Two more Sonoma County residents die from the coronavirus

Two more Sonoma County residents have died from complications of the coronavirus, bringing area fatalities from the infectious disease to seven since it emerged here in early March, the county’s top public health official said Monday.

Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer, said the deaths occurred Sunday and Monday. The two people were residents of a skilled nursing center and a residential care home, and she would not name either facility.

Mase also declined to say where they died or disclose any demographic information about them or how, where and when they contracted the highly contagious virus.

The two additional fatalities are a vivid reminder the stubborn virus still is circulating in the community despite broader testing, exhaustive tracing of close contacts of those infected and deliberate public health measures requiring people to wear face coverings and stay 6 feet away from anyone but immediate family. And the timing follows a couple of weeks of unease about mounting cases locally and comes amid worries parts of California are losing considerable ground to the pathogen. So much so, that the governor started pulling back over the weekend on purveyors of alcoholic beverages.

The county reported the sixth and seventh local deaths only a week after the fifth COVID-19-related fatality on June 21, a man over 65 with underlying medical conditions who died at a local hospital.

That man, also a resident of a skilled nursing center, had been transferred to a hospital less than 24 hours before his death. Earlier coronavirus-related deaths, which occurred May 11, May 3, April 10 and March 20, all involved an older person in poor health, county health officials said.

Mase has repeatedly declined to reveal the name of the skilled nursing site where the man who was the fifth local resident to die from the virus had lived.

However, California Department of Public Health data shows Broadway Villa Post Acute, a skilled nursing and therapeutic facility in Sonoma, reported to the state on June 22 — a day after the fatality — a death related to a resident with COVID-19 had occurred.

On Sunday, Broadway Villa reported to the state it had 14 residents who tested positive for COVID-19 and a cumulative total of 17 confirmed cases. It also reported at least one case among among its staff.

Skilled nursing sites are required to report to the state health department within 24 hours any residents or staff who test positive for the highly contagious virus, as well as coronavirus-related deaths.

Mike Empey, executive director of Broadway Villa, did not return calls or reply to emails on Monday or multiple attempts to reach him last week.

Susan Gorin, chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, expressed her condolences to the families of the county’s latest two fatalities from the elusive virus.

“The populations at skilled nursing facilities are among the most vulnerable nationwide,” Gorin said.

Indeed, last week Mase revealed there were 40 infections among area senior living sites since June 1, including 21 residents of skilled nursing or residential care centers and 19 staff members.

News of the local deaths came amid concerns about the growing number of confirmed cases in the county, as well as across California.

On Monday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said hospitalizations related to the virus have increased by roughly 43% in the past two weeks, though he added the state still had beds to treat the additional patients. Newsom also said the state’s positivity rate, the portion of overall test results that are positive, rose from 4.4% to 5.5% in the past 14 days. And he said new infections have jumped 45% in seven days.

In Sonoma County, the figure that most troubles Mase, the health officer, is the steadily increasing number of infections per 100,000 residents. As of Monday, the county had a 14-day case rate of 72.8 cases per 100,000 residents.

That rate has been quickly rising due to recent spikes in cases, including 75 more cases over the weekend. Just since the end of last week, the case rate per 100,000 jumped to its new level from 61.7.

Early in the pandemic which started in March, Mase had said anything greater than 25 local cases per 100,000 residents would be a cause for concern, and if other key tracking measures of the virus spread also worsened, could be reason to consider reinstating business or public restrictions.

At the beginning of June, there were 564 COVID-19 infections countywide, and rampant transmission has caused the number to double. On June 22, the county posted 50 new cases, the most reported in a single day since the first case involving a local resident emerged March 2.

More recently, Mase has been watching the state’s county monitoring list, which lists locales not meeting statewide benchmarks for containing the virus, and so state health officials are working with local officials to help bring them into compliance. There are now 19 counties on that list, but not Sonoma County.

However, Mase said Monday she was concerned because the spike in new cases means the county is approaching 100 cases per 100,000 residents, the threshold that likely would put this county on the state’s “watch list” along with the other counties with mounting coronavirus cases.

Mase said state officials will recommend certain business closures for counties that are on the list for at least three days. The state can mandate shutdowns for counties on the monitoring list for 14 days, she said.

Indeed, Newsom on Sunday ordered a closure of bars, brewpubs and breweries that don’t serve food in seven of the counties the state is monitoring. On Monday, the governor warned if the virus transmission continues to cause cases and hospitalizations to spike in certain areas he will move to close business sectors that have reopened.

Mase said she is closely watching an uptick in local hospitalizations. According to the county’s COVID-19 hospital dashboard, since last week the county experienced a near- doubling of patients requiring hospital treatment for the contagion. Hospitalizations tied to the coronavirus advanced from seven Thursday to 12 on Sunday.

“It's a big jump in percentage, but it's only five additional hospitalizations,” she said. “When the numbers are so low, I don't think we would look at the percentage jump as much.”

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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

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