As Sonoma County inches into the orange tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy and more parts of Sonoma County’s economy open up, local officials are continuing to urge caution and promote the continued use of masks and social distancing.
In a county briefing on April 7 about COVID-19, Fifth District Supervisor and chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors Lynda Hopkins acknowledged the mixed signals of celebrating moving into the orange tier while at the same time urging caution.
“On one hand, we’re reopening our economy but on the other hand, we’re asking people to continue taking those precautions, especially as new variants are circulating in our community,” she said.
“Please, do not get complacent,” Hopkins said. “According to the state blueprint, the orange tier signifies that we do still have a moderate spread of the virus in our community and that means that we need to continue practicing safe measures like wearing face coverings and social distancing, even as we frequent those hard-hit businesses that are now allowed to reopen even more.”
With continued mask-wearing and social distancing, the county would likely get closer to going into the yellow tier. In order to do so, it needs to reach a virus case rate of below 2 cases per 100,000 people. As of April 8, the county’s adjusted case rate is at 4.6, a slight increase from where it was during the county briefing (4.2). Additionally, the county’s test positivity rate would need to be less than 2% and its health equity positivity rate would need to be less than 2.2%.
“While we just moved into orange … we’re not that far from the yellow tier,” said Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer. “We do know how to get there. We have to continue to follow the mitigation measures that have gotten us this far. In addition to wearing face coverings or masks, social distancing and of course avoiding gatherings, one of the key aspects is for us to continue getting tested.”
At one point, the county was testing twice the number of the state average, which contributed to the county’s adjusted case rate being lower. Mase said that, should a similar level of testing be happening now, Sonoma County’s adjusted case rate would likely be closer to the 2 cases per 100,000 people mark.
Wednesday’s meeting came a day after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that he expects California’s economy to be fully open by June 15. Sonoma County officials said that the June date assumes a handful of unknowns relating to where California counties will be with regard to their case numbers and vaccine rates.
“We should not expect COVID to disappear from our lives by June 15,” said county supervisor Chris Coursey. “We should not expect that date to dawn with the return to pre-pandemic normal, because our new normal means that we still have to wear masks, we still have to stay safe, we still have to get tested.”
Sutter’s Dr. Gary Green said that if people don’t remain vigilant about maintaining their own health safety measures he thinks the county may see its numbers start to rise again.
“It’s a really precarious balance right now between lowering our numbers, having great success with vaccination and at the same time trying to avoid a bump or a surge with the more contagious variants circulating in California,” Green said, noting that this is the most optimistic he’s been during the pandemic thus far.
“This is a race of vaccines against variants. I think if we stop wearing masks, we stop social distancing and we start crowding into places and go beyond our bubbles, I think another surge will cost us lives,” he said.
Health officials also said that they’ve seen a few clusters of cases appearing related to youth sports, and Mase said that the county is working with the Sonoma County Office of Education to encourage schools and youth sports teams to get tested for the virus regularly in an effort to potentially detect asymptomatic cases.
Yet to be seen is the impact that Easter gatherings may have had on case rates.
Outpacing the state
Sonoma County’s vaccine distribution is outpacing the state average, according to county vaccine head Dr. Urmila Shende. Shende said that more than half of the county’s over 16 population has received at least one dose of the vaccine, with over 30% being fully vaccinated. Statewide, 35% of people have had one shot and 18% have been fully vaccinated, she said.
“That’s about the same as the national average, so we’re outpacing the state and the rest of the country in getting people vaccinated,” she said, recognizing the work done by healthcare providers, organizations and individuals to help get county residents vaccinated.
“We know there’s much more work ahead,” Shende said, noting that the county is expecting a surge in demand for the vaccine once it’s made available to anyone over age 16 on April 15.