For Immediate Release
Sonoma County Health Officer issues order requiring health care facility staff to wear a mask
SANTA ROSA, CA | September 19, 2023
Given the rising risk of respiratory virus-related illnesses such as COVID and flu, Sonoma County’s Health Officer today issued an order requiring health care personnel to mask when in patient care areas. The health order will be in effect throughout the respiratory virus season, which runs from Nov. 1 through April 30.
“Each year we see that higher rates of influenza, COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses that can cause severe respiratory infections occur annually between late fall and spring,” said Dr. Karen Smith, Sonoma County’s Health Officer. “Patients and residents in our health care and congregate facilities, especially young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with chronic health conditions, are at greater risk for respiratory virus-related hospitalizations and death. Workers in direct care, health care, and congregate facilities are at risk for respiratory illness and can transmit the viruses to their clients, patients, and coworkers.”
The order applies to staff at health care facilities including hospitals, clinics, surgery centers, infusion centers, dialysis centers, skilled nursing facilities, portions of long-term care facilities where nursing care is provided, and other facilities where patient care is provided indoors.
Dr. Smith also issued guidance for the general public today, strongly recommending that everyone 6 months and older get an updated COVID-19 vaccine to protect against the potentially serious outcomes of COVID-19 illness this winter. Influenza vaccination is also recommended for everyone 6 months old and older. Vaccination remains the best protection against respiratory virus infections. Dr. Smith also recommends that both vaccinated and unvaccinated people wear masks in public indoor settings when the COVID or influenza risk in Sonoma County is high.
Dr. Smith issued the health order in light of ongoing transmission of COVID-19 and recurrence of seasonal influenza and other respiratory infections. The co-occurrence of influenza season with a possibility of another late fall/winter surge of COVID-19 may increase the risk of health systems being overwhelmed with patients with critical respiratory illness. Moreover, respiratory virus-related illness in health care workers can cause absenteeism, placing further strain on our limited health care resources.
The widespread availability of COVID-19 testing and treatment, the high level of community vaccination in the county, and the lower death rate seen in the most recent surges of COVID-19, have diminished the necessity for year-round mandatory orders related to masking in multiple high-risk settings. However, the risk to vulnerable patients of COVID-19, influenza and other respiratory viruses in health care settings, including skilled nursing facilities, remains significant, and it continues to be important for face masks to be used in patient care areas when seasonal risk of exposure to respiratory viruses is at its highest.
The full text and details of the Health Officer order can be found here.