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Sonoma County to begin tracking race, ethnicity data in coronavirus cases

Sonoma County will begin tracking racial and ethnic data on people who test positive for COVID-19, part of an effort to determine whether the disease is taking a disproportionate toll on minorities.

Sonoma County had not previously tracked the data, according to a county spokeswoman, leaving the county without insight into potential impacts on different racial and ethnic groups.

Nationwide, nearly a third of the people who have died from COVID-19 are African American, according to an Associated Press analysis of state and local data. Black people represent about 14% of the population in the areas covered in the analysis.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its first breakdown of COVID-19 case data by race, showing that 30% of patients whose race was known were black. The federal data was missing racial information for 75% of all cases, however, and did not include any demographic breakdown of deaths.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom released data April 8 on race or ethnicity for about 40% of the state’s coronavirus cases. The numbers generally matched the respective ratios for the state’s various population groups.

Sonoma County had so far declined to provide race or ethnicity data on residents who have tested positive for COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus, but on Sunday officials acknowledged for the first time that the county had never collected the data. The county will change course after getting a request last week from the governor.

“I think it’s critical that we track it going forward, especially given the racial disparities we’re seeing across the country,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, who for weeks has asked the county to release more demographic data, particularly on hospitalizations. “If we’re seeing disproportionate impacts based on someone’s race or ethnicity, we need to know that.”

The county has also not kept any demographic data on residents who tested negative for coronavirus, according to the Sonoma County Counsel’s Office, leaving any questions about access to testing by race or age unanswered. Hopkins wouldn’t commit to calling for that data to be tracked, but she did say the county would seek and report that information “in an ideal world.”

To date, more than 4,300 people have tested negative for COVID-19, and there are no plans to better document demographic data for those going forward. County officials have said they will follow Newsom’s guidance to track race and ethnicity data for those who test positive.

“The governor just requested counties to track that,” Sonoma County spokeswoman Jennifer Larocque said. “We are going to start tracking race demographics. But it’s not a demographic we were asking of positive cases.”

She said she didn’t know what day last week the governor had made the request of Sonoma County, or whether the county had already started to track the information.

Larocque added that she hadn’t “heard of any effort to go back and call positive cases; it’s not in the works currently.”

One more Sonoma County resident tested positive Sunday for COVID-19, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 181. No new cases were reported Saturday, marking the smallest two-day run in five weeks. The lull may reflect a significant drop in test results reported over the weekend. Typically, the county gets about 200 test results per day, Larocque said, but it received only 169 new tests combined on Saturday and Sunday, or roughly 40% of the daily average.

The county has sought to do more targeted testing through its surveillance program, which is designed to detect COVID-19 cases in the community, particularly among highly vulnerable populations and people living in communal settings such as elder-care facilities, homeless shelters and jails.

Testing for coronavirus among 40 staff members and inmates at Sonoma County’s Main Adult Detention Facility has come back negative in all cases, the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office announced Saturday evening.

That includes six recent admissions to the jail who had been in custody for a week or less and, thus, were among those most likely to represent a risk of infection, Sonoma County sheriff’s spokeswoman Misti Wood said Sunday.

Also tested were 34 employees who interact with jail inmates to varying degrees, including correctional and patrol deputies, cooks, janitors and medical and mental health personnel.

Previously, 13 staff members and 10 inmates were tested outside the surveillance program, all with negative results, jail personnel said.

Law enforcement officials are also grappling with a push from county health officials to step up enforcement of orders that restrict public activities to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Santa Rosa Police Chief Rainier Navarro has announced that his officers will be increasingly willing to enforce the county health officer’s orders and cite scofflaws, resulting in potential penalties of up to $1,000 or six months in jail.

The Sonoma County Sheriff’s Office still hopes to enforce the rule through education, Wood said. Deputies aren’t proactively seeking out violators or pulling drivers over to see where they’re going, she said.

“We’re responding to complaints as they come in, but we’re trying to take that educational perspective and try not to issue citations unless we absolutely have to,” Wood said. “We want to see voluntary compliance as much as possible.”

Deputies arrested a man working at a fruit stand Saturday outside Petaluma. The man, who was selling fruit at Adobe and Frates roads, was not complying with protective measures that businesses are required to embrace under the shelter-in-place order, Wood said.

“We’ve been receiving complaints about the fruit stands throughout the county and this one we’ve received multiple complaints,” Wood said.

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