More than six weeks after the State of California mandated individuals to wear face coverings in public, the Colusa County Public Health Officer, Dr. Gregory Burt, has affirmed, with an order of his own, that donning a mask that completely covers the mouth and nose while in public could decrease the spread of COVID-19.
Colusa County Health and Human Services Director, Elizabeth Kelly, made the announcement Aug. 4, during the regular meeting of the Colusa County Board of Supervisors.
The new order, which went into effect on Aug. 6, requires all individuals to wear face coverings while they are inside public spaces, and outdoors when unable to maintain a proper physical distance. The new order is in response to COVID-19 cases being traced largely to large gatherings, officials said.
“Contact tracing and case investigations have revealed that the new cases are mostly by community spread, which means that people are not staying within their homes, they are going out, and seeing people who do not live within there households,” said Kelly, who wore a face covering for the first time at a board meeting on Aug. 4. “Some of the individuals of our current test results were individuals that were quarantined and are now positive and placed in isolation.”
Kelly was joined in mask wearing for the first time by four supervisors and most county personnel in attendance, two days ahead of the local mandate. The new order does allow limited exceptions, such as children under the age of two and anyone with severe breathing difficulties.
The mask order required no formal action by the Board of Supervisors, and not all were in agreement that people be mandated to cover their faces. Supervisor Gary Evans said the new Public Health directive, which comes six weeks after the California mandate, is a “hallow order” and exercise in social engineering.
“Those that are wearing masks – or will wear them – are already; those that aren’t – won’t. I think we are just pushing a wet rope up a hill by doing this,” Evans said.
Supervisor Merced Corona disagrees, and said the county’s original position in May was based on the number of positive COVID-19 and information they had at the time.
“I think is was the right decision based on what was going on at the time, but I think the situation has changed, and I think the situation we are now faced with, for a lot of people, is scary,” Corona said. “I think they are legitimately scared, and I think we have an obligation to do (this). This is a small position we can take, and a small thing that we can do to hopefully improve the numbers, and help out the situation. Wearing a mask is only a slight inconvenience.”
COVID-19, caused by SARS-CoV2, was first detected in China last fall, and spread worldwide. It first appeared in Colusa County in March, and is thought to spread from infected individuals when they talk, sneeze, or cough.
Public Health officials said wearing face coverings in public could help reduce the spread of COVID-19 from people who do not have symptoms and do not know they have the virus.
“Our contact tracing efforts are revealing a staggering level of family and social gatherings.” Dr. Gregory Burt, said in a press release. “During these gatherings, unmasked individuals are spreading the virus through respiratory droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that residents refrain from family and social gatherings, and wear an appropriate face covering when conducting essential business in public.”
As of Monday, Colusa County has had a total of 391 positive cases since the first case was confirmed five months ago, and there have been four COVID-related deaths associated with infections at a local nursing home, although positive cases there now are very low. Hospitalization for the virus also remains very low, Kelly said.
While the state recently reported that a glitch may have left many California COVID-19 numbers undercounted, Kelly said she was confident in the accuracy of local numbers, as the Public Health Department receives test results directly and does not rely on the state’s website.
While current statistics prevent Colusa County Department of Health from considering waiver requests to reopen schools, Kelly said that community participation in the facial covering order, along with a corresponding decrease in community spread, could lead to improved data and the submittal of waivers requesting school reopening by the end of August – or early September.
Supervisor Kent Boes said that the wearing of facial coverings had already trended upward in Colusa County, largely due to the county’s outreach, prior to the health officer’s order.
“In Williams, I’ve seen a lot more people wearing masks,” he said. “I haven’t seen as many parties as I’d been seeing since the beginning of this. I think people are finally taking this serious.”
Until now, Colusa County health officials had only recommended that individuals wear masks, and even with Dr. Burt’s new directive requiring the use of face coverings, Public Health officials still remind residents that the masks are not a substitute for hand washing and physical distancing.
While violating the mask order is not likely to result in fines or penalties by local law enforcement agencies – already stretched by limited manpower – the county is asking residents to comply with the order, and strictly comply with an isolation order if you have a confirmed case of COVID-19. ■