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Latest Sonoma County health order met with compliance, weariness

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

To track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world, go here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

The 11th public order issued by Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase since the start of the coronavirus pandemic was both entirely expected and utterly disheartening.

Order C19-35, which prohibits large gatherings throughout the county and asks citizens to cancel or postpone even smaller get-togethers for the next month, was a reminder that we are nowhere close to emerging from the darkness of COVID-19.

In fact, despite the widespread availability in this country of vaccines that have proved to be highly effective in limiting the worst effects of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, it sometimes feels like we’re as lost as ever.

The transmission rate in Sonoma County as of Tuesday was 153.6 new cases per 100,000 people, the highest recorded during a crisis that is now 22 months old. Despite the grim numbers, the reaction to Mase’s newest order, as gauged by a handful of random interviews on the street, is mixed.

“People who are gonna listen to that have already been doing that,” Brad Barmore, co-owner of KINSmoke restaurant on the Healdsburg Plaza, said Tuesday. “Others are probably gonna have parties out of spite. I hate to say it like that. But that’s the way it has been weaponized.”

Barmore and his business partner, JC Adams, are willing to adapt to public policy, because they have seen the risk firsthand. KINSmoke, Barmore said as the two men worked on refurbishing their outdoor seating Tuesday, has managed to remain remarkably untouched by the virus. Their KIN Windsor restaurant has not. At one point, exposures forced them to shut it down.

“When JC and I go home at night, we don’t talk about food costs,” Barmore said. “We talk about, ‘Do I have to take a shift at the door?’”

Still, even those who fully appreciate the county health mandates admit to a certain weariness as the nation plunges into another surge, this one driven by the uber-transmissible omicron variant.

“I kind of feel like we’ll all come down with it,” Carol Fuller said as she loaded her car with Costco groceries in Santa Rosa. “It’s so widespread.”

Mase and others in public health have frequently talked of “COVID fatigue.” Social distancing and masking once seemed new and disorienting. Now they’re second nature, but more despised than ever as SARS-CoV-2 approaches its second birthday.

Everyone is wishing for something that remains just out of reach.

Dimple Kumar, a 29-year-old Rohnert Park resident who was strolling around central Healdsburg on Tuesday, wants to visit her native India for the first time in 10 years; she had a trip planned in 2020, but had to cancel. Barmore’s 11-year-old son just had his CYO basketball season canceled for safety reasons and is “crushed.” Fuller misses the big gatherings — we’re talking 30-40 people — her family used to organize. During the pandemic, they’ve been no bigger than six or eight people.

A woman named Jade, who asked that we not print her last name, has more urgent needs. As she talked, her son Forbes, who is 14 months old and has never lived outside the constraints of a pandemic, bounced in a stroller on the plaza. He was in full-time day care until this week, when his facility shut down because of COVID. Now Jade and her husband are trading child care duties — one hour on, one hour off — while they try to work.

Luckily, they’re both in tech and have flexible hours. Still, it’s far from ideal.

“I think he’s better off in day care,” Jade said. “It’s good for him to be around other children.”

Some county residents are more openly hostile to Mase’s newest health order.

“I don’t agree with them doing this,” said Monica Garcia, who lives in Santa Rosa but grew up in Healdsburg and was showing a friend around the plaza there. “People need to come together. We’re all about hospitality here. It’s how businesses make money. Restaurants, nail salons, beauty bars. I feel for the people who want to start having events.”

Garcia is one of them. She works for a cannabis branding company and said live meet-and-greets are crucial to her industry. Asked whether she would be complying with Mase’s plea to curtail social engagements and stick to “necessary” trips like grocery shopping and doctor’s appointments, Garcia shook her head.

“Definitely not,” she said. “They’ve been requiring us to do all these safety measures — to have vaccinations and wear masks and all that. And we’re doing it. Why do we now have to do more?”

Kumar, the Rohnert Park woman, has followed the many public health rules of the past two years, she said, because “it’s just how the world works,” not necessarily because she buys into the reasoning behind them. She knows, for example, that some family members wouldn’t visit unless she was practicing established COVID protocols.

“My friend the other day said it best,” Kumar offered. “People are now acting on fear, not positivity.”

But one woman in the Costco parking lot believes the fear is justified. She’s a Sonoma County nurse. She gave her first name and stated which hospital department she works in. Then she retracted permission to mention the department. And as she drove away, she stopped, rolled down her window and asked that The Press Democrat not publish her name. She feared retaliation from her employer, she said.

This nurse described dire conditions in her hospital, with shortages of PPE and medical and cleaning supplies, overworked nurses and a deluge of new patients.

“I hear people say, ‘It’s not that bad. Where are the beds in the hallways?’” she said. “There aren’t beds there because we don’t have outlets in those hallways. But there are beds in other hallways. People are being turned away. Our COVID ward is full again.”

She added, “It’s exhausting. I’m so tired of it.”

She’s tired of a virus that, so far, has proved more resilient that the technology and policies devised to neutralize it. And she’s tired of the politics that make some people hesitant to get vaccinated, or to wear their masks so that they actually cover their noses — or to take a public health order seriously at the apex of a viral pandemic.

“We’re stuck doing this,” the nurse said. “And I don’t think it’s ever going away. Or at least not for a very long time.”

You can reach Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Skinny_Post.

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

To track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world, go here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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