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Sonoma County grapples with widening coronavirus caseload as school begins

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Fresh off its highest weekly coronavirus caseload since the beginning of the pandemic, Sonoma County faces yet another inflection point in its 5-month-long battle against COVID-19 as the start of school — even remotely — promises to add another variable to the county’s response.

Although public K-12 schools will conduct all classes online through at least the first semester, there are growing questions about how the spread of the virus may change as summer draws to an end and the school year begins. County leaders say family “bubbles” are expanding as parents team up to support each other during remote learning while day care facilities are stressed. Meanwhile, about 450 college students moved into dorms over the weekend at Sonoma State University, which will begin its academic year with online classes for the vast majority of students.

“I have incredible worries because we started surging a little bit sooner than we anticipated,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Susan Gorin, the board chair. “We need to treat this with the seriousness it deserves, especially as school begins, university classes begin. I suspect this is the ramp up that may go even higher.”

As of Sunday night, Sonoma County had charted 4,377 cases, including 84 on Sunday and 737 last week, the county’s largest weekly total since the pandemic began its spread locally in early March. Three more deaths were attributed late Sunday to the virus, which has now killed at least 57 people. Many of the recent cases — and most of the deaths — have been attributed to the virus’ harrowing spread in area skilled nursing facilities.

“Now, we need to focus on the residential care facilities,” Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said last week, even while acknowledging an overall decrease in the pace of cases emanating from senior care homes.

While new coronavirus cases are finally declining at skilled nursing centers in Sonoma County, there are facilities still struggling with the highly contagious virus. And Mase said plans were being considered to partner with other counties for a regional approach to secure isolation space for skilled nursing facility residents.

County spokesman Paul Gullixson said Mase wasn’t available for comment Sunday, but he reiterated her statements from last week and confirmed county officials are worried about the rising numbers.

“Yes, we’re still concerned,” Gullixson said. “And in the midst of that, we’re concerned about people’s health during this high-heat event.”

Supervisor James Gore said the county must do a better job every day, and residents must adapt, even as “exhausting” challenges mount. He urged residents not to get frustrated that the pandemic’s march will likely continue into the spring as efforts to develop and produce a vaccine move forward.

“The last three weeks, our big fight is it got into our skilled nursing facilities,” Gore said. “These next few weeks, while schools are virtual, child care facilities are getting overwhelmed. There’s going to be more mixing of kids.”

Gorin said the virus will continue to be unpredictable.

“I wish we did have some crystal ball to let us know how COVID is going to move through the community,” Gorin said. “But there is no predictability. And I’m concerned with the number of cases we’re seeing. We need to pay attention; we’re not through this.”

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @tylersilvy

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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