Sacramento County’s public health officer responds to school mask protests

With protests against California’s continued mask mandate at schools unfolding across the state, Sacramento County’s public health officer on Wednesday appealed for patience from parents and explained why she agreed with the state’s decision to hold off on ditching the requirement for now. California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said this week that the state aimed to announce an end date for its school mask mandate on Feb. 28, following a two-week reassessment of pandemic trends. “My request to parents is we ask you to be patient,” Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said during a briefing with reporters. “We are reviewing the data but I think it’s important for parents to recognize that children can and are affected by COVID-19.”This year did show an increase in hospitalizations with children and some kids and staff have conditions that put them at risk, she said. “So I want to make sure that we have measures in place to keep everybody safe,” she said. “I think this is the time when we need to be careful in how we make those steps.” Kasirye outlined positive trends in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, though she said deaths are up to an average of nine to 10 per day.Sacramento County is averaging 500-600 COVID-19 cases a day for a weekly average rate of 38.2 per 100,000 people, she said. That’s down more than 75% from the peak rate of 250 per 100,000 last month. Hospitalizations and outbreaks of COVID-19 at the county’s jails are looking better too, she said. Hospitalizations stand at 415 patients with COVID-19 and 66 at intensive care units. That’s down from the peak of 657 and more than 100 in the ICU last month. Last week, the outbreak at the county’s main jail downtown was 150 cases. That number is now 52. The outbreak at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center stands at 91, falling from 236 a week ago, she said. On Wednesday, Sacramento County followed the state’s lead and ended its own local indoor mask mandate and a separate order that public meetings be held virtually. Besides schools, masks are still required for people who are unvaccinated and for those on public transportation or in health care and congregate settings, homeless shelters and child care settings. Businesses can choose to have people self-attest to their vaccination status or choose to require masks for everyone regardless of their status. Demand for COVID-19 testing is subsiding and as a result, starting March 1 the county will downgrade the number of community testing sites it offers from 13 to 7. One site, Robertson Community Center, will offer free PCR testing Mondays through Saturdays. | RELATED | See Sacramento County’s list of COVID-19 testing sites and hours here.Kasirye said she was “optimistic” about the course of the pandemic even as she said she didn’t know if cases would fall below 5 per 100,000 people with omicron as the dominant variant. That was the metric the county once held out as the point when it would end its local mask mandate before deciding to follow the state’s lead instead. “When we set that goal of 5 per 100,000 we were dealing with delta,” Kasirye said. “So we don’t know how far it’s going to fall. I think what is very hopeful is that the numbers are declining very quickly.” With the end of the state and local indoor mask mandate, state health officials still recommend masking up in public places and indoors. Kasirye said that people who are vaccinated now can make an individualized risk assessment and for her, that still means wearing a mask at times.“I have full confidence in the vaccine and I am vaccinated and boosted, but I will still wear a mask, especially when going into certain public places because each layer of protection that we use increases our confidence in being able to avoid getting COVID,” she said. “So I will be continuing to use the mask.”

With protests against California’s continued mask mandate at schools unfolding across the state, Sacramento County’s public health officer on Wednesday appealed for patience from parents and explained why she agreed with the state’s decision to hold off on ditching the requirement for now.

California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said this week that the state aimed to announce an end date for its school mask mandate on Feb. 28, following a two-week reassessment of pandemic trends.

“My request to parents is we ask you to be patient,” Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said during a briefing with reporters. “We are reviewing the data but I think it’s important for parents to recognize that children can and are affected by COVID-19.”

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This year did show an increase in hospitalizations with children and some kids and staff have conditions that put them at risk, she said.

“So I want to make sure that we have measures in place to keep everybody safe,” she said. “I think this is the time when we need to be careful in how we make those steps.”

Kasirye outlined positive trends in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, though she said deaths are up to an average of nine to 10 per day.

Sacramento County is averaging 500-600 COVID-19 cases a day for a weekly average rate of 38.2 per 100,000 people, she said. That’s down more than 75% from the peak rate of 250 per 100,000 last month. Hospitalizations and outbreaks of COVID-19 at the county’s jails are looking better too, she said.

Hospitalizations stand at 415 patients with COVID-19 and 66 at intensive care units. That’s down from the peak of 657 and more than 100 in the ICU last month. Last week, the outbreak at the county’s main jail downtown was 150 cases. That number is now 52. The outbreak at the Rio Cosumnes Correctional Center stands at 91, falling from 236 a week ago, she said.

On Wednesday, Sacramento County followed the state’s lead and ended its own local indoor mask mandate and a separate order that public meetings be held virtually. Besides schools, masks are still required for people who are unvaccinated and for those on public transportation or in health care and congregate settings, homeless shelters and child care settings. Businesses can choose to have people self-attest to their vaccination status or choose to require masks for everyone regardless of their status.

Demand for COVID-19 testing is subsiding and as a result, starting March 1 the county will downgrade the number of community testing sites it offers from 13 to 7. One site, Robertson Community Center, will offer free PCR testing Mondays through Saturdays.

| RELATED | See Sacramento County’s list of COVID-19 testing sites and hours here.

Kasirye said she was “optimistic” about the course of the pandemic even as she said she didn’t know if cases would fall below 5 per 100,000 people with omicron as the dominant variant. That was the metric the county once held out as the point when it would end its local mask mandate before deciding to follow the state’s lead instead.

“When we set that goal of 5 per 100,000 we were dealing with delta,” Kasirye said. “So we don’t know how far it’s going to fall. I think what is very hopeful is that the numbers are declining very quickly.”

With the end of the state and local indoor mask mandate, state health officials still recommend masking up in public places and indoors.

Kasirye said that people who are vaccinated now can make an individualized risk assessment and for her, that still means wearing a mask at times.

“I have full confidence in the vaccine and I am vaccinated and boosted, but I will still wear a mask, especially when going into certain public places because each layer of protection that we use increases our confidence in being able to avoid getting COVID,” she said. “So I will be continuing to use the mask.”

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