A team from San Mateo County Health's Street & Field Medicine vaccinates individuals experiencing homelessness at a clinic at a church in San Bruno, Calif. on March 25, 2021. (Photo courtesy the County of San Mateo Joint Information Center)

San Mateo County Health Chief Louise Rogers said this week the county will return to its more traditional public health role as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations decline across the region and in the county.

Meanwhile, the county continues to promote one vital message: It’s not too late to be vaccinated.

“As the nature of the pandemic changes and the State and counties step back from using health officer powers to order and regulate, you will see us in County Health return to the more traditional role of public health of offering guidance and recommendations,” Rogers said in a statement Tuesday.

The county is staying aligned with the state’s decision to end the indoor masking mandate for fully vaccinated residents, except in certain settings, like on public transit, schools or senior care facilities.

Though the decision to end the mask mandate is “landing differently” for different people, Rogers said that county residents and businesses are “well-positioned” to understand and balance risks for their different environments.

The county recommends continuing to mask indoors, with an N95 or K95 mask if possible, in high-risk situations.

“When case rates are high, we continue to recommend that residents wear the best quality mask that they can comfortably wear in indoor settings and/or around large groups of people, especially if they have underlying medical conditions or live with someone who does,” Preston Merchant, spokesperson for San Mateo County Health, said via email.

When determining if a situation is high-risk or not, Merchant said some factors to consider include ventilation, the number of people in a space and “your own sense of the potential to spread COVID-19.” People should also consider the people they live with, especially if they are elderly, immunocompromised or ineligible for vaccination.

In San Mateo County, COVID cases continue to fall. As of Monday, there were 49 cases per 100,000 people reported in the county, compared to the early January peak of 239 cases per 100,000 people. The state reports this data with a seven-day lag.

Test positivity rates and hospitalizations are also declining. As of Tuesday, only 50 people in the county were hospitalized with COVID-19, half the number that were hospitalized in early February.

County Health will continue to monitor cases and use their resources to prevent potential outbreaks at schools, healthcare settings and congregate care settings.

“An infectious disease outbreak is an increase in the occurrence of disease above what is normally expected,” Merchant said. “As this relates to COVID, this can vary depending on the setting. For instance, schools are likely to have a higher number of cases as a baseline than a skilled nursing facility and therefore a different level of disease to meet the definition of an outbreak.”

The county continues to promote COVID vaccination, especially in populations with lower vaccination rates.

As of Tuesday, 89 percent of all county residents have received at least one dose of the COVID vaccine and more than 400,000 people have received a booster shot.

But vaccination rates continue to lag below 80 percent for certain groups, such as children ages 5-11, and Black, Latinx and Pacific Islander populations.

To close the gaps, the county launched an advertising campaign promoting vaccination. Targeted advertisements will be coming to TV channels, radio, streaming stations and SamTrans buses.

TV commercials in Spanish and English will air through April, on channels such as Univision, while other advertisements will begin late February and March.

Why should people get vaccinated? County Health’s ad campaign gives four reasons: because doctors say it’s vital; we’re still at risk from new variants and mutations; billions of people have been vaccinated safely; and we know someone who has died from this virus.

The county also plans to add more predictable vaccine clinics for the 5 to 11 age group.

“Getting vaccinated is still the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself, your family, and your community,” Merchant said.

People should also get tested if exposed to COVID and isolate when sick.

For more information on COVID-19 in San Mateo County, visit https://www.smchealth.org/coronavirus.