December 22, 2021

Supervisor Katie Rice 

December 22, 2021

Just in time for the Holidays the latest reminder that the Pandemic is still very much with us has appeared on our doorstep. Omicron is here, has shown itself to be a super spreader, and will require us to take some extra precautions, perhaps change a few plans. But let’s not let it take the Happy out of the Holidays.

Indeed, Marin has shown itself to be resilient, resourceful and responsible navigating the pandemic over these past two years. We can successfully manage omicron (and whatever comes next) if we continue to look to science to inform our decision making, utilize common sense and courtesy, and take advantage of the tools we have at hand to take care of ourselves and the broader community.

Sharing below a message from our Public Health Director, Dr. Matt Willis, giving an overview of omicron and Marin’s response:

We’re at an important junction in our pandemic response.

Just one week after detecting the first case of the new COVID-19 omicron variant in Marin County, we’re witnessing a surge in cases due to its spread in our community. This surge could be the largest since the start of the pandemic.

While this is alarming, it’s important to ground our understanding in the best available evidence, as we have in every chapter of our response.

Two critical features of omicron, neither of which is fully understood, will determine our pandemic experience over the coming weeks. These are the severity of illness caused by the variant and the level of protection offered by the COVID-19 vaccine.

I have cautious optimism on both counts. Unfortunately, we won’t have hard answers to those questions before we see case numbers that will be frightening to many.

In order to forecast the next few weeks, we look to places where omicron has recently taken hold.

South Africa, where the new variant was first detected, offers the longest interval of observation. Over the past few days, we have learned encouraging things. After an alarming surge in cases, new infections in South Africa have plateaued and are declining. Through the surge, hospital capacity remained adequate. Patients stayed in the hospital fewer days and generally required a less-frequent need for oxygen than with prior surges.

The piece of data outside of Marin I am most focused on currently is what is happening in hospitals in London and New York. These cities are one or two weeks ahead of us and cases there are at all-time highs. So far, their hospitals are not overwhelmed with critically ill patients. This suggests that, by and large, those infected with omicron are not experiencing severe illness in large numbers.

This pattern, where hospitals appear somewhat shielded from surging cases, is being credited mainly to vaccination. While both cities have relatively high vaccination rates, neither is as highly vaccinated as our Marin community.

Marin’s primary asset in our pandemic response has been a high level of immunity, with nearly 90% of residents fully vaccinated. State-high vaccination rates have led to state-low cases, hospitalizations and deaths, up to this point.

The data emerging regarding omicron tells us that our vaccination rates will not prevent us from experiencing very high case rates in the coming weeks. A booster dose is necessary to be well protected against omicron infection and severe illness. For this reason, the single most important way to protect ourselves against omicron is to get a booster shot.

Because full vaccination – minus the booster – offers limited protection from omicron infection, we expect to see very high daily case rates in the coming days.

This surge in cases will invite new conversations as a community about our values and goals in the pandemic response. There will likely be policy responses at federal, state and local levels.

The traditional approach would be to react to case numbers alone and seek to prevent infections as a primary goal, resulting in lockdowns. This approach is being taken in several European nations. We recognize that such policies, from an economic, social and mental perspective, carry their own harms.

High vaccination rates offer us the freedom to tolerate high case rates without returning to a shelter in place. If hospitalizations remain manageable, then no major policy restrictions changes need occur.

The omicron surge is unwelcome tidings as we gather this holiday season. Marin County Public Health is not recommending against planned gatherings, knowing how important these are to our wellbeing, but we must recognize that there are no risk-free options.

To protect yourself and our community, we urge residents to continue to take all the precautions we have learned and refined over the past two years. We will continue to offer updates and guidance to support the same balanced, science-driven response that has carried us so well though this pandemic.

Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer (This article was first printed in the Marin IJ, December 22, 2021)

Home Testing? Let Public Health know your results

Rapid testing is going to be a helpful tool thru the holidays and going forward. Unlike a year ago when testing was done through the health care system and the results of those tests incorporated into public health database, with rapid test kits becoming widely available, much more testing is being done outside official/public health channels. As such, public health is encouraging everyone utilizing home rapid tests to report your results to Marin County Public Health. An online form has been developed to be used for reporting the results of COVID-19 testing done in the home to the Marin County Public Health Department. Please do not complete this form if you received testing at a healthcare or testing site, only report testing you did yourself at home. 

1251 S. Eliseo Project Homekey Update

My thanks to the many neighbors and community residents who have participated to date in the virtual meetings, provided testimony at a Board of Supervisors meeting, emailed or contacted my office regarding the 1251 S. Eliseo Homekey residential housing proposal. I take your comments and concerns seriously. The FAQ page from project website will continue to be updated towards being as responsive as possible to the questions and concerns we are hearing from the community.  

We don’t expect to hear back from the State until early January as to whether the Eliseo site/ECS will be awarded a Homekey grant. If it is, a hearing of the Board of Supervisors will be held in late January (tentatively set for 1/25) to formally consider approving acceptance of the grant. If approved, ECS will have one year from date of award to complete improvements to the site and begin moving residents into the new housing. 

During January, the community advisory group will be meeting, site tours will be planned, and the County will be provided additional opportunities for community members to learn more about Homelessness in Marin and Housing First as well as the proposed Homekey project at S. Eliseo including: 

  • January 10, 6-7:30pm – “Homelessness in Marin: Housing First and Permanent Supportive Housing.” The County of Marin will host a forum to provide information about County efforts to address homelessness, the adoption of the Housing First model (and all that entails) and the importance of Permanent Supportive Housing. Presentation followed by questions and comments from attendees.
  • January 18 at 6-7:30pm – “Project Homekey at 1251 S. Eliseo.” The County of Marin and Episcopal Community Services (ECS) will co-host a forum to discuss the proposed Project Homekey site at 1251 S. Eliseo in Larkspur. The first half of the meeting will provide a comprehensive project overview, including addressing the most frequently asked questions that our team has been receiving. The second half of the meeting will be dedicated to questions and comments from attendees.

Meeting reminders with Zoom info/links will be sent out in early January for both forums.

For more background on the project proposal and process, read my newsletter from early December and visit the project website. You can sign up for updates and submit any questions as well.

Happy Holiday from the entire District 2 team!

Katie, Nancy, and Crystal


Katie Rice
Contact Info:
Supervisor Katie Rice
District 2 Aides:
Nancy Vernon
Crystal Martinez