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Weekly Roundup for Jan. 21, 2022
Published: January 21, 2022
Local case rates and COVID-related hospitalizations have hit levels not seen during the two years of the pandemic. A month ago, we were averaging 95 new cases a day (19 per 100,000 residents). Now we are averaging about 1,200 new cases per day. Local hospitals and health care providers, along with many other businesses, are dealing with critical staffing issues because so many workers are testing positive or having to stay home to care for children who tested positive.
COVID-related hospitalizations jumped from 28 on January 3 to 105 as of January 18. Eighteen of those patients were in ICU beds, up from four on January 3. Sonoma County has the fifth lowest hospital capacity and the third highest percentage increase in hospitalizations among the 58 counties. The unvaccinated still account for most hospitalizations here, especially those in our intensive care units, and deaths are starting to climb again. Residents 65 and older have accounted for 40 percent of all deaths in the pandemic, and there have been 10 COVID deaths of those 65 and older since December.
While breakthrough cases in vaccinated people are rising, those cases tend to be mild or asymptomatic; unvaccinated people are exposed to the greatest risks. People who are unvaccinated in Sonoma County are twice as likely to be infected with the virus and 17 times more likely to be hospitalized. They are nearly 14 times more likely to die from the virus.
In addition to the impact on seniors and those with underlying health conditions, county health officials also are concerned that the surge will continue to disproportionately impact low-income communities of color. These communities face the highest risks of becoming infected with COVID-19 because of their disproportionate representation in the essential workforce, lack of sick leave/job protections, multigenerational households, use of shared transportation and other factors. Latinx residents have accounted for more than half (53 percent) of all cases in the county despite making up 27.3 percent of the population.
Up to 50 percent of the recent cases in the county with a known source of transmission have been due to gatherings, with nearly all of these being gatherings involving more than 12 people. This public health evidence, along with the risk that local hospitals could be overwhelmed, prompted two recent mitigation steps by the county’s health officer. First, an appeal to residents to limit interactions with those outside of their immediate household for 30 days. Second, a health order in effect through Feb. 11 that prohibits large gatherings of more than 50 people indoors or more than 100 people outdoors.
These steps are the most strategic and immediate action the county could take to protect the community and preserve our hospital capacity in slowing the spread of COVID-19. Emergency departments are already overwhelmed in the county, with long patient wait times.
Today’s digest provides helpful and important updates on the following:
- Update on the situation in local schools
- How to get rapid tests, N-95 masks for free
- What to do if you contract COVID-19
- Vaccine & testing clinics in Sonoma County
- Rental assistance, mortgage relief available
- COVID-19 community resources & support
- Other news items from County of Sonoma
Update on the Situation in Local Schools
The Sonoma County Office of Education and county public health this week held a joint webinar on pediatric vaccines and COVID cases in our local schools. Prior to the Omicron surge, there had been 1,231 student cases reported in the county since classes started in August 2021. In the past week alone, public health nurses estimate receiving reports of more than 2,000 cases among school children, nearly double the amount of student cases that occurred over the entire school year.
Unvaccinated children ages 5 to 17 are being infected at five times the rate of fully vaccinated children. School age children account for 20 percent of new cases in the county, more than any other age group right now. Local doctors and public health officials advocate the safety of vaccines and the importance of parents getting their eligible children vaccinated as soon as possible.
Importantly, health and education officials are doing everything possible to keep local schools open:
- The pediatric vaccination campaign is on track to reach its goal of vaccinating 50 percent of eligible children by January 31.
- The county office of education in early January distributed 67,000 antigen rapid test kits to the families of students.
- 250,000 N95 masks were provided by the office of education to local schools to distribute to students and staff.
- Vaccinated students who are asymptomatic do no need to quarantine.
- Four schools in the county have had to close for one day recently because of a high number of cases.
- Large vaccination and booster clinics will be held on January 29 and 30 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds in Santa Rosa.
- Distance learning is not an option under state rules this school year.
Learn more from this week’s webinar, available in both English and Spanish, on the county’s YouTube channel here [WATCH]:
U.S. Moves to Make Rapid Tests, N95 Masks Available for Free
President Biden said in December that his administration would purchase 500 million rapid at-home tests and distribute them free to Americans. On Thursday, he announced plans to buy 500 million more tests, bringing the total to one billion.
Americans may now request four free rapid tests from the federal government. The tests will take seven to 12 days to arrive, and each household will be limited to four free tests. The U.S. Postal Service will handle shipping and delivery through first-class mail. Free tests will also be available at some community health centers, rural clinics and federal testing sites.
