California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week new stay-at-home measures that would be activated once a region has less than 15% of its intensive care beds available.
That comes as Sacramento County’s top health official, Dr. Peter Beilenson, is resigning, with his final day on Dec. 22. He’s expressed his confidence in county Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye and has faith in the county’s public health leadership.
“I’m leaving at a time when I have great trust and confidence in Dr. Kasirye, who is our public health director,” Beilenson said.
Within her role as a county public health officer, Kasirye oversees all of the public health programs in the county and has been the key person for Sacramento County’s response to COVID-19. Beilenson is her supervisor and said that they had often been sharing her responsibilities.
Insight’s Randol White spoke with Kasirye about what potential changes county residents can expect as we head into the winter months, the disparities in COVID-19 care and the roll-out of vaccinations.
Some Sacramento County residents and business owners have been wary of another shutdown, especially with its impact on local small businesses.
“I hear those complaints, and I do feel here the pain also, especially for the small businesses that are having to shut down,” Kasirye said on Insight.
Outdoor dining and patios are allowed to continue within the county, but that will change if the ICU capacity drops to 15% or below. If that happens, Sacramento County restaurants will have to revert to only takeout and delivery.
“We’re watching that very carefully. It goes down a little bit and then goes up again,” Kasirye said. “We anticipate that probably within this week or early next week that we will hit the [ICU capacity] threshold, so we’re watching that.”
On a possible city ordinance to fine residents, businesses for COVID-19-related violations
What we have told the board is that [this fine] is just a tool that we want to be able to use in situations where we have repeat offenders or someone who is blatantly disregarding the health officer order. It’s not for us to go out and willy nilly dish out citations to every single business.
We know that for the most part, most businesses have been complying, so it’s going to be used in very selective situations.
[Editor's Note: On Tuesday the Board of Supervisors decided to table the ordinance.]
On who will replace Dr. Peter Beilenson as Sacramento County’s Department of Public Health Services Director
That will be decided by the county executive office, so definitely we are looking to see who that person will be. Because it’s very crucial at this time, we’re still right in the middle of the pandemic. So Dr. Beilenson has been a very helpful person in terms of being another physician who can help with carrying the load because right now there are a lot of communication, and it is especially really important. So being able to have the two of us was very helpful.
On her biggest concerns going into winter
My biggest concern is the upcoming celebrations, holidays because these are times when people normally would want to gather. We’ve tried to put the message across that this time should be different, but I think it’s difficult for people to realize that just gathering your family could put all of them at risk. So that’s my concern, is that we might see more of a surge as we go into the end of the year.
We have started seeing that [post-Thanksgiving surge], and actually, the surge started right after the Halloween celebrations, and we saw another surge with Thanksgiving. So that’s why we are concerned about the upcoming celebrations for Christmas, Hanukkah, [and] New Year. So it’s a worrisome period.
On how the Sacramento County Public Health Department feels about the current surge
The biggest concern is how quickly the numbers are going up, and the major role for us right now is communication, getting the message out of how serious this is, and being able to ask people to not gather. And as much as possible also to put out the message that we are probably at some point going to enter into this stay-at-home order.
So people need to be ready for that. Once we hit that threshold, we’ll have 24 hours to implement it, so we want to make sure that people are aware of that; that they’re watching the messages that we’re putting out. The other [thing] is looking at where we have outbreaks. It’s mainly in the long-term care facilities, so being able to provide some support to those facilities is important.
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