• Kevin Hessel

Marin advances to less-restrictive pandemic tier

Update: Marin County was officially assigned to yellow tier-4 status on June 1.


May 31 — Marin was facing its last chance this week to gradually relax pandemic restrictions on business and social activities ahead of the state’s uniform June 15 reopening, when California will eliminate its tiered county-by-county system and end capacity and physical-distancing rules in most public settings.


In his weekly update to the Board of Supervisors, county Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis noted Marin on June 1 was to either advance into the yellow tier — which would allow bars to reopen indoors for the first time in more than a year and gym capacity to increase to 50 percent from 25 percent, among other relaxed capacity restrictions — or remain stuck in the orange tier until the full statewide reopening.


But, he said, he believed the county will be ready to move forward with the state: Marin is the most highly vaccinated county in the nation among those with 250,000 or more residents; some 75 percent of county residents are expected to be fully protected against COVID-19 by mid-June; active case rates have fallen to levels not seen since the early days of the pandemic; and some 93 percent of the county’s new cases are among those who are fully unvaccinated.


Under the state’s color-coded four-tier blueprint to reopening the economy, Marin has been in the third, or orange, tier denoting moderate transmission of the coronavirus. Several times the county has earned one week of credit toward advancing to the fourth, yellow tier indicating minimal transmission but has seen a second-week regression that prevented the move.


As of the state’s March 24 assessment of county metrics, Marin had again earned its first week of yellow-tier credit with a seven-day-average adjusted new daily case rate of 1.7 per 100,000 residents, when less than two new daily cases per 100,000 residents is required. The county’s seven-day-average test-positivity rate was 0.7 percent, when less than 2 percent is required, and its test-positive rate among the county’s most vulnerable quintile of residents was 1.7 percent, when less than 2.2 percent is required.


If Marin remained on pace for the state’s May 31 assessment and June 1 tier assignment — both after The Ark’s press deadline — the county was to be re-assigned to the yellow tier.


It was Marin’s last chance to advance because of a state requirement that a county must qualify for the next tier for two consecutive weeks. Marin wouldn’t be able to earn yellow-tier status again until June 15, the same day the state will eliminate its tier system and weekly assessments — and eliminate capacity limits and physical-distancing requirements in most public settings.


When that happens, large venues like pro sporting events and stage performances will no longer have capacity limits, but a vaccine verification or a negative test will be required for indoor events with more than 5,000 people and be recommended for outdoor events with more than 10,000 people.


Marin will also join California that day in adopting the U.S. Centers for Disease Control masking guidance, which for unvaccinated people requires masks indoors in public areas away from the home and outdoors in crowds.


Masking requirements would be eliminated for those fully protected by the vaccine — those two weeks past completing their one-dose Johnson & Johnson or two-dose Pfizer or Moderna vaccine series — except on public transit and flights and when visiting health-care facilities.


The distinction between completing the vaccine series and being fully protected is mostly a social one, as CDC, state and local guidelines that allow for mask removal apply to people who are two weeks past their final dose. Venues that limit entry based on vaccination status may require a negative test result for those who have completed the series but haven’t reached the two-week milestone. On the science, protection is significant two weeks after even a single dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine — up to 80 percent. That climbs to more than 90-percent protection two weeks after the second dose, with even greater protection against serious illness or death.


A CDC study released May 25 said there have been just 10,262 so-called breakthrough cases among 101 million fully protected Americans, a rate of just .01 percent. Among those who fell ill, 10 percent were hospitalized and 2 percent died — meaning roughly .001 percent of those fully vaccinated were hospitalized and .0002 percent died.


Willis said he expects some 75 percent of all Marin residents will be fully protected by the June 15 reopening, which he described as a level of herd immunity that includes the lowest case counts, hospitalizations and deaths in the past year.


As of The Ark’s early holiday press deadline May 28, some 86.7 percent of Marin residents older than 12 had received at least one dose and 73.8 percent had completed the series, while 62 percent of all residents were fully protected.


Though widely reported as having already occurred, California isn’t expect to reach 50-percent full vaccination until just before the state reopens. Some 50.5 percent of Californians 12 and older had completed their vaccine series by May 27, according to state figures, but as full immunity doesn’t occur until two weeks after the series is completed, that figure reflects future full immunity of those 12 and older as of about June 11. As of May 27, roughly 39 percent of all California residents were at the two-week point.


Reach Executive Editor Kevin Hessel at 415-435-2652 and on Facebook at fb.me/thearknewspaper.

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