Sonoma County health officer declares no more businesses reopening for two weeks

The day after revealing her intention to slow reopening of local businesses because of a recent spike in coronavirus cases, Sonoma County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said Wednesday there will be no more advances in resuming economic activity during the next two weeks.

Mase attributed the need to apply the brakes to a doubling of new cases in the past two weeks, including a few patients needing intensive care at local hospitals, the first viral outbreak at a senior residential care facility and a number of infections now involving people getting the virus from transmission in their workplaces.

“It’s not a decision to take lightly, but I feel that we should keep our shelter-in-place order with the modifications that we put forth last Friday,” Mase said during her daily press briefing. “Staying this course with the shelter-in-place order will continue to protect our health care workforce from a surge (of virus cases), keep our ICU (intensive-care unit) beds available for serious patients.”

Over the weekend in the latest wave of reopening, Mase had allowed restaurants, wineries and breweries that serve food to resume outdoor dining provided they maintain public health protocols. After Gov. Gavin Newsom cleared the way at the beginning of this week for counties such as Sonoma to push forward, if ready, with further reopening, including area shopping malls, barbershops, hair salons and in-person church services, Sonoma County’s top public health official on Tuesday surprised many residents and business leaders by hitting pause instead of following the governor’s lead.

Peter Rumble, chief executive officer of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, said Mase’s decision to slow the local reopening is causing a great deal of frustration in the business community. Business owners are disappointed and anxious and willing to do anything they have to in order to resume economic activity, Rumble said.

“I understand the decision was based on the data that she established - understand that aspect of it,” he said. “At the same time, I understand that a lot of businesses have developed practices that will keep their workers safe and that will keep their clients and the public safe.”

Area companies are frustrated, he said, they can’t take advantage of Newsom’s recent steps to lift public health emergency restrictions in place since late March, days after Mase on March 17 issued her own unprecedented directive to close all but local business and industry deemed essential. “They have to sit on the sidelines for a couple of weeks and that’s extremely frustrating for those businesses,” Rumble said.

Mase said Wednesday her main concern was the recent jump in the rate of confirmed COVID-19 cases, from 20 people for every 100,000 residents the county to 41 cases for every 100,000 ?residents. “That’s double what it was two weeks ago,” she said.

“The primary reason to continue the shelter-in-place order without additional modifications at this time, is due to the large increase in COVID-19 positive cases and hospitalizations this past week,” she said, not giving figures for the increase in virus patients admitted to local hospitals.

Following Mase’s press briefing, Rohish Lal, a spokesman for the county’s Department of Health Services, said three people stricken by the new coronavirus were hospitalized over the holiday weekend.

“We haven’t seen that before in such a short period of time,” Lal said.

As of Wednesday night, there were 530 cases in the county since the first resident’s diagnosis emerged March 2. Of the cases, 304 are active and 222 people have recovered, and four older people with underlying health conditions have died from the infectious disease. Of the county’s nearly 500,000 population, 23,362 people have been tested for the virus at this point.

Meanwhile, Mase said Wednesday new cases were recently identified among employees in “clusters” of workplaces, but she would not provide any specific information about which industries or businesses. And she did not disclose if these businesses recently reopened or included ones such as grocers and banks never forced to close during the pandemic.

Lal declined to provide any additional information about employment sectors in the county experiencing clusters of the infectious disease among workers. He said that information is being compiled and soon will be available to the public via the county’s COVID-19 website.

Wednesday in defending her cautious move the day before, Mase also cited a shortage of the antiviral drug Remdesivir, which is being used to treat coronavirus patients. “We have no more in stock right now,” she said.

On Tuesday, the other troubling development the health officer cited was the first outbreak at a local senior residential care facility. Mase said two to three patients and two employees have tested positive. She refused to name the care center.

Previously, COVID-19 cases have been discovered among employees at area skilled nursing facilities, including Villa Capri at Varenna and Apple Valley Post-Acute Rehab in Sebastopol. A skilled nursing home is usually a medical setting that provides a higher level of care than a residential care center.

On Wednesday, Apple Valley nursing home administrator Michael Andraszczyk said two more employees - there was one previously - have tested positive for the virus and are isolating at home. Andraszczyk said no residents have tested positive and Apple Valley is working closely with county public health officials and staff members have been in contact with residents’ families about the situation.

Mase offered no timetable for the county’s next phase of economic reopening. “I’m extremely concerned about community health,” she said. “And (I) emphasize extreme caution for all residents at this time. So please do abide by the shelter-in-place order and we will continue to monitor the data on a daily basis and make decisions to move forward, to opening further or not as the data directs.”

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