Responding to a spike in coronavirus spread, the Sacramento County Department of Public Health has ordered local government bodies to stop in-person meetings and to instead meet virtually. Availability of COVID-19 testing has fluctuated as various groups work to meet demand.

The Galt City Council and other city commissions and committees began meeting in person last month, but with the latest order, they will need to return to Zoom. Representatives of Galt’s high school and elementary school districts confirmed that both of the city’s boards of education would switch to fully virtual meetings.

Public Health also recommended that businesses conduct meetings online and take other precautions “as much as business needs will permit.” The mandate requiring masks in indoor, public settings remains in place.

Case numbers have risen dramatically over the past weeks and days, due to the omicron variant and holiday gatherings, according to county officials. On Jan. 6, the county’s COVID-19 dashboard recorded a seven-day average of 2,289 cases per day, easily higher than any previous surge. A month earlier, the number was 223.

“Compared to past (surges), what we have seen … is that the numbers have gone up a lot faster than they have in past surges,” Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said in a briefing with reporters. “We don’t know when we’ll hit that peak. We’re hoping it will be soon.”

One potential bright spot is that the omicron variant, behind the new surge, appears to cause less severe illness than previous variants. The number of deaths has not risen significantly in recent days, but it tends to lag behind infections.

However, even with milder symptoms, the highly contagious omicron is infecting enough people to cause concern about the health care system’s ability to handle the patients.

Sacramento area hospitals are “full,” Kasirye said. Coronavirus infections put 426 people in the county’s hospitals on Jan. 10, and 72 in intensive-care units. The public health officer asked people with non-urgent issues to avoid visiting emergency rooms.

Testing in flux

Local availability of coronavirus testing has changed on a daily — even hourly — basis.

The county health department on Jan. 4 provided 91,000 at-home tests to Sacramento Public Library branches. The Galt-Marian O. Lawrence Library opened that morning with 450 tests to give away free, and by 3 p.m., it had run out, a library worker told the Herald.

The city of Galt announced on Jan. 10 that it is restricting walk-ins at its testing site. Testing on Thursdays from 7 a.m. to noon will accept walk-ins, but the line may be closed at 11:30 a.m. Testing on Fridays and Saturdays will be by appointment only.

Liberty Ranch and Galt high schools are offering at-home tests to students through Jan. 14, while supplies last. They are available at Liberty Ranch from 7:30-8 a.m. and at Galt High from 3:30-4 p.m.

In a national development, the Biden administration announced that insurance companies would be required to reimburse customers who buy over-the-counter coronavirus tests. The order would cover up to eight test kits per individual per month.

Kasirye emphasized that “there are no guarantees” about how the pandemic could develop, and she called for people to get vaccinated, wear masks in indoor, public settings and isolate when they feel sick.

“As we’ve heard from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) several times before … COVID, the virus, is the one that determines what is going to happen,” Kasirye said.

For links and phone numbers to register for the city of Galt’s Thursday, Friday or Saturday testing, visit bit.ly/GaltCOVID (case sensitive). The testing takes place at the Chabolla Community Center at 610 Chabolla Avenue.