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Q&A: What will Sonoma County’s ban on large gatherings affect?

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.

A new 30-day ban on large public gatherings in Sonoma County was issued Monday by Dr. Sundari R. Mase, the county health officer, due to an unprecedented surge in COVID-19 cases fueled by the omicron variant.

That ban has left some Sonoma County residents with lingering questions such as: What’s still open? What’s not? Can I go to the gym?

The Press Democrat is tracking down answers to these and other questions for our readers.

When does the order go into effect and how long will it last?

The order went into effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and will last until Feb. 11, unless it is extended, rescinded, superseded, or amended by Mase or the state public health officer.

What is affected by the order?

The ban will prohibit public indoor gatherings of more than 50 people, as well as public outdoor gatherings of more than 100 where social distancing of at least 6 feet per person is not feasible.

Under the new order, a gathering is defined as any public or private event that brings people together in a single room or single space at the same time.

This includes:

  • auditoriums
  • gymnasiums
  • performing arts venues
  • stadiums
  • arenas
  • large conference rooms
  • wedding venues
  • meeting halls
  • any other indoor or outdoor space

Such gatherings may have either assigned or unassigned seating, and may be either general admission or gated, ticketed or events with a permit.

The order also specifies that gatherings of individuals who are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 must be limited to no more than 12 people, except for family gatherings.

Individuals of any age at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 are defined by the CDC as including pregnant people, current and former smokers, and those with certain diseases such as lung or liver diseases and cancer.

What is exempt from the order?

Under the county’s order, large gatherings do not include:

  • those that occur as a part of regular school instructional events or outdoor recess
  • workplace settings
  • courthouse activities
  • places of worship
  • cafeterias
  • any venue open to the public as part of regular operations, including shopping malls, stores, restaurants and museums

Are gatherings considered “public” if they require proof of vaccination?

The order does not exempt large gatherings of vaccinated people, even if attendees have proof of vaccination.

Health officials maintain that large gatherings include events that are both private and public, so a gathering of more than 50 people indoors or 100 people outdoors without social distancing would be a violation whether or not people are fully vaccinated.

Why was the order issued?

The order is in response to skyrocketing COVID-19 case rates in Sonoma County, which threaten to overwhelm local hospitals, according to officials.

Test positivity is higher than at any point during the pandemic, according to the order.

Last week, local health officials reported that large and small gatherings are the cause of more than 50% of confirmed COVID-19 cases where the source of transmission has been determined.

Are schools shutting down?

The order does not apply to normal classroom or recess activities.

Sonoma County education officials said they will limit spectator attendance at some school activities, such as athletic events and arts performances.

Not included in the mandate, Sonoma State University announced Tuesday that the spring semester will begin online and remain remote for three weeks for the vast majority of courses.

Will gyms, restaurants and businesses remain open?

Gyms, restaurants and businesses will remain open, as they are part of “regular operations” listed by the county. Although, customers are still required to wear masks per county mandate, regardless of vaccination status.

Health officials have also issued a community wide appeal for Sonoma County residents to avoid leaving their homes except for work or school or for other necessary trips, such as the grocery store or the doctor’s office.

What precautions can I take to avoid getting the virus?

Health officials maintain that getting vaccinated, as well as a booster shot, reduces the likelihood of contracting the virus, and helps to reduce the severity of symptoms if you do become infected.

Boosters continue to provide additional support for those who contract coronavirus, including protection against the omicron variant.

The timeline for booster eligibility is five months for those who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines and two months for those who received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

How can I tell if I have the omicron variant?

The omicron variant of COVID-19 still presents itself in the usual symptoms seen in the other variants, including fever, fatigue, cough, shortness of breath and eventual loss of smell and taste.

Sometimes those infected experience congestion, runny nose, nausea, vomiting and sometimes diarrhea.

People who are vaccinated, or vaccinated and boosted report experiencing fewer fevers, if any, as well as milder symptoms.

For the unvaccinated, omicron looks similar to delta and all the prior variants and the original strain, and may still cause pneumonia.

Staff writers Martin Espinoza and Kaylee Tornay contributed reporting.

You can reach Staff Writer Alana Minkler at 707-526-8511 or alana.minkler@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @alana_minkler.

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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