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Coronavirus outbreaks hit 13 Sonoma County child care centers

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Sonoma County’s top public health official Wednesday revealed there’s been recent widespread outbreaks of the coronavirus at 13 preschool and home-based child care centers that have infected 62 people.

The infections involve 25 children, mostly age 6 and younger, 27 of their family members and 10 workers at the preschools. None of the individuals diagnosed with the highly contagious infectious disease have needed to be hospitalized, county Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said.

After the worst outbreak infected 16 children, county public health officials two weeks ago temporarily shut down the unidentified preschool in north county, Mase said. The source of each of the 30 infections connected with this child care site appears to be a single child.

Her startling announcement came a day ahead of a demonstration planned for Thursday in downtown Santa Rosa to urge the resumption of classroom teaching at the county’s public schools. In March after the onset of the pandemic, all public school districts closed campuses and switched to remote instruction.

Now district leaders countywide are considering sticking with online classes through the end of 2020 or longer, as the virus lingers in the community.

“I don't think (the outbreaks are) surprising, but I do think it's something that gives us a little pause when we think about going back to reopen (public) schools,” Mase said, noting the infections among preschool children should offer a cautionary tale as parents and certain area private and public schools might consider or favor reopening campuses.

In addition to the biggest outbreak at the preschool in north county, the virus has infiltrated other preschools and child care centers in the central and eastern parts of the county. Collectively, the infections represent the largest cluster of coronavirus cases among the county’s youngest residents outside the home, Mase said.

The health officer declined to identify any of the preschools or child care centers or disclose the municipalities where they are located, citing individual privacy concerns and the stigma connected with the coronavirus. These early learning and child care sites are privately run operations not associated with public school districts.

Although public schools are not allowed to conduct classroom instruction, Mase said private child care centers are permitted to operate under state guidelines. However, operators of these centers are required to report COVID-19 infections to public health officials.

The three largest preschool outbreaks occurred around mid-August, local public health officials said. Contact tracing of individuals exposed to infected people and virus testing continues related to some of the other case clusters.

Overall, there are 381 COVID-19 cases among youths 17 and under in Sonoma County that are still under investigation by public health staff. Since the start of the pandemic in mid-March through Sept. 10, there have been 780 people in that age group infected by the virus, according to the county public health data.

With the possibility of private or public schools reopening classrooms in the coming months, county public health officials have begun asking infected residents about potential links to local schools.

Thus far, nine county elementary, middle school and high schools have been mentioned as part of contact tracing investigations of individuals diagnosed with the virus. That means students and teachers at these schools came in close contact with people who tested positive for the coronavirus.

Though none of these infections took place at the nine schools, Mase said the information is important because it provides a window into the current risk that would be associated with classroom teaching.

Meanwhile, the county reported as of Wednesday night six more local residents have died this week from complications of COVID-19, increasing the pandemic death toll to 114. They died between Sept. 5 and Sept. 15.

One was a man between 18 and 49 who died Sept. 7 at a local hospital. Another male victim was over 64 and also died at a hospital.

The other four victims were women older than 64, three of them residents of skilled nursing centers.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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