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Sonoma County health officer expects county to get clearance for faster resumption of economic activity

Sonoma County health officer expects county to get clearance for faster resumption of economic activity

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Sonoma County’s top public health official thinks the governor made a wise move Monday revising state requirements for reopening more business and industry in a way that allows California’s differing areas to tailor plans based on the extent of local coronavirus transmission, community testing and tracing close contacts of infected residents.

Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer, on Monday confirmed she thinks Gavin Newsom’s less-strict public health benchmarks means the county will be able to secure clearance to go faster to reopen restaurants, wine tasting rooms and breweries for outdoor eating and drinking. In fact, Mase said she planned to submit the county’s request Monday night to do that. If the state approves it, she could by Friday issue a directive that would clear the way for outdoor dining to restart at those many establishments countywide that represent a key piece of the local economy.

“We’re not like the smaller rural counties that have really very few cases and no hospitalizations, and obviously, we’re not LA or San Francisco, San Mateo,” Mase said during her daily press briefing. “So we’re kind of in that middle group, and it’s nice that we’d be able to move forward at a pace that we’re comfortable with.”

Already, 24 mostly rural Northern California counties were approved to resume economic activity on a quicker track based on more stringent public health rules state officials implemented earlier this month. Sonoma County met some of those requirements, but fell short on others because, for example, there was a local virus-related death reported on May 11 that would have precluded any further business sector resumptions for at least 14 days.

That death benchmark now has been removed and replaced with rules emphasizing the percentage of local residents who test positive for COVID-19 and the number of those hospitalized for treatment. The county fares very well with those standards since it’s only had a 3% rate of residents who have tested positive for the new coronavirus, and only 9% of people stricken have needed hospital care since the first local resident was diagnosed at the beginning of March. As of Monday night, county health officials said 14,183 of the county’s roughly 500,000 residents have been tested and 97% have come back negative.

In addition to the outdoor dining and eating establishments using proper social distancing and other health protocols, Mase will be asking the state to permit summer camps for children plus drive-in and drive-thru religious services and other ceremonies.

Should the county’s virus outbreak remain under control, Mase said the next reopening stage would include allowing indoor dining in restaurants, as well as allowing indoor wine tasting rooms to resume operations. The governor said Monday, under his relaxed requirements he expected to help 53 of the state’s 58 counties go sooner with restarting more business activity, that step could be “weeks” away for counties that keep the virus in check.

Also, undetermined future steps locally would include reopening of school campuses and large retail settings for shopping in stores, Mase said. Many retailers now are able to conduct curbside sales.

“We’ll be looking at ... destination retail ... where you might go to a mall and be able to walk into a mall and go into retail businesses — we’re not there yet,” she said. “So those are the big things, and of course schools.”

As she has previously since commerce gradually restarted early this month, Mase on Monday warned reopening more of the county economy comes with risks, predominantly a potential spike of virus cases. She said the state requires counties to have in place “triggers” that would cause the county to put the brakes on reopening plans. The triggers would be tripped if various coronavirus metrics go beyond a certain threshold, such as more infected residents and cases in which people would be classified as stricken with COVID-19 via community transmission — meaning from an unknown source in the area. As of Monday night, county health officials classified 81 of the county’s infected residents, or 21% of them, as having contracted the virus through community transmission.

Mase also said if the number of confirmed cases doubles during a period shorter than 20 days, it would be a cause for concern.

County health officials reported 391 local coronavirus cases, with 183 active as of Monday night, while 204 people have recovered since the first case was announced March 2. Four local residents, all older with underlying health conditions, have died from the highly contagious infectious disease, the most recent reported a week ago and the first March 20.

Ironically, the governor’s softer reopening requirements come after a week when the number of Sonoma County’s confirmed new cases of COVID-19 have jumped by 81 to the current tally.

Certain community advocates oppose the county’s intended faster reopening of more businesses, claiming county officials are not taking adequate steps to ensure Latino residents will not continue to be disproportionately infected by the pathogen.

Last week, the county published demographic data showing Latinos comprised 59% of all confirmed local coronavirus cases, even though Latinos are only 27% of the local population. Health officials calculated Latinos in Sonoma County are 4.5 times more likely to contract the virus than white residents.

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