Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, Jan. 11 @ 1:02 p.m. / COVID-19

Despite Increase in Breakthrough Cases, Stutz Says He's Optimistic That Omicron Won't Overwhelm Local Hospital

Nearly half of the new coronavirus cases in the community have occurred in fully vaccinated individuals, Del Norte’s public health officer told county supervisors on Tuesday.

The number of active cases in the county climbed by about 200-300 percent since last week, Dr. Aaron Stutz said. Del Norte County has been averaging between 10 and 40 new cases a day, he said.

Still, Stutz told supervisors he’s optimistic that the current omicron surge will not be a repeat of the delta wave that overwhelmed the local hospital and mortuary late last summer.

“I’m hoping this is going to be a rapid increase in cases followed by a steep decline given how rapidly omicron replicates and is transmissible to other people,” he said, adding that as of Tuesday morning, two people were at Sutter Coast Hospital with COVID symptoms.

On Monday, the Public Health Branch identified 65 new COVID-19 cases in Del Norte County over the weekend including one new case at Pelican Bay State Prison. There were a total of 159 active cases in Del Norte as of Tuesday morning, Stutz told supervisors.

If there continue to be few hospitalizations, Stutz said he would take steps to isolate Del Norte County’s quarantine and isolation procedures to the practice recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the California Department of Public Health.

On Dec. 30, CDPH reduced its recommended isolation and quarantine period for COVID positive patients and close contacts from 10 days to five.

On Tuesday, Stutz said he felt the new omicron variant might be a turning point in the pandemic that involves a strain that spreads rapidly but doesn’t cause severe illness or death in most patients.

“I’m optimistic that this is a turning point in the pandemic where we start to back off some of these tight isolation and quarantine guidelines,” he said.

According to Stutz, about 49 percent of the new COVID cases are breakthrough cases in individuals that are fully vaccinated, but haven’t yet received a booster. He said fully vaccination is beginning to change for healthcare workers to mean those who have also received a booster, though the general discussion among health officers is to get away from that term.

Stutz said a booster will likely be required for COVID-19 to be fully immunized similar with the influenza vaccine.

Del Norte’s public health officer also spoke to immunity in those who have had COVID-19 previously. Answering a question from District 1 Supervisor Darrin Short, whose son was sent home from school because he was a close contact, Stutz said many health officers had been asking CDPH that those with prior infections weren’t given similar treatment as those who are fully vaccinated.

“I think vaccination and natural infection leave people protected for future infections, but for how long?” Stutz said. “I agree with you that that hasn’t been given the same level of importance as the vaccine when considering the isolation and quarantine guidelines.”

Stutz said he could only make his guidelines more restrictive than the state unless CDPH allows county public health officers to change their guidelines.

Stutz said he’s hoping the current spike in COVID cases will last at least less than two months before the county “goes back to where we were.”


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