Related, according to a new federal policy, private insurers must cover the cost of eight at-home tests per member per month. The new policy does not apply to at-home tests purchased before January 15, 2022.
Free rapid tests may be requested here:
Insurance companies, group health plans to cover cost of at-home COVID-19 tests:
How to get your At-Home Over-The-Counter COVID-19 Test for Free:
In addition, the federal government will begin making 400 million N-95 masks available for free to U.S. residents starting next week. The masks will come from the U.S. Strategic National Stockpile, which has more than 750 million of the highly protective masks on hand.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently updated its mask guidance to acknowledge that cloth masks do not offer as much protection as surgical masks or respirators. N-95 respirators, so named because they can filter out 95 percent of all airborne particles when used correctly, offer the highest level of protection.
The masks will begin shipping this week and will be available for pickup at pharmacies and community health centers across the country.
Read more from CDC regarding masks and respirators:
How to tell if your N-95 mask is a fake:
Masks for kids: Tips and Resources
What to Do if You Contract COVID-19
With many people testing positive these days, and with evolving federal recommendations, there is some confusion about what to do if you have contracted COVID-19. If you test positive, the first thing you should do is isolate yourself for at least five days to protect your health and avoid infecting others.
- Stay in a separate room from those not infected.
- Use a separate bathroom if you can.
- Wear a mask around others, even at home, and ask others in your home to do the same.
- Use an N-95, KF-94, or a three-ply surgical mask if possible.
- Open the windows, when possible.
- If your residence has an HVAC system, make sure it has a fresh filter.
Get a test on day five, and if it is negative you can end your isolation. The California Department of Public Health recommends a rapid antigen test, not a PCR test, to determine if you can exit isolation. If you can’t get tested, you can end your isolation after 10 days if you don’t have symptoms.
If you used an at-home test, you should report the results to the county health department at (707) 565-4667. Notify close contacts that they’ve been exposed. A close contact is someone who spent at least 15 minutes over a 24-hour period within 6 feet of a person who tested positive for COVID-19.
People who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine unless they have symptoms after contact with someone who had COVID-19. However, fully vaccinated people should get tested five to seven days after their exposure, even if they don’t have symptoms.
Unvaccinated people should stay home for 14 days after your last contact with a person who has COVID-19. If you have symptoms, immediately self-isolate and contact your health care provider if you have trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds.
Learn more about home isolation instructions at SoCoEmergency.org:
Local Vaccine & Testing Opportunities
Vaccination and testing clinics are being held throughout the county to serve people who do not have convenient or affordable access to healthcare providers.
Visit the Sonoma County Office of Education to learn about clinics for students and families:
View the county’s vaccine clinics and appointment page here:
For details or appointments at COVID-19 testing clinics, including a pop-up testing calendar, please visit:
Residents who test positive using an at-home antigen test are urged to report the result by calling the county’s COVID hotline at (707) 565-4667 (4701 in Spanish). Anyone who needs help making a vaccination or testing appointment may also contact the hotline.
Rental Assistance & Mortgage Relief Available
As of January 10, the county has distributed $25.6 million to community-based organizations handling applications for rental assistance. Of that amount, $22.8 million has been distributed to applicants. The county has a total of $42.7 million under contract with the community organizations, with $21.5 million remaining to be disbursed from the second rounds of state and federal funding.
More information including how to apply is available here:
Additionally, California homeowners who have fallen behind on home loans can apply for a state grant to repay missed mortgage payments during the pandemic. The California Mortgage Relief Program covers past due mortgage payments through a grant of up to $80,000 per household.
The money will go directly to a homeowners’ mortgage servicer. It’s free to enroll and funds do not need to be repaid.
Applicants can check eligibility and apply through the online portal here:
COVID-19 Community Resources and Support
- Free COVID-19 testing is available for tribal communities at Sonoma County Indian Health Project. Call (707) 521-4500 for details.
- Listos California offers disaster preparedness information in indigenous languages at its Farmworkers Initiative webpage here:
- Information for Sonoma County businesses is available here:
Other County of Sonoma News
- Acquisition expands Hood Mountain Regional Park and Open Space Preserve
- New study on local well-being, inequities to be unveiled at January 26 launch event for Portrait of Sonoma County
- Permit Sonoma releases new Sonoma Development Center project description for Board of Supervisors input
- Sonoma County unveils resources for well owners impacted by drought