COVID-19 Surge Prompts Slight California Mask Rule Change, Concern For Hospital Space

COVID-19 transmission continues to surge in California, along with spikes in other respiratory viruses, as state and local health officials urge indoor masking and additional precautions with end-of-year holidays approaching.

The statewide daily case rate jumped to 19.4 per 100,000 residents, the California Department of Public Health reported in a weekly update Thursday, up 34% compared to one week earlier and more than doubling since the start of November.

Positivity increased to 11.7%, up from 11.1% last week and more than double the 4.6% rate that began November.

CDPH on Thursday reported 4,387 COVID-positive patients in hospital beds statewide, including 487 in intensive care units. Those figures are increases of 16% and 22%, respectively, in the past week; and up 176% and 155%, respectively, since the start of November.

Sacramento County had 200 COVID-19 patients in hospital beds, according to state data updated Thursday, the first time at or above that mark since early August. The county had dropped to as few as 77 coronavirus patients in early November. Sacramento’s latest figure includes 29 patients in ICUs, up from 10 as recently as Nov. 27.

The increases in infections and hospitalizations come as subvariants of omicron known as BQ.1 and BQ.1.1 make up a growing share of cases.

The two BQ-family variants combined for 63% of cases nationwide, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a weekly update last Friday, up from 55% the previous week.

Sacramento County health officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said the latest COVID-19 numbers, while rising toward levels seen during last summer’s surge, are “much lower” relative to December 2021, when the original omicron variant BA.1 began to take hold.

At the peak of that surge, the county saw more than 650 concurrently hospitalized with coronavirus in January.

However, “with flu and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), the numbers are much higher than what we were seeing last year,” she said.

“The hospitals are being impacted by the number of cases coming in” for all three viruses, Kasirye said on a Wednesday call with reporters. “Our request is that for people who have mild disease, they should stay away from the emergency room so that we keep those services for those who are really sick.”

Kasirye also urged people to wear masks in public, especially in crowded places and on public transportation, and to get vaccinated and boosted when eligible.

State health leaders this week advised that while RSV numbers have started to taper off following a much earlier start than usual this year, COVID-19 and flu numbers are now rising quickly.

“Taken separately, these infections are manageable,” California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said in a news briefing. “But when they all come together, the difficulty posed to the (hospital) system is pretty extreme.”

El Dorado County this week confirmed its first flu death since February 2020 in a resident.

Yolo County health officials are urging mask use, recently replacing a color-coded sign campaign rolled out over summer to businesses, which focused on COVID-19 risk levels, with one that reflects transmission rates for all respiratory illnesses in circulation. The signs are voluntary.

“This winter is the first in several years where we are seeing significant flu and RSV activity, in addition to COVID-19, so we are now making masking recommendations based on all circulating respiratory viruses, not just on COVID,” Yolo County health officer Dr. Aimee Sisson said in a statement Tuesday.

“Wearing a high-quality mask indoors is a great way to protect yourself and others from respiratory viruses like flu, RSV, and COVID-19.”


CDPH in late September loosened its indoor mask requirement for non-health care congregate settings, which include jails, prisons and homeless or emergency shelters.

Under the new order, those facilities may make masking optional if their county is classified in the CDC’s “low” community level for COVID-19 danger. Indoor masking is required in counties within the “medium” or “high” community levels.

The four-county capital region of Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer and Yolo were all placed by the CDC into the “medium” community level last week, exiting the low level for the first time since CDPH changed the mask rules, due to increasing infection and hospitalization numbers.

This means masks are now required at all jails, prisons and shelters in the capital region.

Masks remain mandatory in health care settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes, throughout California regardless of CDC community level under state health orders.

Sacramento City Unified School District could return to an indoor mask requirement if Sacramento County returns to the CDC’s high level, though it is unclear whether that may happen before the district adjourns Dec. 23 for winter break.

There are currently no state or county-level plans in the capital region to return to a universal mask mandate.


Sacramento County’s latest case rate is 16.8 per 100,000 residents, state health officials said in Thursday’s update, a 17% increase from one week earlier.

Hospitals in Sacramento County were treating 200 patients Wednesday, state data updated Thursday show, up from 136 one week earlier. The intensive care unit total increased to 29 from 20.

Placer County’s latest case rate is 13 per 100,000 residents, a 5% increase from one week earlier.

Hospitals in Placer County were treating 76 virus patients Wednesday, up from 73 one week earlier. The ICU total decreased to five from nine.

Yolo County’s latest case rate is 11.1 per 100,000 residents, a 22% increase from one week earlier.

Hospitals in Yolo County were treating seven virus patients Wednesday, up from six a week earlier. The ICU total decreased to one from three.

El Dorado County’s latest case rate is 13.7 per 100,000 residents, a 2% decrease from one week earlier.

Hospitals in El Dorado County were treating seven virus patients Wednesday, down from 11 a week earlier. The ICU total remained at zero.

Sutter County’s latest case rate is 10.7 per 100,000 residents, down 4% from last week, and Yuba County’s is 14.6 per 100,000, up 2%, state health officials reported Thursday.

The only hospital in Yuba County, which serves the Yuba-Sutter bicounty area, was treating 12 virus patients Wednesday, up from 10 a week earlier. The ICU total decreased to zero from one.



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