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Sonoma County zeroes in on new coronavirus quarantine site

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Sonoma County health officials are in negotiations with owners of a site that could provide quarantine space for COVID-19 patients with mild symptoms, a property that would replace Sonoma State University dormitory rooms since the university ended its agreement with the county to lease part of the campus as an alternate care site.

The unidentified location would house people with mild to moderate coronavirus symptoms who need to isolate from vulnerable family members, but it also could serve as a backup location for virus patients and ease pressure on area hospitals should there be a surge of area infections at one time, health officials said.

“Things move quickly,” Barbie Robinson, director of the county Department of Health Services, said Wednesday. “We hope to have the contracts in place by the end of the week.”

So fast, in fact, that apparently the county Board of Supervisors has not yet been briefed since county staff narrowed the list of favored sites to one, three supervisors said Wednesday.

The county’s negotiations, prompted by SSU officials’ desire to bring students back to campus next month, come amid a growing coronavirus outbreak that has tripled the number of infections since June 1 and forced severe rollbacks this week to the county’s reopening plans.

Sonoma County Supervisors Susan Gorin and Shirlee Zane say executives at the county’s three largest hospitals — Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center and Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital — are worried about the rising numbers, and they’ve urged the county to get alternate care sites up and running before the fall.

“The hospital executives are concerned, as well they should be,” Zane said. “We need the alternate care sites, especially for the skilled nursing facility patients.”

Saying the county was in the process of finalizing a contract, Robinson declined to provide the name or location of the site favored by health officials to replace SSU, which Robinson confirmed the county had finished vacating by Wednesday afternoon.

When the county signed its initial contract with Sonoma State, it took nearly a month before the campus space was ready for use to quarantine certain people exposed to the virus, apparently narrowing the universe of replacement sites to places like hotels and motels ready for immediate use.

Mary Haynes, right, site director for Veterans Resource Center of America North Bay Veterans Resource Center, and shelter assistant Marty Kimes, left, escort Edward James past security as he moves into the Verdot Village residence area at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park on Thursday, April 30, 2020. A portion of the campus residence facilities were temporarily used to house vulnerable members of the homeless population to protect them from the coronavirus pandemic. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)
Mary Haynes, right, site director for Veterans Resource Center of America North Bay Veterans Resource Center, and shelter assistant Marty Kimes, left, escort Edward James past security as he moves into the Verdot Village residence area at Sonoma State University in Rohnert Park on Thursday, April 30, 2020. A portion of the campus residence facilities were temporarily used to house vulnerable members of the homeless population to protect them from the coronavirus pandemic. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

Robinson said many of the same services, including contracts for food services and security employed at SSU, will remain in place at the new site.

“We also are delighted because there will be outside space for individuals who are isolating and quarantining to allow for a more natural experience,” Robinson said.

The county is not looking to replicate the COVID-19 surge capacity arrangements put in place at the SSU campus recreation center, since those beds were never used and public health officials don’t anticipate needing such barracks-style space.

Soldiers with the National Guard set up cots in the gym inside the SSU Recreation Center for active Covid-19 patients.The main gym held 80 beds and a smaller gym contained 30 beds. (Photo by John Burgess / The Press Democrat)
Soldiers with the National Guard set up cots in the gym inside the SSU Recreation Center for active Covid-19 patients.The main gym held 80 beds and a smaller gym contained 30 beds. (Photo by John Burgess / The Press Democrat)

“There’s no plan to do that at this time,” Dr. Sundari Mase, the county health officer, said. “We never used it at SSU. And that’s a good thing. I do think we should be prepared moving forward.”

Two sets of student dorms at SSU, near the campus police department, were used to house vulnerable homeless residents, as well as county residents in need of isolation or quarantine space because of infection or while awaiting COVID-19 test results.

After weeks of talks with SSU officials related to the $5 million contract for use of the Rohnert Park campus, Sonoma County health leaders had to scramble to secure alternate space when it became clear to them the campus would no longer be available.

More than 100 homeless residents were given temporary places to stay across the county, including existing shelter space in Petaluma and Santa Rosa, as well as cabins at Alliance Redwoods, the sprawling west county conference grounds in Occidental.

The county also is targeting to buy the downtown Santa Rosa Hotel Azura, which could add 42 rooms for homeless people as soon as mid-September.

Hotel Azura in Santa Rosa, Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2020
Hotel Azura in Santa Rosa, Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (Kent Porter / The Press Democrat) 2020

Mase called the prospect of securing a new alternate care site “extremely important.”

She said the county for months has been looking for another property strictly for residents of skilled nursing centers suffering from the virus. These nursing centers have become a hot spot for the county’s virus outbreak, as several residents and staff members have contracted the virus. And one of them, Broadway Villa Post Acute in Sonoma, has reported to state health officials that it has had residents sick with the virus die, but that number was unclear Wednesday based on the state’s reporting requirements.

Robinson said it’s certainly the county’s role to make such as move to try to curb further COVID-19 transmission among the vulnerable elderly residents.

“In the world of public health, we are very much concerned with population health; we help fulfill the needs of the community in a pandemic or any other disaster,” Robinson said.

Zane, who is involved in a couple of task forces related to the county’s vulnerable elderly population, including residents at skilled nursing centers, said she also would work to help find a site to fit that bill.

“I’ve been thinking a lot about this and talking to people,” Zane said. “I’m going to pursue this; there are a couple of them I want to pursue. I’m going to do the work because I have the connections.”

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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