SANTA CLARA -- While the level of the COVID variants found in Santa Clara County's wastewater system is soaring, health officials assured local residents Tuesday that mask mandates will not be returning.
Dr. Sara Cody, Director of the Public Health Department, gave an update on state of COVID in the county as the pandemic enters its third winter.
"We remember that the last two winters have been extraordinarily difficult and I unfortunately need to tell you that this winter is shaping up to be no different," she told reporters.
Cody then pointed to a graph measuring the amount of virus found in four different county wastewater facilities. Palo Alto's has surpassed last winter's Omicron winter spike levels. San Jose, meanwhile, is at more than 80 percent of last year and rising fast.
"There's a ton of virus circulating," she said.
The wastewater measurement is a more accurate snapshot of the current levels of the virus, Cody said, because so many people are using home tests and not reporting the results to county health officials.
In addition to the county's COVID-19 increase in wastewater samples, health officials said there was a steady rise in November of hospitalized patients who were COVID-19 positive. On November 1 there were 98 COVID-19 positive cases in hospitals throughout the County. By December 2, that number had more than doubled to 218.
The rising numbers of COVID cases come at a time when influenza and RSV are also infecting local residents. The tripledemic is putting a strain on local hospitals.
"Our healthcare workers are pretty stretched," Cody said.
Mike Brewer thought he was one of the lucky ones, escaping COVID through the entire pandemic. But right after Thanksgiving, he got it.
"I went three years, and I was thinking, 'Man, I'm never going to get COVID,'" said Brewer. "The Friday after Thanksgiving, I started to feel really drained. I was helping my older son remodel his kitchen, and all of a sudden, I said, 'I need to go home.' The next day, I was worn out. The day after that, I just stayed in bed and slept the whole time."
Brewer quarantined with his parrot Moe for several days. He said it was tough staying home since it kept him away from his work as the neighborhood plumbing contractor with Almaden Valley Plumbing. But Brewer said his COVID symptoms were not as bad as he thought it would be.
"All of my kids have had COVID," said Brewer. "They asked, 'Did your lungs hurt?' I said, 'No, just cold symptoms.'"
Brewer said the cold he had before catching COVID was actually worse. But still, he wishes he never had it.
"I'm disappointed," said Brewer. "I wanted to be one of the ones who skated through without getting it."
When asked how to stay heathy in the "viral soup" in the county, Cody said flu and booster shots will help you navigate the choppy waters.
Cody also noted that only 25 percent of county residents have received the bivalent booster amid the current rise in cases.
And while she recommends masks be worn at crowded, indoor gatherings, Cody believes the mask mandate will not be returning.
"I don't see mandates returning," she told reporters. "I think that 3 years in (to the pandemic) it's extraordinarily difficult to mandate."
All county residents are encouraged to check with their primary physician about receiving the flu and bivalent Omicron booster vaccines. Those without a primary healthcare provider or who are having difficulty finding an appointment can go through www.sccfreevax.org for an appointment.
Mary Lee contributed to this report.
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