Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye says when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, “our way out of this is with vaccination.”
COVID-19 case rates have nearly tripled in the county in recent weeks, from 3.8 per 100,000 on June 20 to 10.4 per 100,000 now. The current rate would have put Sacramento County in the purple, or widespread, tier under the original color-coded reopening system that the state used for months before ending it on June 15.
In response, on Thursday the county began recommending that everyone wear a mask in indoor settings, regardless of immunization status. The move comes a day after Yolo County released similar guidelines.
Officials say the additional precautions are necessary because of lagging immunization rates in the county, as low as 37% in some Sacramento neighborhoods.
Kasirye says the majority of viral spread is happening between unvaccinated people, and that the highly contagious delta variant is a main factor in the sharp increase.
The new guidelines apply in any setting where the immunization status of others is unknown, such as in a grocery store or a restaurant. The county is encouraging businesses to verify patrons’ vaccination status by looking at their vaccination card, or at the new state system that provides a scannable code to people who’ve received their shots.
“This is just an additional recommendation, especially as we’re continuing to see our case rate going up,” Kasirye said. “We’re continuing with our efforts to get people vaccinated, especially focusing on the neighborhoods and ZIP codes where we’re seeing relatively low vaccination rates.”
When California retired the tier system and fully reopened the economy on June 15, businesses were largely left to make their own decisions about whether patrons needed to mask indoors. State guidelines currently say that vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks except on public transit and in certain settings such as hospitals, schools and prisons.
Yolo County began recommending indoor mask use for vaccinated individuals Wednesday. They’re also recommending that fully vaccinated people get tested after being exposed to someone with COVID-19, even if they have no symptoms.
“People who are vaccinated are highly protected against COVID-19, including the delta variant, but it’s important to note that the vaccines aren’t perfect,” said Yolo County Public Health Officer Dr. Aimee Sisson.
Sisson said places where masks aren’t required, such as grocery stores, do pose a risk given how many people remain unimmunized.
“We know not everybody will be entirely honest, and that there are unvaccinated people who are unmasked in that setting,” she said. “That’s when I wear a mask and when I’m recommending that other fully vaccinated people would return to masking.”
At a testing site on the UC Davis campus, 76% of positive samples tested between June 27 and July 7 came up as the delta variant, according to Yolo County.
El Dorado County officials say they aren’t able to track which positive cases are caused by which variant. Placer County officials say the number of delta results are growing, and they expect the trend to continue in the coming weeks.
“It’s difficult to disentangle any single cause of recent upticks given all the recent changes — the emergence of delta, the recent [Fourth of July] holiday, and the retirement of the state’s blueprint framework in mid-June,” wrote Placer Health and Human Services Director Dr. Robert Oldham in an email.
Oldham said Placer has seen more hospital admissions related to COVID-19 in the past few days.
Sacramento County has also seen a rise in the number of hospitalized patients with COVID-19 in the past two weeks. Last Monday, July 5, there were just 59 hospitalized patients in Sacramento County who had tested positive for COVID-19. As of July 13, that number was 112.
However, the number of COVID-19-positive patients in the ICU in the county has remained fairly steady over the past week after jumping from 14 to 22 on July 7.
“Right now we’re not seeing an impact on the hospitals, they’re still able to handle the cases that they’re getting,” Kasirye said. “But that’s something that we are continuing to monitor.”
County health staff say they’re trying hard to boost immunization rates, particularly in hot spot neighborhoods.
Program manager Jamie White says they’re immunizing about 500 people a week at the Cal Expo drive-thru site, plus more at community-based walk-up sites. She says they’re requesting additional resources from the state for mobile sites.
“To me, even a single vaccine is a success,” she said. “We have been strategizing on ways to be more aggressive.”
Currently, only children over the age of 12 can be vaccinated. Some experts are worried that children returning to in-person schooling will lead to greater spread, even with precautions in place. The state has issued a mask mandate for all K-12 schools, and local districts must make their own decisions about students who refuse to wear face coverings.
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