‘Pretty much everything is back to open’ for community
But don’t throw away those masks just yet
Merced County took the first step back into pre-COVID normalcy on Tuesday, June 15, as “Beyond the Blueprint” became California’s new reality.
The county had made it to Orange Tier by the end of the tier system, having moved to Orange on May 25. The criteria for that move was less than six cases per 100,000 residents per day and less than 4 percent for test positivity.
“On June 14, our test positivity was in Yellow Tier, but the County remained in Orange Tier,” said Dr. Kristynn Sullivan, the county’s supervising epidemiologist. “As of June 15, pretty much everything is back to open with no capacity limits and no social distancing. … We’re seeing much smaller numbers of cases, which is really great because all the tiers have gone away. We’re happy to see our numbers are so low heading into that because it’s still possible we’ll see an uptick when people are mixing more.
“We’re hoping people will get vaccinated, and that vaccination will mitigate that.
“Our vaccination rate is still low. It’s only about 25 percent of our total population, but of course not everybody is eligible for vaccines right now, including our under age 12 group.
“The State vaccination rate is near 50 percent.
“I think the reason Merced County’s vaccination rate is so low is vaccine hesitancy and also because we had such low numbers of doses available at the beginning. I think we missed an opportunity to vaccinate a lot of people at the beginning, and I think that’s part of it. Also, I think that because our cases are so low and it’s warm weather, people are not thinking about vaccination too much.
“We might see an uptick in cases and vaccinations in the Fall. It’s typical that if people see cases increasing, they will end up getting vaccines more during the typical respiratory season.
“The vaccination clinics are not going away at this point, and if there are not clinics through the Merced County Health Department, the vaccines will be available at pharmacies and doctor’s offices.
“For vaccinated people, there are no masking rules. They can be unmasked in most places except hospitals, Skilled Nursing Facilities, clinics, outpatient health care, and basically all health care facilities, and public transport, and indoor ‘mega’ events, which are more than 5,000 people, and also homeless shelters, jails, cooling centers and all things like that where people congregate.
“For those not vaccinated, they have to remain masked indoors.
“Businesses can implement masking rules in several different ways: They can post signs that say who is required to wear a mask, or they could set up verification points and require vaccination cards, or if they feel like they can’t monitor it in any way, then they may just require masks still. Businesses can have their own separate rules. We’ll have to see how that shakes out.
“In K through 12 schools or camps where there are a lot of kids, there will still be masking. There are guidances for sectors that really focus on kids. In those situations, everyone indoors will be required to mask. There will still be a guidance for schools. The goal is to get all kids back to school five days a week, in person.
“We do have a lot of variants, but so far they haven’t affected our case rates or test positivity rates too much.
“We have confirmed that we do have the UK variants, Southern California variants, and at least one of the Brazilian variants and at least one of the Indian variants.
What’s the Health Department going to do now?
“Now, we will be able to do less COVID things, but still we’ll have to do contact tracing and case investigation and all of the data and surveillance stuff and help with outbreak Technical Assistance; but this will allow us to go back to what it was like pre-COVID. Pre-COVID, we had full-time jobs. Then COVID hit and everything got paused, so we will be able to go back to addressing other communicable diseases.
“We’ve seen increases in some of our STD’s and other infectious and communicable diseases. Because people have been so focused on COVID, other things have been picking up. People have not gone in for their standard health care practices as much in the last year, and a lot of kids are behind on their immunization schedules, and of course there has been all the devastation COVID has caused which has health implications like losing loved ones and economic issues.
“We’ve just been responding to the threat of the pandemic, and hopefully COVID will become more endemic, meaning it’s around in the environment and we will still have to respond to it to make sure it doesn’t pop up again, but we’re moving into a period of recovery from everything the pandemic has done.”