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Sonoma County will require emergency workers, school staff to get COVID booster or test

Sonoma County’s health officer Thursday ordered all emergency workers and all staff at elementary and secondary schools to either receive a booster shot or face twice-weekly COVID testing early next year.

The new booster requirements, announced in a pair of nearly identical health orders, will go into effect Feb. 1. Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase issued the orders ahead of an anticipated surge in positive tests during the holidays.

The order on emergency workers covers fire and law enforcement personnel, emergency medical service workers, pharmacies, dental offices and operators of temporary disaster shelters.

The schools order, meanwhile, applies to staff at any school serving students in transitional kindergarten through 12th grade.

“With variants circulating locally and COVID-19 cases increasing, it is essential that our front-line workers have all the protection available to them,” Mase said in a statement. “Emergency personnel are in routine contact with the public, so getting them booster shots and requiring twice weekly testing if not boosted is the best way to protect them and the community.”

Steve Herrington, Sonoma County superintendent of schools, also voiced his support for the new requirement.

“This health order is vital in helping keep our schools open as we seek to minimize further disruptions to learning,” he said in a statement.

In response to the mandate, Santa Rosa Police Sgt. Chris Mahurin said, “We’re just going to comply with the order like we did before.”

Previously, the county required first responders to show proof of vaccination or one test per week.

Mahurin said 70% to 80% of the department has been vaccinated. There are about 220 employees and 171 of them are sworn police officers.

He didn’t expect any pushback against the new mandate, noting the only difference from the previous one is that a second test is required each week.

“People are complying with what they’re supposed to be doing, so that’s a positive,” he said.

Sonoma County Sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Juan Valencia echoed those sentiments, saying “The Sheriff’s Office follows all county and state protocols regarding the COVID vaccine. We want to keep our members and community safe.”

The county is one week removed from its first case of COVID’s highly transmissible omicron variant.

The Sonoma County resident infected by omicron was fully vaccinated, Mase said last week. They had recently received a booster, but were still within the two-week window of antibody production. The person also had recently traveled within the continental United States.

As of Thursday, Sonoma County has 27.3 new cases per 100,000 residents each day among unvaccinated people, according to county officials.

Among vaccinated residents, the rate is 6.7 new cases per 100,000 residents.

The Sonoma County Office of Education, in coordination with the county’s vaccination team, plans to host a booster clinic for school staff in the near future at its Teaching and Learning Center, Herrington said, though a date and time have not yet been determined.

“The coronavirus pandemic forced our students to learn remotely for two-thirds of the 2020-21 school year, following three years of interruptions caused by wildfires and flooding,” he said. “While vaccines have allowed a return to in-person classes, ensuring our school communities are as protected as they can be from omicron and future potential variants is essential for providing a safe environment conducive to education.”

A news release from SCOE Thursday also included an update from Santa Rosa Junior College President Frank Chong, who said the school has not yet made a decision regarding a booster shot mandate.

The college has had a vaccine mandate in place since Sept. 17, which Chong said has worked “very well.”

“(It) has allowed us to increase the number of in-person classes and services we’ve been able to offer our students while keeping everyone safe,” Chong said. “We understand the necessity of the booster, particularly against this new virulent strain of COVID-19. We intend to consider that requirement, in consultation with our constituent groups, and will make a decision when we return from our semester break, likely in mid-January.”

Currently there are 24 COVID patients in Sonoma County hospitals and 76% of county residents ages 5 and up are fully vaccinated.

Booster shots have been administered to 46% of eligible residents age 16 and up.

You can reach Staff Writer Colin Atagi at colin.atagi@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @colin_atagi. Reach Staff Writer Kaylee Tornay at kaylee.tornay@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ka_tornay.

Kaylee Tornay

Education, The Press Democrat

Learning is a transformative experience. Beyond that, it’s a right, under the law, for every child in this country. But we also look to local schools to do much more than teach children; they are tasked with feeding them, socializing them and offering skills in leadership and civics. My job is to help you make sense of K-12 education in Sonoma County and beyond.  

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