The surging Omicron variant has led one popular Northern California tourist destination to impose a ban on large gatherings, putting a temporary halt on some entertainment events.
Sonoma County health officials issued an emergency 30-day ban on indoor gatherings of more than 50 people and outdoor gatherings of more than 100 people.
The county is also asking residents to stay home except to go to work, school, grocery shopping, or other vital needs.
“While we may be done with COVID, COVID is not done with us,” county health officer Dr. Sundari Mase said in an appeal to residents posted on YouTube. “Due to the Omicron variant, our case rate has never been higher and our hospitalizations are beginning to climb.”
Indeed, hospitalizations in the county due to COVID-19 have almost tripled over the past week. Although the Omicron variant appears to be less severe than last year’s Delta variant, it is still overwhelming healthcare providers.
“I’m hoping the public will hear us and just try to stay at home, try not to gather, wear your masks, get vaccinated — that’s really the key,” Mase told the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.
Health officials are hoping the voluntary order helps slow the spread, noting a strict shelter-in-place order would be too restrictive.
The new rules on gatherings will remain in place until February 11.
“Our case rates are at their highest level since the pandemic began, and our hospitalizations are climbing at an alarming rate as well,” Mase said in a statement announcing the new rules. “We are seeing widespread transmission occurring within unvaccinated groups as well as some transmission among vaccinated individuals.”
Several events planned in the coming weeks are working to reschedule, including a sold-out show by Cedric the Entertainer set for Saturday at the Graton Casino and Resort. The 1,600-seat venue is subject to the new rules.
The Luther Burbank Center for the Arts has about a dozen events scheduled during the 30-day period.
“Although the long-term impact of COVID has been devastating on live performance, the health of our community is paramount, and all of us at LBC will continue to play a part in helping to keep people safe,” Richard Nowlin, president and CEO of the venue, said in a statement.
Similar thoughts were echoed by others in the industry.
“Many of us are asking ourselves, ‘Is it the right thing to do to still gather?’” said Michele Kappel of Santa Rosa’s Lost Church music venue. “We’re rolling with the punches. We’ve been through it once; we’ll do it again. We want our audiences to stay safe and our artists to feel comfortable performing.”
The new rules shouldn’t impact popular wine tasting adventures throughout the Sonoma County wineries, as long as the indoor tasting rooms stay within the 50-person limit. Wine tasting goes against the stay-at-home appeal, however.
Throughout the pandemic, Sonoma County has generally issued rules and recommendations in conjunction with neighboring Bay Area counties including Napa, Alameda, and San Francisco. But in this case, it is acting alone.
Mase made a plea for people to continue to get vaccinated and get their booster shots, noting in the release that those who are unvaccinated are 18 times more likely to require hospitalization if they contract the virus.
“Vaccinations remain the best tool available to slow the spread of the virus and protect yourself from severe illness,” she said.