(Photo via Daniel Lobo/Flickr)

As COVID-19 cases surge in San Mateo County, hospital capacity remains high and the death rate low, but officials are concerned about the coming weeks and urge people to take necessary precautions.

The county’s case rate shot up by 85 percent from October to November, according to data from San Mateo County Health. Data shows that the number of new cases in a day reached an all-time high of 168 cases on Nov. 16. There have been 14,812 cases in total and 170 deaths.

State data shows that the county’s unadjusted case rate per 100,000 is 16.3 new cases per day (8.2 adjusted) compared to 4.1 new cases per day (2.2 adjusted) at the end of October. The test positivity rate remains low at 2.6 percent.

As a result, the county moved to the most restrictive tier (purple tier) of the state’s reopening system on Saturday, which prohibits many indoor activities and imposes a curfew on non-essential activities from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

During a media briefing on Wednesday, County Manager Mike Callagy said that the rise could be due to increased gatherings, and urged people to follow precautions.

“The message that we’re sending to everyone right now is that this is the time to be extremely careful, to really be vigilant and to make sure that you comply with all the regulations,” Callagy said.

The county’s health order requires that everyone wear a face covering around people outside their household, practice social distancing and limit gatherings. Additionally, the county advises people to avoid travel.

“We are heading into some darker days before the light at the end of the tunnel,” Callagy said, referring to the “light” being the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine. Callagy said that healthcare workers on the frontlines will be the first to receive the vaccine, which will hopefully arrive to the county later this month.

The county has seen a rise in hospitalizations, with 72 COVID-19 patients currently hospitalized. Callagy said that number was in the 20s several weeks ago. However, capacity remains strong.

“We’re still in a position to accommodate everyone who needs to get attention,” Callagy said. “But that’s an indicator that’s concerning because we don’t know what’s coming our way.”

Deputy Chief of Health Srija Srinivasan said that there is a “highly organized mutual aid system” across counties to ensure that there is sufficient hospital capacity and to eliminate barriers to treating patients.

However, Srinivasan said that hospitals will need to plan to have sufficient staffing, so that the system does not become overwhelmed.

Most of the county’s cases over time are concentrated in the 20 to 29 and 30 to 39 year-old age groups and in the Latinx population.

Recently, the steepest increase has been among white and Asian residents, according to Srinivasan. However, she noted that cases are rising across all populations and regions in the county.

“It hasn’t been concentrated in our lowest resource communities,” Srinivasan said.

The county continues to offer free testing and several assistance programs during the pandemic.

A new testing site opened on Tuesday in Daly City at the Jefferson Union High School District Office, 699 Serramonte Boulevard. Testing is also available at the San Mateo County Event Center and at mobile sites around the county, including testing for children age five and older. For a full testing schedule visit https://www.smcgov.org/testing.

In terms of assistance programs, the Great Plates program – which provides free meals to seniors – will continue to January 7. The county also has an Immigrant Relief Fund, which provides $1,000 grants to qualifying immigrant families.

For more COVID-19 resources for assistance, visit https://cmo.smcgov.org/covid-19-resources.

For a list of what businesses and activities are allowed in the county, visit https://covid19.ca.gov/safer-economy/ and type in “San Mateo.”

For the latest county updates, visit https://cmo.smcgov.org/jic.