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2 years later: COVID’s impact on California North Coast economy

in Covid
In this photo taken Thursday, March 19, 2020, a temporarily closed sign is posted outside the entrance to the Georges De Latour Reserve Tasting Room at the Beaulieu Vineyard winery in Rutherford, Calif. Wineries in the Napa Valley are closed due to coronavirus restrictions expect for production, but some allow customers to pick up shipments of wine and for direct purchases. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

As the coronavirus pandemic entered its third year, some metrics for the health of the North Bay economy such as overall employment are nearly back to where they were before mid-March 2020.

So the Business Journal compared local counties with similar populations but different public health responses and outcomes. And we checked in with key figures in local industry to see how their businesses have endured the unprecedented threats to life and livelihood.

Sonoma and Solano counties: Different COVID approaches but similar outcomes

Sonoma has been among the California counties with the most proactive public health measures in the past two years, while Solano County has resisted measures.

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2 California counties tackle coronavirus differently but have similar outcomes

in Covid
Iconic landmarks in Sonoma and Solano counties are the Empire Building, left, in Santa Rosa’s Courthouse Square and the Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield. (Christopher Chung / The Press Democrat; Portecuaphoto / Shutterstock)

Sonoma and Solano, the North Bay’s two largest counties, are comparable in population.

But they have taken notably different paths toward dealing with the now 2-year-old coronavirus pandemic.

Sonoma has more residents than Solano — 494,000 to 440,000, respectively — but Solano is denser than Sonoma — 503 people per square mile in Solano, compared with 307 per square mile in Sonoma, according to California and U.S. Census Bureau data.

In trying to slow the virus behind COVID-19’s ailments, Sonoma has been among the California counties with the most proactive public health measures since March 2020. At times, the county even went beyond similarly acting counties and cities at times.

“If at times Sonoma County had more restrictive health orders, it was warranted because of conditions in Sonoma County, including case rate, death rate, hospitalizations, etc.,” county spokesperson Matt Brown wrote in an email.

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Map shows COVID-19 community levels in your area, where masks are recommended indoors

in Covid
SAN FRANCISCO — New metrics from the CDC take into consideration hospitalization numbers when measuring the impact of COVID-19 and masking requirements for communities.

Previously, the “high,” “substantial,” “moderate” and “low” transmission categories were based on case rates and positivity percentages and the CDC recommended indoor masking for counties in the “moderate” or “low” levels. These new categories incorporate hospital admissions and bed utilization in addition to case rates.

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COVID-19 mask mandates lift Wednesday. What that means for Sonoma County

in Covid
FILE – In this Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, photo, a pedestrian wearing a mask walks past a mural during the coronavirus outbreak in San Francisco. Eleven San Francisco Bay Area counties will lift their mask requirements for vaccinated people in most indoor public settings beginning Feb. 16, 2022, when the state ends its indoor masking requirement for vaccinated people, officials announced Tuesday, Feb. 8. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

Wednesday morning marks the end of mask mandates in Sonoma County and the rest of California. Nevertheless, there are still scenarios where face coverings will be necessary.

Sonoma County officials are deferring to state guidelines, which still require anyone who isn’t vaccinated from COVID-19 to wear a mask in indoor public settings.

Mask restrictions across California and other parts of the country are being toned down as the latest data indicates significant declines in COVID-19 cases. But locally, there may still be places where you’ll have to don a face covering.

As of Tuesday, there were 8,996 active cases in Sonoma County, which was a decrease of 809 cases from the previous 24 hours.

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‘We won’t have to be mask cops’: Reaction to Sonoma County’s soon-to-lapse mask mandate

in Covid
Ky Boyd, owner of Rialto Cinemas in Sebastopol, California on Friday, December 4, 2020. The theatre has been shutdown since March due to COVID-19 restrictions.
(Photo: Erik Castro/for The Press Democrat)

Melody and Greg were on a date. Aglow with good health, and a bit of perspiration, the two Santa Rosa Junior College students had just emerged from the 24-Hour Fitness in Petaluma Wednesday morning, but hadn’t yet heard the news:

Earlier that morning, health officials announced that, starting Feb. 16, and in concert with other Bay Area counties, Sonoma County will lift indoor masking restrictions for vaccinated groups in public spaces.

