Sonoma County returns to indoor masking for all, revoking exemption for vaccinated people
Sonoma County has joined much of the rest of California in requiring people to wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status.
The county on Wednesday announced its revocation of an exemption allowing vaccinated people to go maskless in some indoor public settings, including gyms, offices and churches.
The order will take effect Thursday at 12:01 a.m.
“Increasingly, we are seeing the virus that causes COVID-19 spread among people who are fully vaccinated,” Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said in a news release. “The vaccine works. It greatly reduces the chances you will become severely ill or die if you contract the virus, but it won’t stop you from infecting others. If they are immunocompromised or unvaccinated, they could require hospitalization and even die. Wearing a well-fitted mask indoors in public settings will help keep you and those around you safe by slowing the transmission of COVID-19.”
Mase is also encouraging people wear surgical mask or the equivalent, as “cloth masks are just not as effective in stopping the spread of the virus.”
On Dec. 15, the California Department of Public Health issued a statewide indoor mask mandate to last until Jan. 15, but allowed counties with existing mask ordinances to retain their local exemptions, the release said.
Sonoma County approved its exemption in October, after implementing an indoor mask mandate in August.
“As the pandemic evolves, our response to it will also evolve,” Mase said.
The county is the latest in the Bay Area to revoke its exemption, joining Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin and San Francisco counties in revoking what the press release described as a “coordinated effort to blunt a regional surge in COVID-19 cases.”
Health officials in the Bay Area have been monitoring what appears to be the beginnings of the winter surge in infections that has afflicted other parts of the United States.
The number of new daily COVID cases in Sonoma County has increased 15% during the month of December, and break-through cases - when a fully vaccinated person becomes infected - are at an all-time high, reaching nearly 80 a day, the release said.
The number of COVID-19 cases detected daily in unvaccinated people in Sonoma County has more than tripled since Thanksgiving, from 16.9 per 100,000 residents to 51.9 per 100,000 residents, the highest since late August, according to the release. New daily cases detected among vaccinated residents increased from 6.9 per 100,000 residents to 7.9 per 100,000 residents during the same period.
The omicron strain was first detected in Sonoma County on Dec. 16 and as of Wednesday, 14 cases of omicron had been detected in the county, according to the county’s COVID-19 data website. Officials have said the number of cases is likely higher because of the lag in genotyping.
Sonoma County’s decision comes during an holiday week when many work places are at lower staffing levels. It also coincides with the arrival of a big week for gyms and health clubs on Jan. 1, Ethan Brown, interim executive director of the county’s Economic Development Board noted.
“I do think that a quick pivot, if they can’t achieve a quick pivot there’s going to be some challenges there,” Brown said. “I think that could be a point of concern.”
Brown said his office had not yet heard from any local businesses about the masking ordinance change, but said that may be in part due to the off-week for many businesses and the need for employers to process the information.
“We try to be there as a resource when new rules are instituted I would encourage folks to reach out to us,” Brown said.
Wednesday’s announcement is the latest in a series of updates from the county.
Tuesday, Mase issued a new guidance encouraging employers in the county to require their employees to either get a COVID-19 booster or get tested twice a week for the virus. The county, which employs around 4,400 people, is also reviewing its current vaccination policy and procedures with the intention of adopting that new recommendation.
Last week, the county issued two health orders requiring booster shots or twice weekly testing for local school employees, emergency responders and employees at dental offices, pharmacies and temporary disaster shelters.
You can reach Staff Writer Emma Murphy at 707-521-5228 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @MurphReports.
County government, politics reporter
The decisions of Sonoma County’s elected leaders and those running county government departments impact people’s lives in real, direct ways. Your local leaders are responsible for managing the county’s finances, advocating for support at the state and federal levels, adopting policies on public health, housing and business — to name a few — and leading emergency response and recovery.
As The Press Democrat’s county government and politics reporter, my job is to spotlight their work and track the outcomes.