Sacramento County will require all public meetings to be held remotely starting Thursday, and are encouraging businesses to voluntarily limit in-person functions as the latest COVID-19 wave fills local hospitals.
"This is a measured step that we can take that will allow us to continue to provide access to public services without cutting off that access for the public," County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said. "Being able to have these meetings virtually does that"
The county said it isn't considering any other public health measures at this time, and does not anticipate closing schools or moving to virtual teaching. Kasirye would not say if this order applies to the California state Legislature.
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have exploded in the new year. Sacramento County is recording more than 1,300 cases a day as of Jan. 1. That equals a case rate of more than 83 for every 100,000 residents, a four-fold increase from just two weeks ago.
Kasirye wouldn't give advice on if individuals should avoid things like indoor dining or other situations, but said people need to assess their own level of risk. The county is still requiring all people wear masks in indoor public spaces, in addition to the state requirement that was extended through Feb. 15.
"I think it's important for people to be aware of the situation that we have with the surge and to make those decisions on an individual basis based on their risk," she said. "I highly recommend that if you're going out in public that you are vaccinated and boosted, if you are eligible for a booster, and if you have any symptoms, please stay home. And please if you're in public, wear a mask."
She said omicron is now the most dominant variant in the county, accounting for 50-75% of sequenced cases.
As of Tuesday, 291 people in the county are hospitalized with COVID-19 and 55 are in the intensive care unit. While still below the peaks of last winter, the numbers have increased sharply in recent weeks, though Kasirye said ICU admissions are rising more slowly than hospitalizations as a whole.
Kasirye said local hospitals are full, and asked that anyone who wasn't experiencing an emergency to stay away from emergency rooms, including those seeking COVID-19 testing. She said the county is working with hospital officials and the state health department to monitor the situation and prepare to increase surge capacity.
Testing has also been difficult for residents to find, with health officials saying Thursday they are expecting to perform more than 15,000 tests this week at the 13 community clinics they operate.
Liz Gomez, a health program manager for the county, said a significant increase in demand and limited supplies have contributed to the long wait times, but staffing is also an issue.
"We do have significant impacts on staffing," Gomez. "Our staff and their families are impacted by COVID 19 as well."
Earlier this week the county health department distributed 91,000 at-home test kits to public libraries after receiving supplies from the state, but those supplies quickly ran out. Gomez said they aren't expecting to receive more kits from the state.
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