• Kevin Hessel

Marin to further reopen this week under pandemic's orange tier

Update: Marin County on March 23 confirmed it has been assigned to the state's orange pandemic reopening tier.


MARCH 22 — Marin County is expected to move into the orange pandemic reopening tier this week, which would allow retail and grocery stores to return to 100-percent capacity, for bars to reopen outdoors and for office spaces to reopen to nonessential workers.


Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week that all California residents likely will be eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in less than five weeks — at the end of April — meeting President Joe Biden’s directive for every American adult to be eligible by May 1. Biden’s goal is for national herd immunity in time for in-person Independence Day celebrations.


“We’re anticipating … we can eliminate all of the tiering, so to speak, and make available vaccines to everybody across the spectrum because supply will exponentially increase,” Newsom said.


California is currently in phase 1B of its vaccine-distribution framework, recently adding eligibility to those ages 16-64 with underlying medical conditions. They joined residents ages 65 and older and high-risk essential workers such as those in education, child-care, food service and agriculture, as well as those eligible under phase 1A, such as health-care workers and seniors in congregant living facilities.


Newsom’s announcement came after a record-setting four-day run for vaccine distribution in California last week, in which the state twice surpassed 400,000 doses given in a day. The state has now administered more than 14.5 million doses of vaccine, most of which are the two-dose shots from Pfizer and Moderna.


Marin’s seven-day rolling average was 3,407 doses per day on March 16, more than double the previous month, or 1,451 on Feb. 16 and 1,267 on Jan. 17. Nearly half, or 47.5 percent, of all Marin residents over 16 have received at least one dose of vaccine and nearly a quarter over 16, or 24.7 percent, are now fully vaccinated.


The progress comes with caveats. Europe, which is seeing a slower vaccine rollout and faster spread of variants, is experiencing a new wave of infections and new lockdowns across the continent. In Marin and nationwide, testing rates have plummeted, more-contagious variants that have shown resistance to antibodies are responsible for as many as a third of new infections and increasingly lax social behavior is expected to loosen further amid more economic reopenings, spring break, the Easter holiday and warming weather — together a potential cocktail for new outbreaks to go undetected.


Those reopenings include Marin’s expected shift to orange tier-3 status this week, indicating moderate transmission of the virus under California’s four-tier, color-coded blueprint for reopening the economy.


Under the orange tier, bars without food can reopen outdoors for the first time; indoor pools can reopen for recreation for the first time; bowling alleys and other family-entertainment centers, as well as cardrooms and breweries, wineries and distilleries without food, can reopen indoors for the first time, at 25-percent capacity; gyms and fitness centers can expand to 25-percent indoor capacity, up from 10 percent; restaurants, movie theaters, places of worship, museums and zoos can expand to 50-percent indoor capacity; and retail and malls can join hair salons, hotels and personal-care services at full indoor capacity.


For the unvaccinated, small gatherings of no more than three households for two hours or less are allowed indoors and out with face coverings and physical distancing. For those who have been fully vaccinated, indoor gatherings are allowed with other fully vaccinated people without face coverings; gatherings without face coverings are allowed with unvaccinated people from one other household unless they or anyone they live with are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.


Fully vaccinated people must still wear face coverings and practice physical distancing outdoors, avoid medium- and large-sized gatherings, avoid gatherings with unvaccinated people and avoid all nonessential travel.


“This pandemic is not going to be over until everyone in the world has had access to the vaccine,” Dr. Matt Willis, Marin’s public health officer, told the county Board of Supervisors last week. “If there are pockets where there are very low vaccination rates, the risk for mutations that could cause a resurgence or fourth wave of the pandemic remain high.”


Marin has been in red tier-2 status for substantial transmission of the virus for four weeks, last week qualifying to advance to the orange tier for the first time. If case metrics hold, this would be the county’s second week qualifying for the orange tier. Generally, a county must spend three weeks in a tier, and qualify for the next tier for two weeks, before it may advance.


The state’s assessment of virus activity typically takes place on Mondays, with tier assignments announced Tuesdays, after The Ark’s press deadline. Figures for the March 23 tier assignment were therefore not available, but last week the county’s adjusted seven-day new-case rate as 3.5 per 100,000, when 1-3.9 per 100,000 qualify for the orange tier. Its test-positivity rate was 1.7 percent, good enough to qualify for yellow tier-4 status for minimal virus spread. The county’s test-positivity rate among its highest-risk populations was 3.4 percent, where 2.3-5.3 percent qualifies for the orange tier.


Willis said Marin cannot qualify for the yellow tier until at least April 14, while he continued to urge caution for everyone — including those vaccinated.


“There are many unknowns regarding the pandemic path globally and locally, so we need to stay the course,” he said.


covid-19 vaccine in marin

  • Distribution phase: Phase 1B — Health-care workers; residents of senior-care facilities; everyone 65 and older; those 16-64 with underlying medical conditions; and high-risk essential workers. For details, visit coronavirus.marinhhs.org/vaccine/distribution.

  • Sign up: Visit the state’s centralized notification and booking website is at myturn.ca.gov.

  • Marin Center and Larkspur ferry terminal mass-vaccination site: New appointments are opened Friday afternoons at coronavirus.marinhhs.org/vaccine/status.

  • Kaiser Permanente: Appointments are available for members at arkn.ws/kaiser_covid and for nonmembers at arkn.ws/nokaiser_covid, or by calling 866-454-8855.

  • MarinHealth: Patients will be notified when a vaccine and appointment is available.

  • Sutter Health: Book online at sutterhealth.org/covid-vaccine or call 844-987-6115.

  • Costco Novato: Book online via arkn.ws/costco_covid.

  • CVS/pharmacy: Only available in San Anselmo. Book online at arkn.ws/cvs_covid.

  • Rite Aid: The closest sites are at Corte Madera Town Center and in Mill Valley. Book online at arkn.ws/riteaid_covid.

  • Safeway: The closest sites are in Strawberry and Mill Valley. Check the status and book online at coronavirus.marinhhs.org/vaccine/status.

  • Walgreens: The closest site is in Mill Valley. Book online at arkn.ws/walgreens_covid.

  • San Francisco’s Moscone Center: Book through myturn.ca.gov or 833-422-4255.

  • Oakland Coliseum: Book through myturn.ca.gov or 833-422-4255.

  • No internet: Vaccine-eligible residents may call 833-641-1988, Marin’s live-assistance hotline, between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. weekdays for help with registration, transportation and communication.

  • Getting there: Rides to and from appointments are free on Marin Transit and Golden Gate Transit. Show the driver evidence of a same-day appointment.

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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