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Marin officials watch for summer COVID-19 spike

Marin officials watch for summer COVID-19 spike

An increase in COVID-19 infections is predicted this summer for Marin County, a health official warned.

Dr. Lisa Santora, the county’s deputy public health officer, foresees the trend based on COVID-contaminated wastewater and coronavirus hospitalizations. She said the heat wave also could be a factor.

“The upside is that more time could be spent outside, but with the heat wave we expect more people to spend time inside in enclosed spaces with air conditioning, and without doors or windows open,” Santora said Wednesday.

She mentioned that her staff generally recommends outdoor activities to prevent the spread of the virus.

“COVID does not like fresh air, that’s been proven since its entrance into our reality in 2020,” Santora said.

She noted anecdotal reports of coronavirus in the community.

“A lot of people are having exposure to COVID, usually we’re seeing a lot of that is travel-related,” Santora said. “COVID is actively circulating in our community.”

Since public health agencies stopped publishing the number of COVID-19 cases reported each day, local health officials like Santora view coronavirus levels measured at wastewater sites, which can warn of upcoming rises in the virus.

As of June 28, Marin County had a “medium” coronavirus level based on the testing results of six wastewater sites and the seven-day average of seven patients hospitalized for the disease. The hospitalization rate slightly dipped from nine patients reported on June 11, according to county data.

The Marin County Department of Health and Human Services measures COVID-19 concentration in wastewater by gene copies by millimeter. On June 25, it reported a measurement of 238.1, which was a decrease from 347.6 reported on June 16. This year, the lowest coronavirus contamination level was 50.1 on April 27, while the highest was 417.4 on Feb. 4.

The county’s next update on COVID-19 wastewater and hospitalization levels will be released on Friday.

In order for the county’s coronavirus level to be rated “high,” there would need to be a wastewater concentration of at least 492.93 and a seven-day average of more than 35 hospital patients with the disease, according to the county health staff’s threshold.

The county has reported 12 coronavirus-related deaths this year, Santora said. More than 370 such deaths were reported in the county since the pandemic began.

Dr. John Swartzberg, a clinical professor emeritus at the University of California at Berkeley School of Public Health, noticed the uptick in the Bay Area’s COVID activity last month, but said the metrics for the virus have so far been lower than last year.

“It’s nothing approaching the winter, it’s not even as high as it was a year ago at this date,” he said last month.

Marin County’s public health staff is now watching the spread of the KP.2 variant of the coronavirus.

“That’s demonstrating increased transmissibility and we’ve seen an increase locally, across the state, and nationwide pretty quickly since March,” Santora said.

A Marin County public health newsletter last month announced that KP.2 is closely related to the JN.1 variant, which is expected to be targeted by a new vaccine that’s on track to be released next month.

Of concern to Santora is the county’s large older population that could be vulnerable to the virus.

“They are more likely to have significant and severe illness, and have a higher risk for hospitalization,” she said. “If we have more COVID circulating in our community with a high proportion of residents who are over age 65, we would expect to see an increase in hospitalizations.”

In the county’s latest coronavirus report, 10 infections were reported at long-term care centers and congregate living facilities.

People who experience COVID symptoms are advised to get tested and to stay home if they fall ill with the virus, Santora said. They are asked to isolate themselves until they feel better and to wear a mask when they return to work and to keep the mask until they test negative.

Santora noted that recommendations for isolation have been relaxed. Earlier, coronavirus patients were advised to isolate themselves for at least five days.

“People are immune, people are vaccinated, and we also have treatment available,” Santora said.

Bay Area News Group contributed to this report.

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