Marin County is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the highly contagious Omicron BA.2 variant. Since the first week of April, when BA.2 became the dominant strain in Marin, case rates have tripled. As with prior surges, this has led to outbreaks in schools, long-term care facilities and correctional institutions. Virus levels in wastewater confirm COVID-19 activity is increasing across the county.
Marin County Public Health attributes the current surge to two main factors—the characteristics of the newly emerging Omicron variants and the behavior of the community.
“Each variant is different,” said Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer. “We’re learning in real-time about this new strain, and what it does and doesn’t do. It’s very good at infecting people, including those who are vaccinated. But it’s not sending vaccinated people to the hospital.”
The rise in COVID-19 cases has not been accompanied by a similar rise in hospitalizations for severe illnesses. Today there are no patients in intensive care for COVID-19 in any Marin hospital, and no deaths have been reported in over one month. Since the start of the pandemic, each major variant has been more contagious than the last. At the same time, high vaccination rates, and now access to treatments, have significantly reduced the impact on hospitalizations and deaths. Vaccination reduces the risk of death by 90 percent, and treatment reduces the risk by an additional 90 percent. For the first time since the pandemic began, a goal of zero COVID deaths may be within reach.
People who were infected in the past and who are up to date with vaccination have more powerful immunity, acquired from infection and vaccine, and local data shows they are even better protected. This may explain why communities and regions with historically lower infection rates, such as the Bay Area, are seeing more cases now.
Marin County Public Health is committed to a balanced response to this surge and is focused on protecting our most vulnerable residents against severe illness and death. Public Health recommends that those over age 60 who also have a medical condition that increases risk, residents of any age who are immunocompromised, and unvaccinated residents take the following precautions:
Prevent exposure to the virus: Consider avoiding non-essential indoor gatherings while transmission levels in the community remain high. If attending an indoor gathering, or in any indoor public setting, wear a well-fitted KN-95 or N-95 mask.
Get up to date with your vaccines: Being fully up to date with vaccinations is the most important protection against serious illness.
Seek treatment if needed: Test for COVID if symptomatic (including allergy-like symptoms). If positive, promptly contact your healthcare provider to determine if you would benefit from COVID-19 treatment. Prescriptions for COVID treatments can be filled at most pharmacies across Marin.
The Omicron BA.2 variant is estimated to be at least 25 percent more infectious than the BA.1 strain and is better able to evade immune defenses against infection. Still, vaccinated individuals remain highly protected against serious illness. Among Marin County residents data show that vaccination reduces risk of hospitalization by 94 percent.
“The virus is changing, and our approach needs to shift as well,” said Dr. Willis. “It’s increasingly likely most of us will have a date with COVID if we haven’t yet. The key is to be vaccinated and boosted before that happens, so we don’t end up seriously ill. Plus we need to rally to prevent infections among the most vulnerable, and make sure they have access to treatment.”
Prior to attending any gathering, Marin County Public Health recommends everyone seek same-day rapid antigen testing. People who test positive should stay at home and isolated, which further decreases the risk of asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic transmission to vulnerable residents.
Learn more about current COVID-19 activity in Marin County at https://coronavirus.marinhhs.org/