County health officials urge people to get vaccinated, mask up

By Katherine Minkiewicz-Martine, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, July 29, 2021

Sonoma County health officials are strongly urging vaccinated individuals to mask up in indoor public places and for unvaccinated individuals to continue wearing a mask in all indoor and outdoor settings and to avoid large gatherings as the highly transmissible COVID-19 Delta variant makes its way through the county.

While 78% of the county’s population is now fully vaccinated, case rates, testing positivity and hospitalizations have surged in the last few weeks due to the Delta variant.

“We truly are at a pivotal point in this pandemic … Our new case numbers are rising along with hospitalizations. We are now averaging about 50 new cases each day, nearly 10 new daily cases per 100,000 residents. For comparison, in the middle of May we were averaging about three new cases per 100,000 residents,” Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said during a community COVID briefing on July 28. “Hospitalizations have jumped from an average of under 10 in May and early June, to an average of 40 per day, four times more. We’re also seeing more COVID patients in our intensive care unit (ICU), nearly all of them being individuals who are unvaccinated.”

As of July 28, the county’s case rate per 100,000 people per day is 9.5 and the overall testing positivity rate is 4.4%. The testing positivity in the lowest quartile of the Healthy Places Index is 5.7%.

The case rate for the fully vaccinated population of the county is 4.2 new cases per 100,000 people per day.

In comparison, the case rate for the unvaccinated population of the county — which comprises just under a quarter of the population at 22% — is 22 new cases per day per 100,000 and many of these cases are the Delta variant.

Mase said as of July 27, 188 cases of the Delta variant have been diagnosed in Sonoma County, making it the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the community.

She said undoubtedly, there are likely more Delta cases in the community that just haven’t been recorded yet.

As to whether or not the county is past the era of implementing more drastic COVID mitigation measures, such as mask mandates, Mase said although we’ve seen an increase in cases, it seems like vaccination has had an impact in mitigating the worst outcomes of the disease. She added that county health officials will continue to monitor COVID data and if needed, there will be a time to reevaluate the situation.

While COVID-19 hospitalizations have elevated over the past few weeks, they do remain stable, according to Mase.

Eighty-three percent of those hospitalized with COVID are unvaccinated and 100% of COVID patients in the ICU are unvaccinated and 99.4% of all deaths have been among unvaccinated individuals (those who died who were fully vaccinated were over the age of 90 and had severe underlying health conditions).

The county also reported another COVID-19 related death that occurred on July 25 at a local hospital, bringing the county’s COVID death toll to 330.

This person was between 50 and 64 years of age, had underlying health conditions and was unvaccinated.

According to county spokesperson Paul Gullixson, this individual was a member of the homeless community and had been living at the Sam Jones Shelter in Santa Rosa, the same shelter that recently experienced a large COVID outbreak among its residents.

With the large case rate for unvaccinated individuals and the substantial spread of COVID in the county, health officials are imploring unvaccinated residents to get vaccinated.

And while some people may be concerned about the effectiveness of the vaccine against the Delta variant, the vaccine reduces the risk of symptomatic infection and greatly reduces the risk of hospitalization or death.

“This variant poses the greatest risk to those who have not yet been vaccinated. Those who have not yet received the vaccine are much more likely to experience the worst outcomes, such as severe illness and hospitalization. Almost all our current COVID patients who are hospitalized in Sonoma County are people who decided not to get vaccinated and all of those in the ICU are people who are unvaccinated. This is really tragic given how widely available the vaccine is right now,” Mase said.

The Delta variant is 60% more transmissible than other variants and contains 1,000 times the viral load and post-vaccination cases, also known as breakthrough cases, are to be expected, according to Kate Pack, an epidemiologist with the County of Sonoma.

“No vaccine is 100% effective, and a small portion of people will still get infected,” Pack said.

However, evidence suggests that the vaccine can help reduce the severity of the illness for those who do have a breakthrough infection and can help reduce the worst outcomes of the virus.

According to county data, 74% of post-vaccination cases are symptomatic and 92% had mild symptoms.

Overall, of the 300,136 fully-vaccinated individuals in Sonoma County, 500 post-vaccination breakthrough cases were identified. That accounts for less than 1% (0.167%) of the fully vaccinated population.

Dr. Gary Green, an infectious disease specialist at Sutter Health Santa Rosa, also encouraged unvaccinated individuals to get vaccinated.

Green said he’s only had one vaccinated COVID patient at the Sutter Santa Rosa hospital who needed oxygen. He added that it is “really tragic” when someone comes into the hospital with COVID who wasn’t vaccinated.

“I was at the hospital until midnight (last night) trying to keep a healthy 29-year-old off of a ventilator,” Green said, underscoring the importance of getting vaccinated.

For information on where to get vaccinated or tested, visit the county COVID website.

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