Health orders issued for pharmacists, home health workers, indoor sports and jails

By Brandon McCapes, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, September 13, 2021

Three health orders issued earlier this month will require vaccination or regular testing for all pharmacists and at-home medical care professionals, in addition to mandating mask use for participants and spectators of indoor sporting activities, and requiring COVID-19 testing for inmates upon entry at Sonoma County detention facilities.

Dr. Sundari Mase, Sonoma County’s health officer, made the orders on the heels of the “summer surge,” as officials called it in early August. Following the reopening of the state and relinquishment of all COVID-19 restrictions per Gov. Gavin Newsom on June 15, late summer saw an increase in COVID-19 cases and deaths.

In the first of the two health orders announced Sept. 3, Mase decreed that all businesses and governmental entities with personnel who are home health workers or pharmacists must require employees to undergo weekly “routine surveillance” testing, unless exempt by showing proof of vaccination.

In the order, Mase writes that the California Department of Public Health’s July 24 order doesn’t go far enough in its requirements for surveillance testing for unvaccinated employees at high-risk health care and congregate settings.

“I have reviewed the order and determined that it leaves out an important group that interacts with persons especially vulnerable to the COVID-19 virus and that should also undergo regular surveillance testing if they cannot show proof of vaccination. That group consists of persons that go into homes to deliver health care and persons working in a pharmacy,” Mase said.

The order cites the rise of the SARS-CoV-2 Delta variant as the dominant strain in both the country and the county. The Delta variant is more contagious and causes more serious illness than previous strains, and has caused new case rates and deaths to increase since July.

“With the easing of COVID-19 prevention restrictions since June 15, people have more exposure risk outside the workplace and can therefore more easily bring the virus into the workplace,” the order states.

According to the order, vaccination is the most effective means of preventing COVID-19 infection, reducing risk of infection by between 70% and 95% while reducing the chance of an infected vaccinated person transmitting the virus by between 40% and 60%.

Sonoma County recently announced that 75% of residents have been fully vaccinated, with another 8% having received partial vaccination.

A second order on Sept. 3 requires all participants, coaches, personnel and spectators of indoor sporting events and activities wear face masks. This includes during both competition and practice, physical education and condition and weight lifting, but excludes participants in wrestling or certain martial arts while actively engaged in a match, as well as participants of indoor water sports while in the water.

The order also recommends regular testing of unvaccinated participants and staff, recommends limiting locker room use, opening windows while traveling together in vehicles and socializing with other teams, among other recommendations and requirements.

“Sonoma County values the many benefits of extracurricular activities,” the order reads. “The purpose of this guidance is to reduce the incidence and spread of COVID-19 infection in our communities by supporting a safer environment for all who participate in sports and other extracurricular activities.”

A final health order released on Sept. 7, adds a testing requirement to inmates at detention facilities like the Sonoma County Main Adult Detention Facility and Juvenile Hall.

The order, violation of failure in compliance of which is a misdemeanor punishable by fine, imprisonment or both, requires inmates to receive a rapid antigen test upon entry into the facility of their incarceration, taking effect Oct. 1.

California does not currently require testing of inmates in correctional facilities, however, Sonoma County has experienced cases arising out of both correctional staff and inmates and local detention facilities.

“Detention facilities are particularly high-risk congregate settings because of close quarters; inmates are exposed to many different staff and volunteers while in jail and may be required to move among different living modules, thereby increasing the possibility of COVID-19 transmission. The inmate population is at a substantial risk of severe illness from COVID-19, even if fully vaccinated, because they may have certain health conditions that make them vulnerable to severe consequences of COVID-19,” Mase said in the order.

In the event of a positive antigen test, staff must confirm with a nucleic acid amplification test if the inmate is not exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. Any inmate with a positive antigen test must be isolated according to isolation protocol until negative test results from a nucleic acid amplification test are received.

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