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Sonoma County health officials confirm six more skilled nursing residents died from coronavirus

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Sonoma County health officials said Monday six more nursing home residents have died from complications of the coronavirus, raising the pandemic death toll in senior care homes to 50 of the 57 overall area victims.

The additional fatalities follow last week’s 737 new infections, the high for a single week since the virus emerged in March. And nearly a third of the county’s 4,465 total cases as of Monday have been reported in the past two weeks.

“It is very alarming to see this number of cases,” county Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said. “Lots of things have contributed.”

But county Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase rejected any notion that public health officials are losing the battle against the virus.

“I wouldn’t say that it’s getting away from us,” Mase said, although she acknowledged according to state computer models tracking viral transmission around California “we’re a hot spot.”

More virus outbreaks are occurring at unidentified workplaces and people are getting infected at social gatherings and through travel, she said. A backlog in COVID-19 cases caused by a glitch in the state’s electronic reporting system also may have contributed to the recent spike of new infections locally.

The six nursing home residents whose deaths the county reported over the weekend were all over the age of 64 and had underlying health conditions, health officials said. Three were male and three were female. Their deaths occurred between Aug. 7 and Aug. 13.

“It’s heart-wrenching,” Mase said of the deadly transmission of the virus in nursing homes. “We're doing our very best to mitigate those deaths in a very vulnerable population. It's just, heartbreaking.”

Mase said nursing homes that had outbreaks one and two months ago are actually seeing declines in the number of new cases. But she said the virus is now spreading into more facilities.

She said county and state public health experts continue to work with local senior care homes to ensure workers are: adhering to proper infection control protocols; cleaning and maintaining good hygiene; conducting weekly testing of residents and staff; effectively isolating residents infected with the virus.

The continuing COVID-19 outbreaks at nursing homes, assisted living and board and care homes are adding to the large number of new cases. But Mase said the highly contagious virus also continues to spread throughout the county particularly in more urban settings.

“... Part of it is the skilled nursing cases, but then there’s more community transmission,” she said, explaining the continued resurgence of the virus countywide.

Also, she noted most counties across the state are seeing increasing numbers of cases.

“Five more counties were added to the (state) watchlist as soon as this data glitch got ironed out,” Mase said, referring to the 42 counties the state is monitoring because they are having trouble containing the virus. Mendocino County was recently added, while Sonoma County has been on the watchlist for a month.

Mase said some of the loosening of business and public restrictions earlier this summer is now resulting in more new infections here now six to eight weeks later.

“Given that it’s a novel coronavirus, it’s really hard to predict when that the tide will turn,” she said, of bending the transmission curve.

Mase said Sonoma County has among the highest coronavirus transmission rates in the state, according to a statewide assessment tool that compiles the most reliable COVID-19 models available. The modeling shows the county’s effective reproductive number is 1.21, the 12th-highest rate in the state.

A reproductive number greater than 1 means COVID-19 will spread exponentially, according to the state’s website. A rate less than one means the virus is spreading more slowly and infections are declining.

A median of the various models in the statewide assessment tool shows that a month from now, deaths in Sonoma County could reach 77, while hospitalizations are predicted to decline to 38.

As of Sunday, there were 47 people with COVID-19 in local hospitals, according to the county health officials. But on Friday, that figure reached 52, the largest number of coronavirus patients hospitalized since the pandemic started in March.

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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