As COVID-19 transitions from a pandemic to an endemic stage, public health officials speculate that the new coronavirus may be associated with respiratory infections like influenza. Late summer typically sees an increase in influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and coincidentally, the new coronavirus is experiencing a surge as well. However, due to at-home testing, not all cases are being reported, so the true extent of the increase is unclear. Butte County Public Health Department has observed a rise in cases, which could surpass the reported numbers. The number of daily cases has doubled since August, and the positivity rate has nearly tripled, potentially influenced by the return of students to schools and college campuses. While it is too early to directly link the seasonal surge to the coronavirus, it is following a similar pattern.
This local trend aligns with the California Department of Public Health’s statewide numbers. The coronavirus continues to mutate into new variants, with Omicron BA.2 being the only strain reported in the country since April. Other variants are also circulating widely, and a new vaccine has been approved to target the Omicron XBB.1.5 variant. The change in vaccination lies in the shift from previously administered bivalent vaccines to monovalent vaccines that address specific variants. Similar to influenza vaccines, these vaccines are reformulated annually to match the expected most virulent variants. Additionally, the administration of vaccines has changed, with public health authorities distributing them during the pandemic phase. Butte County Public Health (BCPH) organized community clinics and partnered with hospitals and educational institutions to administer vaccines. However, starting August 3rd, BCPH ceased dedicated COVID-19 vaccine clinics as part of nationwide distribution changes. Vaccines will no longer be free, and insurance companies, including Medi-Cal, will be billed by clinics and pharmacies. BCPH will continue to provide free vaccinations to children and uninsured adults under the federally funded Children’s Vaccine Program.
There was some confusion as some residents, including vaccine opponents, believed that the Board of Supervisors had directed BCPH to stop providing COVID-19 vaccinations. BCPH clarified that they will not open specific clinics solely for the COVID-19 vaccine, but they will still offer vaccinations in other settings. Director of Communications, Danette York, explained the misunderstanding and emphasized that vaccinations will still be available. In terms of prevention, BCPH recommends the same precautions it has always emphasized, such as thorough handwashing and caution when in crowded indoor spaces. If someone has been in contact with a COVID-19 positive individual for a cumulative 15 minutes over a 24-hour period, it is advised to get tested within 3-5 days. If avoiding contact with others is not possible, wearing a mask for 10 days is recommended. After 10 days, a negative test result without symptoms means no mask is required. However, if the test is positive, it is essential to isolate at home until symptoms have decreased or resolved for 24 hours. For more information, individuals can visit the Common Information section of the BCPH COVID site at buttecounty.net/COVID-19.