YOLO COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — Yolo County health leaders are strongly encouraging people to wear masks inside public places since COVID-19 community transmission has gone up.

The new COVID-19 variant, BA.5, has become the dominant strain in Yolo County as well.

“We still have a lot of COVID in Yolo County,” Dr. Aimee Sisson, county health officer, said.

Sisson said that the case rates show a decline, but their wastewater levels show an increase.

“Case now is pretty misleading because we ended our largest testing program in June, Healthy Yolo Together and our PCR testing,” Sisson said. “A lot of people are doing at-home tests and none of those results are showing up in the case rates, so that is why the case rate is very low than reality.”

But the data from wastewater levels from cities like Davis and Woodland show an uptick in COVID activity.

“Overall, I would say the wastewater levels are high when compared to several months ago,” Sisson said.

“Wastewater monitoring has really shown to be a useful data source for public health departments across the globe,” Heather Bischel, with UC Davis, said.

Bischel helps monitor the wastewater program and said current activity with this newest variant is close to earlier this year.

“There is fluctuation; it goes up and down, but overall, it’s around the levels we have seen earlier BA.1/omicron wave in January and February,” Bischel said.

To help keep the COVID risk on top of mind, the health agency is releasing a color-coded alert system sign, so you know the risk of COVID at any given time.

“So, we thought about why not put a sign at the entrance to that location, letting people know what the current COVID level is and what the masking recommendation based on that COVID level is,” Sisson told FOX40. 

The voluntary sign will be located at indoor public places and are separated into three categories: Red means high community transmission, yellow for medium, and green for low.

“I still think a lot of people wearing cloth masks and surgical masks and with the highly infectious variant we have right now, BA.5 included, those masks do not provide as good of protection as n95, kn95 or kf94,” Sisson said.

Sisson adds, that even though the BA.5 variant is very infectious and vaccinated people are catching it, the vaccine is still effective.

“We aren’t seeing those fully vaccinated/boosted people ending up in the hospital or worse, dying,” Sisson said.

The signs are intended for locations where the California Department of Public Health does not require masking.

Yolo County adds they will soon distribute 20,000 free, high-quality masks throughout the county, including at all library locations.