Sonoma County surpasses 300 COVID-19 deaths

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More than 300 Sonoma County residents have died of complications of the coronavirus, a milestone that arrived this week even as confirmed cases, hospitalizations and deaths have waned and businesses are looking toward loosened restrictions meant to control the pandemic.

County officials reported the latest three deaths late Tuesday, bringing the total death toll to 301. The three fatalities, which occurred Feb. 16, 21 and 22, included a woman older than 64 who lived in a residential care facility for the elderly.

That was the first COVID-19 death of a resident in a senior care home reported since Feb 11. Of the 301 deaths, 167 are among residents of skilled nursing and residential care homes, though deaths in congregate care settings have also been declining dramatically.

“It’s just heartbreaking that we’ve passed that number of deaths and we need to just step back and think about what brought us here,” said Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer. “Our hearts go out to the families. One death is too many.”

Mase said the “good news” is that vaccinations are underway and that there has been a significant decline in deaths at local skilled nursing facilities and the most vulnerable residents.

The two other recent deaths included a man over 64 who died Feb. 21 and a man between 18 and 49 who died Feb. 22. Both died in local hospitals. The county does not release more detailed information about the deaths.

On Wednesday evening, during the county’s weekly town hall on COVID-19, officials said the Sonoma County was “really close” to moving out of the most restrictive tier in the state’s four-stage reopening plan. The county has been in the most restrictive “purple tier” since the plan was launched in late August.

“We are so close to moving out of the purple tier,” said Mase of the state designation indicating widespread transmission of the virus. “Everything is looking good. Our case rate per 100,000 residents is 9.5 and we’re getting very close to the seven that we need to move into the red tier.”

The state assesses counties’ COVID-19 metrics every Tuesday, and those benchmarks hold for an entire week. Even if the county were to qualify for the less restrictive red tier with lower numbers, it would have to maintain them for two weeks before being allowed to further reopen businesses and activities.

Confirmed COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been declining since the winter surge, which officially infected 13,789 local residents in December and January. That’s nearly 50% of the 28,185 confirmed cases since the pandemic started last March.

According to state data, COVID-19 hospitalizations in Sonoma County have fallen to 22, with 10 of these patients receiving intensive care treatment. In early January, there were as many as 110 COVID-19 patients in local hospitals and the number of coronavirus patients in ICUs reached as high as 26.

The town hall on Wednesday focused on what local businesses need to do to get ready for further reopening of the economy. Sheba Person-Whitley, executive director of the Sonoma County Economic Development Board, highlighted resources available to local businesses, such as small-business loans and grants; business license and fee relief; subsidized child care and loans through the Paycheck Protection Program.

Person-Whitley said the local economic development board estimates that as of last week roughly 73 small businesses and entrepreneurs have gone under in Sonoma County since the pandemic started. The figure is based on surveying local business chambers, organizations and city and town officials, and the number could be larger.

Peter Rumble, CEO of the Santa Rosa Metro Chamber, said his organization has lost more than 100 businesses due to financial hardship, with many of them forced to close.

“To break that down, we’re losing a business or more every week over the last year,” he said. “We know that many more businesses are closing every week, even though we don’t have authoritative data.”

Rumble said that even with the resources available, the situation for local businesses is “dire.” Rumble said one of the key issues facing businesses is their struggle to vaccinate their employees due to the shortage in vaccine doses.

“It all comes back to the ability to operate,” Rumble said. “A business will fail if it is not able to operate. That in no way suggests irresponsible behavior and opening up and flouting public health restrictions and requirements that are there for a good reason.”

Alma Magallon, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said many Latino businesses have expressed concern about the shortage of vaccine for essential workers.

“Although we have made the announcement that restaurant and grocery workers are now eligible to receive the vaccine, we have had a challenge in helping them get an appointment for that,” Magallon said.

Magallon said she hopes to work with county officials to ensure that these “front-line” workers are given priority even as more and more local residents become eligible to be vaccinated.

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

For information about how to schedule a vaccine in Sonoma County, go here.

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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