By Eli Walsh. Bay City News
COVID-19 transmission levels remain high in San Mateo County, local health officials said Tuesday, and are likely to remain at a sustained level in the coming weeks.
Speaking to the county Board of Supervisors, San Mateo County Health officials said the emergence of sub-variants of the already highly contagious omicron variant keeps local and statewide transmission levels high.
The most recent sub-variants of note, BA.4 and BA.5, are now the dominant strains of the virus in California and are estimated to be much more contagious than earlier strains because of their apparent ability to evade antibody responses in those who have completed their initial vaccination series or have been previously affected, according to Harvard Medical School researchers.
While vaccination continues to provide high levels of protection against the worst outcomes of the virus, existing omicron variants are likely to keep COVID transmission levels high through the summer, according to Marc Meulman, director of public health, policy and health at SMC Health. planning.
"What we are finding is that as these sub-variants appear, one will outgrow the previous one because, in essence, they are more infectious," he said.
Meulman also noted that, for now, the emerging sub-variants are not causing severe disease in San Mateo County at rates similar to the earlier variants.
As such, COVID-related hospitalizations have remained relatively low and stable since the end of May, according to SMC's chief health officer, Louise Rogers, with a census of between 30 and 50 patients.
That level of hospitalization, and even fewer patients in intensive care because of the virus, has kept local hospitals and medical centers from being overwhelmed with patients for the time being, he said.
Rogers and Meulman suggested that hospitalization levels will be the barometer in the foreseeable future to determine whether the county sees sustained high levels of transmission or a sudden increase in new cases.
That is largely due to the prevalence of rapid home COVID testing, they said, which is very effective in confirming infections among symptomatic individuals.
However, the results of these tests are often not reported to the county, making it difficult to determine the true level of transmission from updated case counts alone.
"We've had some major events involving people coming together that could lead to a larger number of people," Rogers said, noting the Fourth of July.
"So, we would not be surprised to see those numbers increase, but the main message is that we are not worried about hospital capacity and we also see that people's experience with the virus is increasingly not a serious illness if they are vaccinated," he stressed.
Officials urged residents who have not yet done so to get vaccinated and, if eligible, at least a booster dose to protect against serious illness or death.
They also advised that residents continue to wear masks indoors, although it is not a requirement in most public spaces.
As of Monday, 84 percent of San Mateo County residents completed their initial vaccination series, while 62 percent of those 5 years and older received a booster dose.
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