Butte County is not in the green. As of last week, the color-coded system of determining COVID-19 risk from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has our county and most of those around us firmly in the yellow, meaning our Community Level risk is “medium.” Still, this is unquestionably a positive development: It means that, for seven days in a row, Butte County met the threshold of less than 200 per 100,000 people infected; less than 20 new COVID patients per 100,000 residents admitted to the hospital; and less than 15 percent of staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients. As of March 3, we were out of the high risk category for the first time in more than two months.
Being in the yellow means that the CDC recommends mask-wearing in public for only those with compromised immune systems or otherwise at high risk for COVID-19 infection. The rest of us are advised just to stay up on our vaccinations/boosters and to quarantine or isolate if we are exposed or infected; otherwise, we are free to go without face coverings in public—a recommendation echoed by the California Department of Public Health (even for students and staff in schools as of end of the day on March 11).
The omicron variant wave has crested in California. However, let’s not forget how we were still in the middle of the largest surge of the pandemic just a month ago and that before omicron’s arrival—which caught everyone by surprise—we thought the worst was behind us. Omicron may have caused less severe illness than the delta variant, but the sheer number of infections translated into a higher death toll than its predecessor.
While there is much reason for optimism, there has been plenty of precedence to exercise a reasonable measure of caution. Why not make sure this time? Let’s get in the green zone before we start celebrating too heavily. Make sure our health-care workers get a break and not another spike. Save some lives.
We at the CN&R want to get back to “normal” as much as everyone else. We aren’t calling for anything more drastic than this: Don’t ditch the mask just yet. Keep one with you and wear it in crowded public places for a little while longer.
The light is just about to turn green; maybe by the time you are reading this editorial, it already has. Just wait until it does before you take that next step.