Virus stock

Local impacts still being figured out, holiday gatherings not encouraged

With additional reporting from Barbara Feder Ostrov, Contributing Writer for CalMatters

As California’s COVID-19 daily case count climbed to nearly 10,000 – a height not seen since early August – Gov. Gavin Newsom today announced tough new restrictions as an “emergency brake” to slow a coming surge that could overwhelm hospitals during the holiday season. 

Most nonessential businesses, restaurants, bars and places of worship will have to close or severely restrict their operations as state officials pushed 40 of California’s 58 counties back into the most restrictive “purple” tier of the state’s reopening plan starting Tuesday. The dramatic change will affect about 94% of Californians. 

“We’re moving from a marathon to a sprint,” Newsom said at a news conference. “These last 10 days have been challenging. We need to be more aggressive, more surgical, more targeted.”

Californians also must wear a mask whenever outside their home, with a few exceptions, in a strengthening of the state’s existing mask mandate, Newsom said.

Newsom also noted that a statewide curfew is being considered and that more restrictions may be coming later this week.

For some counties, test positivity and case rates spiked so dramatically they were pushed back two tiers. Counties entering a more restrictive tier must make changes immediately — no more three-day grace periods for businesses that had reopened.

Although California seemed to have escaped the worst of an alarming national surge in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations have increased by nearly 50% in the past two weeks, Newsom said. The state’s 14-day test positivity rate — a sign of the amount of disease in the community — has jumped nearly 44% since Halloween. 

As a result, state officials now will restrict counties’ reopenings more quickly than once every two weeks, depending on their health indicators. 

Local impacts

Locally, Sonoma County was already in the purple tier, with widespread cases, so some of the significant and sudden impacts that will be hitting other counties will not happen here. However, the local numbers are following the state-wide trend, with the daily case rate per 100,000 leaping up to 15, and the positivity rate at 4.3%. The positivity rate among the economically disadvantaged communities is at 7%.

The primary local impact may be on the county’s appeal for a waiver to drop back to the red tier. The county applied for the waiver based on the fact that they determined that non-digital results were not being calculated in their testing rates, and when those tests were included for the last week of numbers, the county should have been eligible for the red tier. But, Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase admitted the changes to the state’s guidance today may torpedo the waiver.

“It’s still not clear what these changes may do to our appeal at the state to our testing metrics,” Mase said. “We’ve been waiting for adjudication for a week, given these new emergency actions it’s unclear where we’ll end up.”

Mase expects to hear about their application on Tuesday.

County health officials were still reading through the state’s new orders on Monday afternoon, and didn’t have finalized ideas of what new impacts might be felt by local residents and businesses.

“We’re still going through the order,” said Adam Radtke, deputy county counsel. “One noticeable change is that the original face covering order written in a manner of ‘you shall wear a facemask’ and then lists exceptions. The current order is now written that all Californians must wear face covering outside of their home, unless an exception applies … but we’re still digging into details.”

Travel and holiday get-togethers were obviously on everybody’s mind and we close in on Thanksgiving and Christmas. While there is currently no ordinance other than the current restriction of outdoors, less than 12 people from no more than three households, the message from local and state officials was “don’t do it.”

State officials used to word “implore” when asking for Californians to stay home. Mase’s rhetoric was equally pointed.

“We’ve been seeing the impact of anything that changes, either new restrictions or a holiday, within (two to ) four weeks of when that event happens,” Mase said. “I think since we have widespread transmission, it’s very worrisome, and you are even more at risk if you go to a holiday gathering with non-household members, and your chance of getting COVID is that much higher. We should be very cautious in terms of any sort of travel outside of county or any sort of gathering of non-household members.

“So, our first recommendation is not to do that and do something virtual,” Mase continued. “However, all mitigation measures should be followed otherwise …  all those things will help, but they may not prevent transmission of the virus. Your best bet is not to travel or gather with people not in household.”

In addition, a recent travel order from California, Washington and Oregon recommended no non-essential travel out of state, but that if you do travel out of state, you should quarantine yourself for a full 14 days at home upon your return.  

While it’s early, county officials added it appears that Halloween, like every other holiday this year, would be the cause of a case spike.

“Those cases are just starting to trickle in, we are seeing cases related to gatherings around Halloween,” said county health program manager Kate Pack. “We won’t be able to analyze the full impact connected to Halloween for another two weeks or so as we see them come in.”

In addition, with so many nearby counties experiencing spikes and being sent back into the purple tier, even local bay area travel for the holidays is not recommended.

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