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"Covid is not over"

A screen shot of a graph from a zoom meeting, with faces and names in a column on the right-hand side.
A screen shot from the May 20 covid briefing by Public Health Officer Dr. Andrew Coren.

Public Health Officer Dr. Andrew Coren said infection numbers are up, but with test-to-treat sites becoming available and the hospitals not on the verge of overwhelm, new health orders are not forthcoming.

May 20, 2022 — The pandemic is not over, with small outbreaks, high transmissibility, and new, highly contagious variants. But with treatments available and hospitals not seeming to be at risk of getting overwhelmed, new health orders are not likely to appear on the horizon soon.

Public Health Officer Dr. Andrew Coren shared his recommendations earlier this afternoon, which included universal indoor masking and staying up to date on vaccines and boosters. High-risk individuals who test positive, he said, should immediately request treatments from their providers, because treatments need to be administered within five days of the onset of symptoms to be effective. The county is currently in the orange zone, for substantial transmission, but is rapidly tipping into the red zone, for high transmission.

Coren tried to convey the nuances of a pandemic that is dragging into its third year, saying, “Orders is not where we’d like to go…but a lot of things have changed since we had all those orders,” one being that the community has learned to protect itself. “What I heard this morning is that many people think covid is over,” he said. “We need to emphasize to people that covid is not over…we’re rising in numbers. We haven’t yet seen the mortality numbers, but they may come.” As the pandemic continues, so, too, does the likelihood of more variants. “None of us are interested in imposing orders when people know what to do,” he concluded.

Test-to-treat sites, where people can receive treatment as soon as they test positive, are starting to be available in the county. The OptumServe sites are supposed to offer test-to- treat services, dispensing a prescription for treatment to qualified patients after a telemed call with a provider. That option at the testing site on the fairground in Ukiah is subject to nursing availability, which Coren said, “OptumServe is working on correcting.” He added that the clinics are applying for waivers from the state to offer test-to-treat services. Redwood Coast Medical Services, the clinic in Gualala, has already received its waiver to offer treatment immediately after testing.

Coren said there are currently five outbreaks, each involving fewer than five people, including one at the county-run animal shelter in Ukiah. Nursing homes, two homeless shelters, and a charter school are included among the outbreak sites.

The commonplace use of at-home rapid tests has contributed to the difficulty of tracking the numbers of infections that do not result in hospitalization or death. But wastewater testing can give a rough idea of how widespread the virus is in a community. Wastewater surveillance is not yet taking place in Mendocino County, but Coren said the county is working with the state Public Health Department to get some grants to cover the cost of the apparatus and the analysis of the samples. There is no timeline for when or if that would be available.

The school year is wrapping up, and policies at schools are up to the individual districts. Coren said the schools are strongly recommending masks, and most of them are using modified quarantine, where the infected person quarantines at home, but those who have been exposed can continue to participate in in-person activities. School superintendents or principals can impose stricter quarantine measures, but Coren noted that, “The education that the children miss and the social interaction that they miss is very significant, and we’re really encouraging keeping people in school and doing these in-school quarantines.”

The next covid briefing from Public Health will be June 17.