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Sonoma County officials make aggressive plea for new COVID-19 health order banning large gatherings

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.

Citing a staggering wave of COVID-19 infections, Sonoma County elected and public health officials on Wednesday urged residents to adhere to a new local health order that prohibits large public indoor and outdoor gatherings.

The order, which took effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday and remains in effect for 30 days, bans indoor gatherings of 50 or more people and outdoor events of 100 or more people.

During a COVID-19 press briefing Wednesday, county officials pointed out that the highly transmissible omicron variant now infects more than 700 people a day, compared to 120 around Christmas. The share of COVID-19 tests that turn up positive is now nearly 20%, double the positivity rate of the winter surge a year ago.

Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore and other county officials warned that the current wave of infections has the potential to overwhelm hospitals, even though the omicron variant likely causes less severe illness. Gore asked residents to “do what’s right” and follow the health order.

“No matter who you are in this county, you have not only a right to be a part of living your life … running your business and doing other things, but with rights come responsibilities,” Gore said. “And the responsibility that we’re talking about is to make sure that you look at how your action affects the downstream results. It’s not just about your events.”

Public health officials pointed out that there are now 80 people in the hospital with COVID-19, just shy of the 84 people hospitalized with COVID-19 during the summer surge in cases.

In addition to the health order issued this week, county officials are also asking residents to avoid leaving their homes except for going to school, work and essential errands such as groceries and doctor’s visits. That appeal is not a public health mandate or order.

During the press briefing, Kathryn Pack, health program manager for the county’s epidemiology team, said large and small gatherings are the cause of 44% of confirmed COVID-19 cases where the source of transmission has been determined.

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 in an auditorium, gymnasium, stadium, arena, large conference room, wedding venue, meeting hall, or any other indoor or outdoor space.

The order also limits gatherings of people who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 to no more than 12 people, except for family gatherings. The order exempts workplace settings, courthouse activities, places of worship, cafeterias, or any venue that is open to the public as part of regular operations, including shopping malls, stores, restaurants and museums.

Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer, said during the briefing that she, like everyone else, is “tired” of the pandemic. “We all want to be past it and get back to life,” she said. “But we’re not there yet, and all indications are that this is likely to get worse before it gets better.”

On Wednesday, the county reported two more COVID-19 deaths, bringing the pandemic total to 423. The deaths included an unvaccinated man over 100 who died Jan. 4 and an unvaccinated woman between 70 and 80 who died Dec. 31. Both had underlying health conditions.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

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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