Marin County’s COVID-19 incidence has moved to yellow, meaning “moderate” transmission, laying the groundwork for less stringent mask regulations, a public health official said Tuesday.
“We are the only county in the state that is currently at this level,” said Dr. Matt Willis. “If you look at the country, you will see that less than 1% of the counties are in yellow ‘moderate’ status.”
Willis said the virus transmission status, tracked by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention color-coding system, changed to yellow on Tuesday afternoon. This used to be a low orange or “substantial” level.
If the county manages to maintain yellow status for three weeks, Marin could cancel its mandate to use covered masks for all public spaces, according to a three-criteria list announced last week by Bay Area public health officials.
These three criteria are: three weeks at a “moderate” transmission rate; sustained low hospital admissions for COVID; and 80% of the total population in the county has been fully immunized. According to Willis, Marin has already met the last two criteria on the list.
However, according to him, the most difficult criterion will be the first criterion of stable underdrive.
“We expect there might be some swing back to orange,” he said. If this happens, the clock will be reset and Marin will have to start counting three weeks.
“It’s not cumulative,” he said. “It’s consistent.”
Willis attributed the progress in reducing transmission of the virus to the high vaccination rate in the county.
“We have seen a slow but steady decline since early August,” he told the county supervisory board in an open meeting on Tuesday.
As of Tuesday, 98% of Marina residents aged 12 and over have had at least one vaccination, and 92.3% are fully immunized. Of the 256,317 Marine population, including children under 12 who are not yet eligible for vaccination, 80% are fully vaccinated.
“We have the highest vaccination rate of any county in the state,” Willis said.
Starting Friday, Marin approved several selected local exemptions from the mandate for the use of home masks on August 3.
Exceptions apply to closed, controlled, private membership sites such as gyms, offices, college classrooms, or places of worship that do not serve the general public. Institutions must provide proof of 100% vaccination for all participants, visitors, students or workers. There are no exceptions for unvaccinated people.
Willis said residents visiting public places such as restaurants, shops or other businesses will still be required to wear masks indoors, in accordance with a mandate approved by Bay Area public health officials.
Also on Tuesday, the district announced that students at Marine Schools would no longer need to wear masks outdoors.
“Outdoor masks are now optional,” said Dr. Lisa Santora, the county’s deputy health officer, during a school webinar.
Parents who want their children to continue to camouflage outdoors can continue this practice, but this is not highly recommended as it has been in the past.
“We urge everyone to adopt someone else’s risk-aversion methods,” Santora said.
Willis and Santora said the county’s focus on COVID-19 is now focused on two areas: vaccination for children aged 5 to 11; and booster shots for residents 65 and older.
The Pfizer booster is now available, and Booster approval from Moderna and Johnson & Johnson is expected later this month. Flu shots can be given at the same time, which are encouraged, officials said.
Pfizer children’s vaccines are expected to be reviewed for FDA approval on October 26th. If that approval comes and other agencies follow, the pediatric vaccine could be available by October 29, Santora said.
Marin has already opened a mass vaccination facility at Novato High School for the weekend of October 30-31. More mass vaccination sites are planned for the coming weeks, as well as at selected schools and at the Northgate Mall in Terra Linda. Families can also contact pharmacies.
Parents of school-age children can attend an online discussion on pediatric vaccines with local health experts on Wednesday at 6:00 pm in English with translation into Spanish. The panel in Spanish with English translation will take place at 18:00 on 20 October.
Access information for the event is on the Rethinking Schools website on the Marin County Board of Education website.