Sonoma County officials have issued a health order mandating that health care workers wear masks in patient care settings due to the increase in cases of respiratory illnesses, including COVID-19 and influenza. The county’s interim health officer, Dr. Karen Smith, stated that respiratory illnesses that can lead to severe infections are more common between fall and spring. This order aims to protect vulnerable individuals, such as young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with chronic health conditions, who are at higher risk of hospitalization and death from respiratory viruses.
The decision to require masks for health care workers was prompted by the recognition that they are at risk of contracting respiratory illnesses and transmitting them to patients and colleagues. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of preventing such transmission, as elderly residents in senior care facilities often became infected through staff members who contracted the virus outside of work.
Sonoma County officials are monitoring local coronavirus transmission using COVID-19 wastewater surveillance and hospitalization rates. In early September, the virus was detected at 78% of the highest level recorded in wastewater testing sites across the county. Additionally, COVID-19 hospitalizations reached their highest number since mid-April. These factors contributed to the decision to issue the health order.
The order applies to staff in various health care facilities, including hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, and other places where patient care is provided indoors. This is the first COVID-19-related health mandate since the lifting of masking rules in April. However, it is important to note that the recommendation to wear masks is not limited to health care workers alone, as the county health official also encourages everyone aged six months and older to wear masks in public indoor settings during periods of high COVID-19 and influenza risk.
Dr. Smith emphasizes the potential impact of a severe flu season combined with high rates of COVID-19 on the local health care system. The spread of respiratory illnesses among health care workers can strain the workforce, while an influx of patients requiring intensive care could overwhelm the system.
Despite the availability of testing, treatment, and widespread vaccination, the county’s most vulnerable residents remain at risk of severe outcomes from respiratory infections. The health order aligns with efforts to protect these individuals and ensure the continued functioning of the health care system.
– Sonoma County officials
– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention