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Amid surging COVID-19 cases, county health officials say hospital situation is 'challenging but manageable'

50,000 at-home antigen test kits will be distributed to low-income families with young children, medically vulnerable residents and workers in care settings.
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The San Mateo Medical Center, located in San Mateo, Calif., provides health services including emergency care.

Despite a surge of COVID-19 cases related to the new omicron variant, San Mateo County health officials say the hospital situation in the county is "challenging but manageable."

During a meeting of the county's Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, San Mateo County Health chief Louise Rogers said that while health care workers are being affected by the virus, hospitals are not being impacted as badly as last winter.

"We're still not at the level of last winter when we were actually over 200 in the hospital," Rogers said. Even then, hospitals were able to meet the high demand.

Now, as of Monday, there are 116 confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients at county hospitals.

"We're seeing that most of the demand is ... not for (intensive care unit) beds, and that we've been able collectively to maintain capacity," Rogers said.

Rogers said that hospitals can still increase capacity if needed as they have not taken steps such as canceling elective procedures.

However, amid the biggest surge in cases since the pandemic began, health care providers, pharmacies and county facilities are struggling to meet the high demand for testing.

According to Rogers, the county has a 16 percent test positivity rate. And in the past week, some days reported more than 1,000 positive cases. This may not even reflect the true number of positive cases.

"Many more residents than that are learning of a positive result through a positive rapid antigen test, which as you all know is not reflected in the data," Rogers said.

Some people have even been going to hospital emergency rooms with mild symptoms or to get tested, a practice that Rogers discouraged.

In response, the county has added more testing sites and ordered more test kits, such as 50,000 at-home antigen test kits which will be distributed to low-income families with young children, medically vulnerable residents and workers in care settings.

Schools have also upped their testing numbers, according to County Superintendent of Schools Nancy Magee.

Magee also said that the transmission rate in schools is "relatively low" as the virus is not being spread at schools themselves.

"Most of the infections are happening in family environments, in family gatherings, out in public activities and not within the school community itself," Magee said, adding that they are committed to keeping the county's schools open.

Despite the surge, Rogers is optimistic that the county's high vaccination rates create a "wall of immunity" that protects people from severe illness, hospitalizations and deaths.

As of Monday, 92 percent of county residents ages 5 and older have received at least the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Rogers, along with the county supervisors, encouraged people to get vaccinated, get the booster shot, wear masks and stay home when sick.

A list of testing sites is available at https://www.smcgov.org/testing.

San Mateo County COVID-19 data and information are available at https://www.smchealth.org/coronavirus-health-data.

COVID-19 data for school districts in the county is available online at https://www.smcoe.org/for-communities/covid-19-resources/covid-19-school-plans-and-data.html.