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Sonoma County adds two more coronavirus deaths, bringing toll to nine residents

Two more residents of Sonoma County have died from complications of the novel coronavirus, marking the deadliest week so far in the local pandemic.

All told, four people have died since Sunday in Sonoma County after contracting COVID-19, bringing the total fatalities to nine since the first case of the virus was detected in early March.

The deaths come amid a surge of infections across the state that led Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday to order 19 counties representing nearly three-quarters of the state’s population to reinstate restrictions against congregating indoors, such as at restaurants or tasting rooms.

Sonoma County was not included in the governor’s order and the local infection rate and other data remain below the state’s benchmarks for tightening up. But the county’s position off Newsom’s so-called “watch list” could easily change as case rates continue to rise, Public Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said.

“I think we will end up on that county ’watch list,’” said Mase. “I can't tell you exactly what time frame, but if you look at the statistics, we've been getting there.”

Mase did not mention the two new deaths during Wednesday’s press call. The data was reported on the county’s COVID-19 information site late Wednesday night.

Board of Supervisors Chair Susan Gorin, reached at home late Wednesday, had not yet been informed about the new deaths but said the news “brings me to reality that coronavirus is not to be trifled with, it’s a serious disease.”

“It concerns me when I see people flouting the masking mandate, not practicing safe distancing, going out to bars, drinking,” Gorin said. “They seem to me to be oblivious about the dangers of COVID.”

Mase said Sonoma County is likely to experience the kind of increase in coronavirus cases already causing other parts of California to yank the chain back on indoor activities like restaurant dining that put people in close contact with others.

The deaths come along a wave of infections with 426 new COVID-19 cases reported in the past two weeks alone, a troubling yet expected trend with the reopening of many businesses and public life.

Outbreaks of the virus among elderly residents of care homes are increasingly causing the numbers to jump in Sonoma County.

Eight residents of Oakmont Gardens recently tested positive for COVID-19, a company spokeswoman confirmed Wednesday. All were so far asymptomatic, according to Constance Sablan, a spokeswoman with Oakmont Gardens’ operator MBK Senior Living.

All 47 employees and 160 residents were tested after an employee in mid-June was diagnosed with COVID-19, triggering a wholesale cleaning and sanitizing of the independent and assisted living facility in the Oakmont retirement community, Sablan said.

The eight residents with COVID-19 are isolated in their rooms with visits from staff in full protective gear performing health checks and delivering meals.

“We’ve asked all other residents to self-isolate until we can be sure the virus is out of the community,” Sablan said.

Mase said a recent outbreak at a skilled nursing facility “mirrors what has happened in other counties.”

“We may not have felt the full impact of that yet,“ Mase said.

So far, two residents who contracted COVID-19 at Broadway Villa Post Acute in Sonoma have died, according to the nursing center’s administrator. State data shows 22 residents of the 144-bed facility have been diagnosed with COVID-19 as of Wednesday.

Countywide, the rate of transmission stood at about 83 cases per 100,000 people in the county, according to the data. A case rate above 100 per 100,000 people for more than three days straight could bring down an order from the state for Sonoma County to reinstate restrictions, like closing indoor dining, museum trips, movie theaters and indoor tasting rooms.

There are other metrics like hospitalization data and the availability of ventilators and intensive-care beds that could also affect the county’s position in its battle against the disease — and whether it can keep certain indoor businesses open.

Mase said intensive-care bed capacity “has been an issue for us” and warned that even a small increase in hospitalizations could put the county on the state’s watch list.

Mase advised businesses in the county to monitor local COVID-19 data to anticipate the possibility that the state may require added restrictions.

“I would just tell businesses that we're not yet on the watch list, but if we do end up on the watch list for more than three days the state orders would apply to us,” Mase said.

Mase said this weekend epidemiologists will be focusing on tracking the source of cases in order to catch up and provide a clearer picture of how people are contracting the virus now. Currently the origin of 247 cases — representing 22% of all cases — are categorized as “under investigation.”

A backlog of testing at Quest Diagnostics has delayed results for people getting tested through the state-run program for anyone seeking a diagnosis, Mase said.

But she said that backlog has had no effect on the public health department’s work tracking new cases and who may have been exposed. The majority of positive COVID-19 tests are coming through the public health lab, Mase said.

Statewide, nearly 6,000 people have died from the coronavirus. The state reported 6,367 new cases Wednesday, bringing the total to 222,917.

Despite the uptick, Sonoma County remains in a good position to avoid an overwhelming surge of illness because of how successfully the county limited transmission of the disease in the community early on, giving the county time to prepare, Mase said.

When asked about how the latest increase in fatalities might impact local policies, Gorin declined to say but emphasized her concern for the health and well-being of all county residents.

“It makes me incredibly sad and nervous that people are dying from COVID, and it also concerns me about the vulnerability of large sections of our community who need to work,” Gorin said. “Every day they go to work, they’re risking their lives and the lives of their family members.”

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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