The COVID-19 pandemic has consumed almost every aspect of life since a year ago, but how have local health officials been able to juggle the many other health concerns facing the community while navigating through these unprecedented times? 

“The overall public health effort has not changed, although the COVID-19 response has certainly taken center stage,” said Yuba County Director of Public Health Dr. Homer Rice. “Though many of our public health staff have been assigned to handle COVID activities, we have been able to maintain our case management of foster care and California Children’s Services children as well as our communicable disease investigation and follow up.”

Sutter County Public Health branch director Leah Northrop said sexually transmitted diseases and mental health will continue to be areas of focus for local health officials, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues and well after it subsides. 

“Public Health case manages communicable disease cases, such as Syphilis, Hepatitis, Tuberculosis and others, alongside activities associated with our COVID response,” said Northrop. 

Other areas of high concern, according to Northrop, are smoking, vaping and tobacco use among young people, as well as obesity and diabetes. 

“Public Health staff have developed creative ways to outreach virtually and in a socially distanced manner to provide Public Health services, benefits and education to our Sutter County community,” said Northrop. 

Rice said Yuba County continues to receive data that indicates smoking rates are not improving so this remains an area of high concern on that side of the bridge as well, but due to the pandemic, Yuba County has not been able to provide in-person services to address the concerns. 

“As much as possible we are conducting services remotely, but we look forward to being able to do in-person outreach to address some of these areas,” said Rice. “Although many of our health education staff have been pulled for contact investigation and our nurses are not able to do in-person visits, we continue our educational efforts on social media and through phone and electronic contact with our clients and patients.”

According to Rice, there are additional concerns about how COVID-19 will affect those that smoke or have preexisting conditions that compromise the lungs. 

“COVID attacks the lungs, so those with COPD, asthma, or other conditions are especially vulnerable,” said Rice. “There are no peer reviewed studies that show the impact of tobacco use on COVID, but several smaller studies have shown an increase in severity of COVID infection among smokers.  This may be because tobacco users are more likely to suffer from some of the other diseases that impact the lungs.”

Northrop said Public Health officials also continue to facilitate critical programs including nutrition education, breastfeeding support and healthy foods through the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program and have facilitated support, mentoring and education for expecting parents through the Healthy Families Sutter County Home Visiting Program remotely during the pandemic. 

Rice said efforts are also being made amid the pandemic to coordinate with local partners to address high risk homeless populations and to test and treat our communicable disease cases.

“We continue to address the needs of our homeless community members, including providing temporary shelter with wrap around services at our Better Way shelter, and working with participants to find transitional or permanent housing,” said Northrop. “Since the COVID emergency, 48 individuals have exited Better Way into a permanent housing situation.”

Northrop said Sutter-Yuba Behavioral Health will continue offering free online Mental Health First Aid training through June. This public education program introduces participants to risk factors and warning signs of mental health problems and is open to all residents, organizations, employers, friends and family in the Sutter and Yuba counties. (For more information or to sign up for the training, email Dawn Redmond, Mental Health First Aid Coordinator, at dredmond@co.sutter.ca.us.)

According to Northrop, the Sutter-Yuba Behavioral Health Prevention and Early Intervention Program has also worked with schools in both counties remotely to continue group support services as well as some remote services and training. 

“Behavioral Health also launched a media campaign for Each Mind Matters in Sutter and Yuba Counties to provide awareness of the early signs of mental illness, reduce stigma and how to seek help,” said Northrop.

As the pandemic hopefully winds down, Rice said his department plans to emphasize chronic conditions and high risk behaviors, such as tobacco use and hopes to partner with some other providers to increase our testing for STDs and hepatitis C.  

“Prior to the pandemic we had started to address the social determinants of health and the impact on minority and low income populations,” said Rice. “We will pick back up that process to address some of our chronic conditions in the community.”

Rice said the major causes of COVID-related deaths locally remain primarily lifestyle and behavior issues so it is important for all residents to put healthy habits at the forefront of their mind while navigating through the pandemic.  

“COVID-19 has acted to make existing conditions even worse, so it is more important than ever to lead a healthy lifestyle as much as possible,” said Rice. “You can still walk or bike your neighborhood, exercise at home, eat as well as you can and stop using tobacco and other substances.”

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