Concerned about the lack of progress in controlling the spread of COVID-19 in Sonoma County, local officials are considering a multi-pronged strategy to slow transmission rates, including trying to replicate some of the successes of other Bay Area counties.
The initiative surfaced Monday as Sonoma County leaders braced for the release of another disappointing set of statistics Tuesday expected to show the county has again fallen short of state metrics to further ease restrictions on local business activity.
The county is expected to remain in the purple zone, the most restrictive of the state’s four-tier reopening process. Saddled by a growing number of new coronavirus cases, the county continues to be the only county in the Bay Area that has not advanced to a less restrictive stage.
Details of the county’s new plan are still taking shape. Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer, said the new strategies range from partnering with businesses and other organizations to ramp up employee testing; conducting aggressive outreach in disproportionately impacted Latino communities; and providing financial assistance to low-income residents so they can self-isolate when they become infected.
“Alameda County gives, I think, $1,250 to every person diagnosed with COVID who is in that lower socio-economic status,” she said, adding that other counties provide hotel vouchers so residents infected with the virus can isolate near their homes.
In Sonoma County, that could be an alternative to people having to travel to the county’s coronavirus alternate care site in Healdsburg.
On Monday, Mase and county Health Services Director Barbie Robinson gave an emergency briefing to members of the Board of Supervisors and County Counsel Robert Pittman to discuss these strategies. Mase also presented them late last week during a special supervisors’ meeting.
Board Chair Susan Gorin said it’s imperative that the county take aggressive steps to reduce its coronavirus case numbers and begin bringing relief to both local residents and businesses.
“We need to figure out strategies to get our infection rates down,” Gorin said. “Certainly we need to look at developing (equity) strategies … to ensure that those most vulnerable people, including our essential workforce, are actually getting the protections that they need to remain healthy.”
Gorin said there is real interest in the local business community for the creation of a fund to help pay stipends to low-income employees diagnosed with COVID-19. Health officials have cited the lack of sick leave as a reason why some residents continue to work even when they’re ill.
Increasing the volume of testing is another big part of the strategy, Mase said, adding that she hopes to involve more businesses and organizations to implement onsite testing. Such testing would be in addition to the county’s targeted surveillance testing and one-day testing events in communities with high coronavirus rates.
“A high priority is testing and testing a lot,“ she said. ”We need to scale that up and partner with our businesses and employers to achieve greater testing in the group.“
Some of these strategies are being used elsewhere in the Bay Area, such as Alameda County, which is currently in the red tier with an adjusted COVID case rate of 3.4 new daily cases per 100,000 residents and a 2% test positivity, the share of all tests where the virus is detected.
By comparison, Sonoma County has an adjusted case rate of 10.8 new cases per 100,000 people and a test positivity rate of 5%. To qualify for the less restrictive red tier, counties must get their case rate under 7 new daily cases per 100,000 and a test positivity of 8% or less.
Starting last week, the county must also meet a third metric, health equity, designed to measure the spread of the virus in minority and poor neighborhoods. To advance in the state’s reopening plan, the percent of positive cases in disadvantaged communities and the percent of positive cases countywide must both meet the state threshold to move forward. In Sonoma County, 8.1% of tests in disadvantaged communities detected coronavirus in last week’s assessment, narrowly missing the 8% threshold the county needs to advance.
While it is possible the county will meet two of the three state metrics on Tuesday, it is unlikely to advance because of the number of new daily cases per 100,000 residents is still too high.
Gorin said County Administrator Sheryl Bratton are expected to give an update on local COVID-19 strategies at Tuesday’s supervisors meeting. Officials said supervisors could take action on the plan at their Oct. 20 meeting.
On Monday, local health officials published public health guidance for Halloween and Day of the Dead celebrations. Health officials strongly discouraged traditional trick-or-treating by going door-to-door or business-to-business, or even car-to-car, due to the difficulty of maintaining proper social distancing and facial coverings.
Higher-risk Halloween activities are not permitted, such as carnivals, festivals, live audience entertainment, indoor haunted houses, indoor gatherings, events or parties with non-household members.
However, state health guidance does allow for outdoor gatherings if there are fewer than 12 individuals participating from no more than three households. Social distancing guidelines must be followed.
Similar rules apply to Day of the Dead celebrations. Visits to seasonal outdoor venues such as pumpkin patches are also allowed, as long as face coverings and hand sanitizer is used and people are able to maintain social distancing.
County health officials on Sunday reported two more COVID-related deaths, bringing the total number to 128. Officials said the two were women over 64.
One lived in a skilled nursing home and died Oct. 6 at the facility. The other lived in her own home and died Oct. 6 at a local hospital.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or [email protected] On Twitter @pressreno.