of Marin’s population aged 5 and over has completed a COVID-19 vaccine series. Still, health authorities said they were concerned that hospitalization rates could increase significantly this week if case counts continue to rise at current rates.
COVID-19 vaccines, including booster doses, continue to offer the most effective protection against hospitalization and death from all variants of COVID-19 circulating in the Bay Area.
The county said the vaccines and boosters are “safe, free, and effective.”
Meanwhile, the Marin County statistics as of Tuesday (Dec. 28) the death toll has risen to 200, that’s an increase of two from the week before. While there were 267 new cases of COVID-19 reported, hospitalizations increased by only two with zero COVID-19 patients in ICU.
Some national scientists say that Omicron cases will top out next week.
“Omicron will likely be quick. It won’t be easy, but it will be quick. Come the early spring, a lot of people will have experienced COVID,” William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said last Thursday.
In San Francisco, Dr. Bob Wachter, chair of medicine at UCSF, tweeted that the number of patients admitted into the university’s hospital system more than doubled from 20 people to 45 in the span of 10 days.
“Be super careful — it’s raining COVID,” Wachter tweeted.
On the travel front, getting in and out of the Bay Area by air remained gummed up over the holidays. Omicron took its toll on staff at airlines and airports. About 7% of the flights in and out of SFO were canceled. It might get worse as the FAA warned that it may not have enough staff to monitor air traffic in the new year.
As for school in Marin, children returned to school this week. But to return, students and staff had to pass a home COVID-19 test.
Officials said they expected about 1-2% of staff and students to test positive, which under new guidelines requires them to quarantine for five days.
By doing this, health officials said they hope to start school without a big outbreak that could interrupt the education of children.