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Update, 5:30 p.m. Sunday: Santa Clara County officials are warning that the upcoming holiday season is expected to coincide with a spike in COVID-19, nearly as severe as the omicron surge last year. The county moved into the high-risk designation over the weekend, prompting the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to recommend people wear high-quality masks in public spaces. Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s health officer, says levels of the virus in San José’s sewer system — which draws from three quarters of the county’s population — are already at about 84% of the omicron peak.
“We not only have COVID as we’ve had the last two winters, but we have flu and RSV and other viruses circulating as well,” said Cody. “So it’s like a winter of viral soup. There’s a ton of virus circulating and if you want to be healthy for the holidays, you need to take action and you need to do it now.”
RSV refers to respiratory syncytial virus, a respiratory infection common in childhood, that can potentially cause pneumonia and other serious lung ailments. Cody said the flu and RSV seasons also began early this year, though RSV is beginning to plateau.
Original story, 5:30 p.m. Friday: More stringent masking rules have been reinstated for certain high-risk settings in Alameda, Contra Costa and Napa counties to protect against the spread of COVID-19, health officials said Friday.
Universal masking is now required for staff and residents in homeless shelters, emergency shelters and cooling and heating centers. It’s also now required in county correctional and detention centers.
Per state guidance, masking in these settings becomes required after the level of community spread of COVID-19, as defined by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shifts from low to medium. Alameda and Contra Costa county officials said community spread moved from low to medium on Thursday, and that they will require high-risk settings to abide by the state’s guidance. Napa County officials on Friday said they also now are at medium, and will likewise require masking per state guidance.
Masking continues to be required in health care and long-term care facilities.
“We moved into medium [level] because we reached over 10 new COVID hospital admissions per 100,000 persons,” said Joanna Locke, COVID guidance lead for Alameda County’s public health department, on Friday. As of Thursday, 149 county residents were hospitalized with COVID-19, she said.
“Right now we’re averaging a little over 20 cases per day per 100,000,” said Locke. “The peak of our spring-summer wave was around 50, and our winter peak last year was obviously much higher … I don’t think we anticipate getting up to the peak of last winter, but I definitely don’t think we’ve peaked.”
Locke said with the high level of winter respiratory viruses circulating in addition to COVID-19, she thinks everyone should consider wearing a mask in indoor public settings.
“I definitely am masking up now when I go into the grocery store. I took a little break earlier in the year and now I’m sending my kids back to school in masks. Really, we all have these masks in our house now and I think [we’re] shifting our culture to the way that some other countries have been for a long time where, when there’s high levels of any virus, you put on your mask.”
Alameda County Health Officer Dr. Nicholas Moss reaffirmed the importance of masking as numbers continue to rise in Alameda and Contra Costa.
“We have observed worsening increases in COVID-19 case reports and hospitalizations since October,” Moss said in a statement. “Taking actions like masking and staying home when sick can prevent spreading illnesses like COVID-19, flu, and RSV and help protect our health care system from strain.”
Solano County also is now at the medium level of community spread, according to the CDC, but the county has not indicated whether it’s reinstating masking rules in those high-risk settings where it’s required by state guidelines. A message to the county’s public health administrator was not returned.
This story includes reporting from Bay City News.