Sonoma County passes 1,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases

A few hours before Sonoma County passed 1,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, the county’s health officer on Thursday showed cautious optimism about the ability to blunt the spread of the disease and save lives, even on the heels of a 40% rise in local cases over the past two weeks.

Dr. Sundari Mase said the milestone was arbitrary and what concerns her more is the increase in the average rate at which confirmed COVID-19 cases are increasing over a 14-day period.

“I don't know that I'd make that much out of 1,000 (cases). It’s just a number, but I would look more at the trend,” she said.

The county passed the threshold late Thursday night, announcing 32 new cases, for a total of 1,006 since the pandemic appeared locally in early March.

That trend shows a significant increase in the county’s COVID-19 case rate, the number of confirmed cases for every 100,000 residents. About five weeks ago, that rate hovered around 20 cases per 100,000 people, and three weeks ago it increased to 40, she said.

Now, it’s approaching 60 cases per 100,000 residents. The rate is one of several metrics county health officials are using to track and adjust their response to the pandemic. Other metrics include hospitalization rates, the availability of intensive care beds, testing capacity and the local positivity rate, or the share of all testing that results in confirmed cases.

In five of those metrics ― case rates, increasing hospitalizations, limited hospital capacity, average weekly testing volume and cases at skilled nursing facilities ― the county is now out of step with benchmarks geared to its reopening roadmap.

Those benchmarks, established during the county’s early response to the virus, are more rigorous than more recent state criteria for measuring the local public health response to the virus. For example, the county’s benchmark for cases per 100,000 residents is anything greater than 25, while the state sets it at 100.

Mase said she’s keeping an eye on both county and state thresholds.

“We're not using just one benchmark, we're using a combination of different things that we're looking at,” she said.

Nearly half of Sonoma County’s cases are active, with about 10% involving hospitalized patients.

Earlier this week, a recent outbreak at an unidentified local skilled nursing facility was partly to blame for the spike of infections reported Monday, when county health officials added 50 new cases, a single-day record, and a sharp jump even over the previous high mark on Sunday, when 32 cases surfaced.

Similar trends are being reported across the state and nation as testing expands, but also as reopening fuels wider and quicker spread of the contagion.

As of Wednesday, there have been 18 coronavirus cases reported at local skilled nursing facilities since June 1. Of these, 13 were among residents, local health officials said.

Mase declined Thursday to name the skilled nursing facility with the recent outbreak. But according to state Department of Public Health data, Broadway Villa Post Acute, a skilled nursing and therapeutic facility in Sonoma, reported to the state on Wednesday that 11 of its residents had tested positive for COVID-19.

The facility reported on June 10 that at least one staff member had tested positive, and on Monday it reported to the state that the death of one of its residents was tied to COVID-19 ― a man over 65 who was the fifth coronavirus death in the county.

Mike Empey, executive director of Broadway Villa, has not returned multiple phone calls and emails this week seeking comment, with no response again on Thursday.

Mase said that staying on top of such outbreaks will be crucial as the county continues to transition from across-the-board public health restrictions to a more free-roaming economy with pandemic precautions in place. The county’s prior success in flattening the curve and suppressing the spread of the virus have led to low numbers of hospitalizations.

“For the time being, we have and I'm really thankful for that,” she said.

Mase emphasized the need for more people to seek out testing. The county has a population of nearly half a million but only a little more than 40,000 people have been tested, she said, with daily volume at roughly 550 to 600 tests.

“The testing capacity is there,” she said. “It's more because people are not taking advantage of the testing that’s offered.

A higher volume of test results will allow public health investigators to better predict what will happen later in the summer, she said.

Mase said people should use their judgment in determining how often they should be tested. If someone feels like they may have been exposed they can be tested again, she said.

“If they went to a restaurant and they're just concerned because there was a lot of people there. . . . maybe not everybody was wearing facial coverings who was serving, then that might be a reason to go get tested,” she said.

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

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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

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