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Sacramento County could see stricter coronavirus guidelines as cases surge, top health official says

"It is the outdoor gatherings where people are congregating tightly, and on top of one another" that are causing the case surge in the county, Dr. Beilenson said.

SACRAMENTO COUNTY, Calif. — Sacramento County has been struggling as of late to keep its COVID-19 cases down having reported nearly 2,200 new coronavirus cases since the beginning of July.

Because of its inability to keep cases low, the county landed on the state's dreaded watch list, which triggers a regression in economic reopening for in county that lands on the list.

Dr. Peter Beilenson, Sacramento County's top health officer, said because of the surge, county health officials are considering stricter guidelines for outdoor gatherings.

"It is the outdoor gatherings where people are congregating tightly, and on top of one another that [is] causing the case surge in the county," Dr. Beilenson said.

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that the 30 counties on the state's watch list — including Sacramento, Placer, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Yolo, and Yuba counties — will have to completely close fitness centers, places of worship, personal care services, and malls again.

The closures, which are reminiscent of the early stages of the state's reopening plan, are indefinite and will only be reversed if the county meets state public health officials threshold to do so.

Now that indoor operations for non-essential businesses have shut down again in Sacramento County, Dr. Beilenson said it's time to consider limiting outdoor gatherings, too.

"We haven't done this yet, but along the lines of maybe six people besides your family, all separated by 6 feet or more, wearing masks except when eating," Dr. Beilenson explained.

The main culprit for the surge in COVID-19 cases seems to be asymptomatic spreaders of the virus who attend gatherings, both outdoor and indoor, Dr. Beilenson said. While people try to practice social distancing and face-covering mandates, they tend to drop their guard when they're around family and friends.

Those asymptomatic spreaders are often younger people between the ages of 25 and 40, Dr. Beilenson said. According to county data, people age 18 to 49 make up 60% of Sacramento's reported cases.

And for those asymptomatic young people who haven't been tested, Dr. Beilenson said "they may still be spreading the virus," passing it along to family, through social circles, and into the community.

In Sacramento County, were fewer than 70 ICU beds are available, spreading the virus even a little is not ideal. While the area has more than 650 surge capacity beds available, using them is not what officials want.

"We don't want to end up like New York City did a few weeks ago," Dr. Beilenson said. "And that's why we're talking about bending the curve back and following the guidelines."

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WATCH MORE: California takes step back in reopening as coronavirus cases surge