Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase today issued an appeal to residents to stay home as much as possible for the next 30 days and limit interactions people outside of their immediate household.
“Our case rates are at their highest level since the pandemic began and our hospitalizations are climbing at an alarming rate as well,” said Dr. Mase in a recorded message issued today to Sonoma County residents. “We are seeing widespread transmission occurring within unvaccinated groups as well as some transmission among vaccinated individuals.”
Dr. Mase also issued a Health Order canceling large gatherings to limit the further spread of the novel coronavirus in the county. Large gatherings of more than 50 people indoors, or more than 100 people outdoors (where social distancing is not feasible), are prohibited for the duration of the order.
The order will take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 12 and is scheduled to remain in effect until Feb. 11.
Given that, Dr. Mase said she is recommending that people limit travel outside the home to just going to work or to school and making only necessary trips such as going to the grocery store or the doctor. She also is issuing an order to restrict large gatherings for the next 30 days due to the fact that, among cases where the source of transmission is known, more than half of the county’s cases are emerging from such gatherings. This Order will reduce the likelihood that many individuals will be exposed to COVID-19 at a single event, and will thereby slow the spread of COVID-19.
The health order is needed due to rapidly increasing community transmission of COVID across the county and the nation, she said. Over the course of the past two weeks, Sonoma County’s case rate has increased from 24.4 per 100,000 to more than 121 new cases per 100,000 per day and is predicted to continue rising during January. Meanwhile, the county’s testing positivity rate reached an all-time high of 16.5 percent this week as compared to the previous high of 9.7 percent during this pandemic.
Although evidence shows that a lower percentage of those who test positive for the omicron variant require hospitalization compared with previous forms of the virus, local hospitals could still be overwhelmed during this surge due to the sheer volume of cases that are anticipated.
COVID hospitalizations increased from 28 on Jan. 3, 2022, to 76 on Jan. 9, 2022. During the winter surge a year ago, COVID hospitalizations in Sonoma County reached an average of 104 per day. Without additional mitigation efforts such as these steps, the state is projecting that the county could experience more than 380 daily hospitalizations, which could outstrip the resources of local hospitals, many of which are already taxed due to staffing shortages.
“We know what we need to do to prevent our hospitals from being overwhelmed,” Dr. Mase said in her recorded appeal to the community. “The next 30 days will be key to helping us stop this rapid spread of this highly contagious variant in our community. We need to get vaccinated and boosted, wear high-quality masks, avoid large gatherings and stay home as much as possible.”
The health order also specifies that gatherings of individuals who are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 must be limited to no more than 12 people, except for family gatherings.
A gathering is defined as any public or private event or convening that brings people together in a single room or single space at the same time, such as in an auditorium, gymnasium, stadium, arena, large conference room, wedding venue, meeting hall, or any other indoor or outdoor space. These gatherings may have either assigned or unassigned seating, and may be either general admission or gated, ticketed and permitted events.
Large gatherings do not include those that occur as a part of regular school instructional events or outdoor recess, workplace settings, courthouse activities, places of worship, cafeterias, or any venue that is open to the public as part of regular operations such as shopping malls, stores, restaurants/food facilities and museums.
Meanwhile, Dr. Mase reiterated that those who are unvaccinated are still 18 times more likely to require hospitalization if they contract the virus than those who are vaccinated. “Vaccinations remain the best tool available to slow the spread of the virus and protect yourself from severe illness,” she said.
In December, Dr. Mase issued new guidelines for local employers, strongly urging them to require all workers to get a booster dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, if eligible for one. Workers who decline to get a booster should be tested for COVID at least twice weekly.
Dr. Mase also appealed for residents to upgrade the quality of face coverings to a surgical mask or a KN95, KF94 or N95 mask. “Those traditional cloth masks that many of us have been wearing are just not as effective in stopping the spread of this form of the virus,” said Dr. Mase. “We recommend that everyone upgrade to a surgical mask or something equivalent.”
In addition to the impact on senior residents and those with underlying health conditions, county health officials also are concerned that the surge will continue to disproportionately impact low-income communities of color. These communities face the highest risks of becoming infected with COVID-19 because of their disproportionate representation in the essential workforce, lack of sick leave/job protections, multigenerational households, use of shared transportation and other factors. Test positivity among Latinx residents in the past two weeks was 27% as compared to 18% in the community overall.
Latinx residents have accounted for more than half (53%) of all COVID-19 cases in the county despite representing just 27.3% of the population, and have also been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.
Visit www.SoCoEmergency.org for more information about the Health Order and a list of FAQs as well as information about vaccination and testing locations.