COVID-19 infection rates continue to fall but deaths still occur among most vulnerable

Three deaths have occurred in August, four in July and two in May. Authorities say almost all involved people who were elderly or who had pre-existing conditions.|

It was a summer of rampant COVID-19 infection that for the most part people were able to endure without severe illness and the deadly outcomes that characterized earlier waves of the pandemic.

But not everyone.

In less than two weeks, county health officials have reported nine pandemic-related deaths, three of them in August, four in July and two from May.

The official reporting of COVID-19 deaths is often delayed by several weeks and sometimes a month or more.

The newly reported deaths illustrate the one enduring aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic: Even as the spread of omicron BA.5 begins to wane, elderly residents with underlying health conditions continue to be the most vulnerable.

“The majority of people, if vaccinated and healthy, will not succumb to the virus,” said Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer.

Mase said that while the current variant appears to cause less severe illness, those who are elderly with preexisting health issues will continue to be at risk. “There are probably going to be more COVID deaths,” she said.

After Sonoma County officials hit the milestone of 500 pandemic-related deaths July 8, a month went by without any new deaths being reported.

Then, on Aug. 9 county officials reported three COVID-19 deaths. That was followed Monday with three more, and then Wednesday with another three, bringing the total pandemic death toll to 509.

Not all the recent COVID-related deaths were among elderly residents in poor health. One involved an unvaccinated man with no underlying health issues between the age of 20 and 30 who died May 21; another was a fully-vaccinated woman with no underlying health problems, between the age of 50 and 60, who died July 25.

Three local male residents died July 30. One was unvaccinated and between the age of 90 and 100 with underlying health issues; a second was fully vaccinated and boosted and between the age of 70 and 80 with underlying health issues; and the third was fully vaccinated and boosted, and between the age of 90 and 100.

On Wednesday, officials reported the most recent deaths, all in August. These included a woman age 95 to 105 who died Aug. 2. The woman had an underlying health condition and lived in a skilled nursing facility.

On Aug. 5, a man between the age of 70 to 80, who was fully vaccinated and had underlying health problems, died after being hospitalized. The most recent official COVID-19 death involved an unvaccinated man between the age of 70 to 80 who died Aug. 10 after being hospitalized.

Epidemiologist Lucinda Hammond Gardner said the reporting of cases is often delayed for a number of reasons. In some cases, the deaths occur outside the county and it takes a while for the official recording of the death to be processed at the state level.

Also, when someone dies outside of a hospital setting, local health officials have to wait for an official cause of death to come from the California Department of Public Health, Gardner said.

Mase said COVID-19 case rates continue to decline. The current level of transmission is 18.9 new daily cases per 100,000 residents. Meanwhile, test positivity, the share of COVID-19 tests that are positive, is now 11.9%.

“We are seeing decrease in case rates and test positivity but we still need to be careful,” Mase said, adding that there is still a strong recommendation for residents to mask indoors and get vaccinated or boosted.

Mase said those who are most vulnerable to severe COVID-19 illness, including the elderly with underlying health problems should be particularly careful, as well as those who are in close contact with vulnerable residents.

Mase said she hopes that case rates will continue to decline, but she noted that with the Labor Day weekend coming up, as well as young students returning to school, we may see an increase in infections soon.

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

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