• Kevin Hessel

Marin may relax more virus rules this week

Updated: Feb 23

Update: The state of California has now confirmed Marin may advance to the red tier effective Feb. 24.


Marin County is expected to advance to California’s red pandemic reopening tier as early as this week, which would expand indoor retail capacity and again allow for limited indoor dining, fitness, worship and movie theaters.


The move would come as the county has opened its first drive-through vaccination site, as Strawberry Safeway and other pharmacies began offering vaccines and as local COVID-19 case rates at senior facilities have plummeted, while California has relaxed restrictions on team youth and adult athletics and will set aside 10 percent of vaccines for educators to ramp up efforts to reopen schools.


Despite the progress, California and the rest of the nation are still facing vaccine supply shortages, both from limits in Pfizer and Moderna manufacturing rates and from severe winter storms in the Midwest and South that have impacted supply lines.


Ready for more reopenings?


Marin public-health officials last week said they expected California on Feb. 22, after The Ark’s press deadline, to assign the county to the second, or red, tier of the state’s four-tier, color-coded blueprint for reopening the economy. That would allow expanded business and personal activity in Marin to resume Feb. 23.



A move from the most-restrictive purple tier, indicating widespread transmission, to the red tier for substantial transmission would allow indoor retail and malls to expand to 50-percent capacity; indoor dining, worship, movie theaters, museums and zoos to reopen at 25-percent capacity; indoor gyms and fitness centers to reopen at 10-percent capacity; and wineries, family-entertainment centers and cardrooms to reopen outdoors only. Five days later, high schools would also be allowed to reopen.


The county would be allowed to move to the red tier under a new accelerated program for reopening. Typically, counties must remain in a tier for three weeks and qualify for the next tier for two weeks in order to progress to that next tier. Marin’s seven-day-average new-case rate of 8.9 per 100,000 residents is declining but still greater than the maximum of 7 per 100,000 to qualify for the red tier, which previously would have been enough to disqualify advancement.


However, Marin’s overall 2.4-percent test-positivity rate and 3.8-percent health-equity rate — test positivity among the county’s most disadvantaged residents — are both good enough when taken alone to qualify the county for orange tier-3 status, or moderate transmission. The accelerated program allows counties to move up by one tier, in Marin’s case from purple to red, as long as overall and health-equity test-positivity rates remain at least two tiers better for two consecutive weeks.


Marin was expected to meet those qualifications on Feb. 22.


Drive-thru site opens, but storms in Midwest, South cause delays


Marin fired up its drive-thru vaccination site Feb. 21 at the Larkspur ferry terminal, reserving shots for residents ages 65 and older — with an appointment and proof of age and residency required. During its “soft launch,” to last several weeks, the clinic will provide 200 vaccinations a day and hopes to ramp that up to 1,500 per day. The county’s other mass-vaccination site, at the Marin Center, can also accommodate 1,500 shots per day.


However, the Larkspur rollout hit an immediate hiccup, with vaccine supplies planned for the site delayed by severe storms that hit UPS and FedEx hubs in the Midwest and South that double as vaccine shipping hubs.


Those delays also forced appointment cancellations Feb. 18-19 at some sites that received their supplies from the county when vaccine shipments didn’t arrive. The ability to book new appointments at county clinics was also temporarily suspended but, as of The Ark’s press time, appointments were available this week at Marin Center.


The county had expected to receive nearly 13,000 doses this week from Pfizer and Moderna and instead will get fewer than 6,000 doses only from Pfizer. Dr. Lisa Santora, Marin’s deputy public health official, said the Pfizer doses are only coming to Marin because they were reallocated from other counties.


To date, nearly 70 percent of Marin residents 75 and older have been vaccinated, and more than 45 percent of those older than 65, according to Marin health officials.


Overall, more than 49,000 Marin residents have received at least one dose, or 19.1 percent of residents, with more than 22,000 of those also receiving their second dose.


Though Marin’s eligibility is 65 and up, Kaiser Permanente is continuing to focus only on it patients 75 and older.


