Why Sacramento County isn’t requiring indoor masks as COVID-19 cases surpass old benchmarks

·3 min read

The number of COVID-19 cases surged in Sacramento County to nearly four times prior benchmarks that required indoor mask mandates, but Dr. Olivia Kasirye, the county health officer, has no plans as yet to reinstate the orders.

Instead, local health officials say the time isn’t right to resume public health emergency orders that upended life around California throughout the pandemic.

“Cases of COVID-19 are increasing due to contagious sub-variants of delta and omicron,” county public health officials said in a statement issued to The Bee. “Although there is an increase in hospitalized cases as well, it is not at the same scale as the increase in positive cases. The availability of effective vaccinations and therapeutics are working to reduce disease severity and death.”

Sacramento County on Tuesday reported a coronavirus case rate of 19.4 for every 100,000 residents, a 37% increase over a week ago.

In February, amid a surge of cases caused by the omicron and delta variants that flooded the region’s hospitals, Kasirye had said she would not rescind the mask mandate until cases had dropped to five for every 100,000 residents in Sacramento County.

Today, despite the increase in cases well above that threshold, health officials have resisted reinstating mask mandates and other COVID-19 related precautions in local schools, saying it would be warranted only if the illness becomes more severe.

“If over the summer we see a new variant or increase in hospitalizations or death, and increase of severity, then we will more likely see a return of mitigation measures,” said Nick Mori, a public health program planner with Sacramento County.

State public health officials earlier this year announced that COVID-19 was endemic and that meant that residents would have to learn to live with the disease, just as they do with influenza and other such contagious diseases that can be prevented through vaccination.

In addition to vaccines, drugmakers have developed a number of antivirals in pill form that, if taken within a few days of the onset of COVID-19, have significantly reduced the risk of hospitalization and death. They include remdesivir, Paxlovid and molnupiravir.

Now that COVID-19 tests are more readily available, the exposure notices allow people to test and get results quickly. If needed, they can then self-isolate and seek antiviral prescriptions before their symptoms land them in a hospital emergency room.

In essence, public health officials continue to promote vaccines, boosters, tests, isolation and the judicious use of masks as essential tools in preventing the spread of COVID-19 and warding off severe illness.

While mandates have not resurfaced, Kasirye and her team said they highly recommended that residents wear masks when going out in public, “especially in crowded places and especially for people at increased risk for severe disease.”

Public health officials in New York City issued a similar recommendation this week as both community transmission and hospitalizations surged to a high alert level there.

The COVID-19 case rate in New York far exceeds Sacramento’s, about 300 coronavirus cases for every 100,000 New York City residents. Sacramento County’s COVID-19 case rate peaked in January 2022, with 245 COVID-19 cases for every 100,000 residents.