That rule change follows the California Department of Public Health’s decision to not renew the statewide mask mandate that was enacted in mid-December as transmission of the omicron variant began to surge.

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COVID-19 live updates: US still waiting for omicron peak as cases skyrocket

in Health

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — A surge in coronavirus cases has been reported in the Bay Area and across California as well as the country due in part to the emergence of the highly-contagious omicron variant.

The latest number of confirmed cases in the U.S. can be found at the CDC’s 2019 Novel Coronavirus in the U.S. page. (The CDC updates the webpage on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.)

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Sonoma County court halts new jury trials due to local omicron surge

in People

Some civil and criminal trials not currently in progress in Sonoma County Superior Court have been postponed due to the ongoing local surge of COVID-19 cases attributed to the highly contagious omicron variant, court officials announced Tuesday.

According to an emergency order signed by Presiding Judge Shelly Averill, criminal jury trials originally scheduled for January that have not yet started are put off until after March 1 or later. Civil jury trials have been pushed back even later, until after March 31.

“Due to the recent substantial surge in COVID-19 delta variant infections, and the arrival of the highly contagious omicron variant, as reported by the California Department of Public Health and the Center for Disease Control, action is needed to maintain a substantial level of court services to the public, to maintain access to justice for all, and to keep all who enter a courthouse, including employees of the court and jurors, as safe as possible through the next 30 days,” Averill wrote in her order.

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California exempts qualifying vaccinated groups in Sonoma County from new indoor mask rule

in Health

Santa Rosa architect Mark Quattrocchi breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday when he learned that his staff at Quattrocchi Kwok Architects in downtown Santa Rosa would not have to wear face masks at work.

The new state indoor masking rule — in effect from Dec. 15 to Jan. 15 — does not alter a nearly two-month-old exemption to Sonoma County’s own mask rules, which allow certain vaccinated groups to shed their masks in some workplaces, local and state officials said Wednesday morning.

Quattrocchi, who founded the firm, said many of his 65 employees at offices in Santa Rosa and Oakland would likely have opted to work from home if they had to go back to wearing masks.

“It’s really great news — the exemption is probably the most important element of our staff being able to get back to working together,” Quattrocchi said. “Working with masks is just so much more difficult.”

The state mandate requires everyone who gathers in public spaces, such as offices, retail shops and government meetings, to wear masks regardless of their vaccination status.

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COVID-19 booster more widely available in U.S.

in Health

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a press release on Nov. 18, stating that the COVID-19 booster shot is now available to everyone aged 18 and older. The shot is only available to those in said age group who received their second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine at least six months prior to the date of their booster shot appointment.

When getting a booster shot people can mix and match so they can get a Moderna booster shot after they’ve received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine.

In the press release, CDC Director Rochelle P. Walensky stated that, ”Booster shots have demonstrated the ability to safely increase people’s protection against infection and severe outcomes and are an important public health tool to strengthen our defenses against the virus as we enter the winter holidays.”


Shlomo Rechnitz nursing home suit over COVID deaths reflects ‘broken state licensing

in Health

The case brought against Rechnitz, his companies and the home itself, Windsor Redding Care Center, is yet another footnote in an ongoing nursing home licensing saga documented in a CalMatters investigation last spring.

That investigation revealed an opaque and confusing state licensing process frequently marred by indecision and delays. CalMatters found that the California Department of Public Health has allowed Rechnitz to operate many skilled nursing facilities for years through a web of companies as their license applications languish in “pending” status — or are outright denied.

The lawsuit — which includes a total of 46 plaintiffs, including 14 deceased residents and 32 family members — specifically calls out Rechnitz and his management companies as being an “unlicensed owner-operator” of the skilled nursing facility. The plaintiffs also are suing the previous owners, whose names and companies remain on the license.

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