Kaiser and MarinHealth Medical Center are contacting eligible patients individually when vaccines and appointments are available and request residents do not use online or phone appointment-booking services in order to keep the lines clear.


Sutter Health is offering its patients appointments online and by phone.


Paid-membership-based One Medical is offering a free trial for eligible residents, with bookings available at onemedical.com/MARINVAX.


The county also has its own vaccine-interest form, at coronavirus.marinhhs.org/vaccine, which has been touted as a one-stop sign-up and notification system for all health-care providers and for the uninsured. However, the form does not request occupation information that could play a role in individual eligibility alongside age, health conditions and whether someone resides in a congregate-living facility.


The state also has an eligibility notification website, at myturn.ca.gov, which does include occupation-based eligibility selections.


Pharmacies and grocers


Beginning last week, several Marin pharmacies and grocers also began offering vaccines to eligible groups — residents 65 and older — though for now, most appointments are fully booked as the chains suffered from the winter-storm supply-chain setbacks.


CVS/pharmacy in Tiburon is not yet participating. The only CVS in Marin to offer the vaccine is at 880 Sir Francis Drake Blvd. in San Anselmo.


Safeway is offering the vaccine to those 75 and older at Strawberry Village Shopping Center and at 1 Camino Alto in Mill Valley, as well as in San Rafael and Novato.


RiteAid is offering the vaccine at Corte Madera Town Center and at 701 E. Blithedale Ave. in Mill Valley, as well as at two San Rafael locations.


Walgreens is not yet offering the vaccine to the general public.


Costco has also announced its Novato store will soon offer vaccinations.


For information on how to book appointments, visit coronavirus.marinhhs.org/vaccine/status.


Vaccines for educators


In his Feb. 19 press briefing, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the state on March 1 would begin setting aside 10 percent of vaccines — about 75,000 doses — for school and child-care workers in an effort to get kids back into classrooms.


It’s not yet clear how the change will impact Marin. The county in January held a mass vaccination of more than 1,200 school workers but has shifted its focus to older adults, with only those 65 and older eligible to receive the vaccine.


Though high-risk essential workers such as educators and those in food service were originally part of Phase 1B, Tier 1, the current stage of the vaccine rollout, occupation-based eligibility has been temporarily suspended.


Marin officials made the change because the county is the state’s oldest on average, while some 93 percent of all COVID-19 deaths are among those over 65, and three of four deaths among those 75 and older.


The county has not yet announced which groups will be eligible — or when — under the next stage in its distribution framework.


For more information on the framework, visit coronavirus.marinhhs.org/vaccine/distribution.


Senior-care case rates plummet


Cases among seniors in congregate-living facilities — considered the nation’s most vulnerable group — have now dropped to near zero in Marin.



Those in skilled-nursing and residential-care facilities were the first to be vaccinated, beginning Dec. 16, as part of a federal collaboration with CVS and Walgreens, which sent staff to each residence. With Marin having the oldest average population in the state and roughly 85 percent of COVID-19 deaths coming from seniors in group facilities, the county also rolled out its own effort in collaboration with Kaiser, MarinHealth and the Marin Medical Reserve Corps.


The second wave of vaccinations began in early January and, about two weeks later, active cases began a steep decline. There had been an average of about 50 active cases in December and 60 in January, which has now fallen to just four active cases in February.


New guidance for athletics


California now allows outdoor high-contact and moderate-contact youth and adult sports to resume in purple-tier and red-tier counties, which includes Marin.


The new guidance was issued by the California Department of Public Health on Feb. 19.


For high-contact sports — those likely to be played unmasked with face-to-face contact exceeding 15 minutes, such as football, rugby and water polo — all those ages 13 and older, including coaches, must be tested weekly for COVID-19, with results made available within 24 hours before a competition.


Moderate-contact sports such as baseball, softball and cheerleading can resume without the testing requirement.


All teams with minors must provide consent forms to be signed by a parent.


Kevin Hessel is The Ark’s executive editor. Reach him at 415-435-2652, on Twitter at @thearknewspaper and on Facebook at fb.me/thearknewspaper.



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