Sonoma County health worker optimistic escalating COVID cases will soon begin to decline

Speaking to the public at a Zoom conference on Wednesday, Sonoma County health officials tried to toe a tricky line. They spoke of “widespread transmission” of the coronavirus in the community, while emphasizing that better days are ahead – and reminding everyone of the bad times that came before.

“I still believe we are in a much better place than at any time in the past two years, and I am optimistic about where we are going,” said Dr Sundari Mase, the manager. county health. “You never know what’s to come in terms of new variants, but looking at various state models, it looks like this wave will likely peak around mid-May, so I’m cautiously optimistic that we should start again soon. to see our case numbers go down.”

Sonoma County’s rolling seven-day COVID rate on Wednesday was 26.7 daily new cases per 100,000 residents, said Kate Pack, health program manager for the county’s epidemiology team.

Or at least that was the official rate. The actual numbers could be significantly higher.

“A lot of people are testing themselves (at home) and testing positive, and not showing up to the system,” said Dr. Lee Riley, chair of the department of infectious diseases and vaccinology at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health. “And a lot of people don’t even test anymore. The real number is therefore probably higher than what is reported.

Because of the breakdown of reports, you can reasonably expect to see case rates go down, Riley said. Instead, the trend is up. And that’s also true for test positivity, which accounted for 8% of all samples tested in Sonoma County on Wednesday.

The data paints a picture of a community still plagued by a nagging pandemic. But Mase doesn’t want to exaggerate the threat.

“It’s not like the surges we’ve seen in the past,” she said, noting that the current case rate is “still only a tenth of the case rate we had in January. “. At that time, we were seeing 256 cases per 100,000 people. For a county our size, that meant we were seeing about 1,300 new cases every day. »

Hospitalizations remain “steady and low,” Mase said. As of Wednesday, 23 people were in county hospitals with COVID, including one in intensive care. And Sonoma County has not had a COVID-related death since April 15. If that holds — there is sometimes a lag in data collection — it will be the longest period without a COVID death here since the pandemic began.

Yet the disruptions of this health crisis are not behind us. St. Rose Catholic School, a kindergarten through eighth grade school in the Mark West area of ​​Santa Rosa, closed its campus this week due to an outbreak that has spread through multiple grade levels. And at least one Sonoma County preschool, CASTLE Preschool in Sebastopol, will be closed Thursday through Monday after recording a positive test.

Most analysts associate the persistent levels of infection with successive mutations of the coronavirus that began sending shockwaves around the world in early 2020. The omicron variant of this original SARS-CoV-2 virus was in large part responsible for January’s huge spike, and a subvariant of omicron, called BA.2, is driving the surge currently hitting many parts of the country, including the Bay Area.

It goes even further. A BA.2 mutation appeared in Northern California. It is known as BA.2.12.1 and it is more transmissible than BA.2, which was more transmissible than the first version of omicron, which was more transmissible than the basic coronavirus.

Meanwhile, two other omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, are driving a new spike in cases in South Africa. To date, none have been detected in Sonoma County, Pack said.

The proliferation of these many variants is one of the reasons everyone in the field works so hard to get as many people vaccinated as possible.

“Those who will develop severe disease or die are those who are not vaccinated,” Riley said. “There are still a lot of them. And they tend to be together in certain communities. When a new variant arrives and enters this community – in terms of total numbers, you might not see a big increase. But in those communities, it can have a big effect. And the virus can survive and evolve in these places. »

Here in Sonoma County, the unvaccinated are 18 times more likely to end up in the hospital if they contract COVID, and 13 times more likely to die from the disease, Mase said. Since the start of the year, she added, Sutter Santa Rosa Medical Center has not admitted any vaccinated COVID patients.

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