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Sonoma County coronavirus patient dies at Sutter Hospital in Santa Rosa

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How To Reduce Your Risk

Local health officials urge practicing good hygiene to reduce the risk of becoming infected with a respiratory virus, such as the flu or coronavirus. This includes:

• Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
• Avoid touching your eyes and face
• Cough or sneeze into your sleeved elbow
• Stay home when ill
• Get a flu shot, and it’s not too late this season

Source: Sonoma County Department of Health Services

For more information, go to sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Information-About-Coronavirus.

Questions or concerns can be directed to the county’s 24-hour information hotline at 211 or 800-325-9604. You can also text "COVID19" to 211211 for coronavirus information.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

A Sonoma County resident died Friday after contracting the coronavirus and being hospitalized for serious illness, marking the first known death in the county from the fast-moving disease that has led California Gov. Gavin Newsom to ask all Californians to stay home.

Interim Public health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said she received the news of a death “with great sadness,” the same day the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus among Sonoma County residents doubled to 22. A source with Sutter Santa Rosa confirmed the person died Friday afternoon.

The increase in confirmed cases foretells a rapid escalation of the virus’s spread in the community, just one month after the first person with coronavirus was hospitalized in this county in late February.

“We need to be prepared for a worsening situation here over the next week,” said Mase, noting that “every case infects another three, so the more cases we have the more cases we get, so this is exactly what we expected.”

Mase declined to say anything about the person who died, including the person’s age or information about how long the person had been sick. The patient’s family has been notified, she said.

Mase said she will not provide any details about the demographics of people contracting COVID-19 until the number of local cases reaches roughly 50, a decision she made based on a sense that a larger group of patients would make it harder to identify anyone.

The rise in positive coronavirus test results indicates that the virus is spreading within the community, said Susan Gorin, chairwoman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, noting that this didn’t come as a surprise to her. She emphasized her belief that the county had sufficient testing capacity for the expected rise in caseload: “We will be on top of this in terms of test kits that we need.”

“I am deeply sorry for the family of the person who died from coronavirus,” Gorin said. “None of us would wish that on a family member.”

Gorin said she had not spoken to the victim’s family, noting that supervisors were observing standards of confidentiality: “We don’t know who the victims are, or who the patients are, or what facilities they’re being housed at.”

One of the county’s top priorities is getting more space and medical beds outside of hospitals in the event the number of people needing to be hospitalized with coronavirus exceeds the capacity of its three main hospitals, said Chris Godley, director of the county’s emergency services department.

They are working to find at least two properties where they can establish makeshift hospitals staffed by a combination of volunteers with the Medical Reserve Corps, retired doctors, nursing students and others. Godley said he believed they could have the sites running within two weeks, if needed. These extra sites would in part be for people with minor conditions to open up space within hospitals, he said. He said they are examining “several dozen” sites with the goal of choosing two.

Godley said he had no information about when the county might need such added facilities because the limited data from testing doesn’t show the full scope of the virus’s prevalence here, but that he believes the county is “ahead of the curve on this one, quite literally.”

How To Reduce Your Risk

Local health officials urge practicing good hygiene to reduce the risk of becoming infected with a respiratory virus, such as the flu or coronavirus. This includes:

• Washing hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
• Avoid touching your eyes and face
• Cough or sneeze into your sleeved elbow
• Stay home when ill
• Get a flu shot, and it’s not too late this season

Source: Sonoma County Department of Health Services

For more information, go to sonomacounty.ca.gov/Health/Information-About-Coronavirus.

Questions or concerns can be directed to the county’s 24-hour information hotline at 211 or 800-325-9604. You can also text "COVID19" to 211211 for coronavirus information.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

“We believe that this could be a truly profoundly challenging period of time for the residents of Sonoma County, and we’re directly addressing this with everything we have and all the best people,” Godley said.

Some local hospitals already are commandeering alcoves and rooms within the facilities to add beds and postponing elective procedures, early steps in planning for a surge of patients.

Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital this week began using surge tents set up outside the Mark West Springs Road campus to triage and treat patients with respiratory issues.

The tents “help prevent the spread of illness to patients and visiting family members, including, for example, during influenza season,” Sutter Hospital CEO Dan Peterson said in a statement.

Sutter also is preparing for a surge in patients due to COVID-19 by boosting its video visits and walk-in care options to help keep patients who don’t need emergency care out of the ER.

In the two weeks since testing began in Sonoma County for COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, public health labs have so far run about 285 tests for Sonoma County residents, with about 80% returning negative results and 45 tests still pending results, according to county statistics. The county is home to more than 500,000 people, and its top public health officer on Thursday suggested that 20% to 40% of residents may ultimately contract the virus.

The test figures include positive tests conducted at commercial labs such as Quest Diagnostics and LabCorp, but the data does not include the number of tests conducted by those entities that were negative for COVID-19.

The impact of nationwide shortages of testing swabs and personal protective equipment such as respirator masks continues to affect Sonoma County.

Testing has been hampered by a shortage of the type of swabs needed to get samples from people’s noses and throats, forcing some health care providers to limit testing to only the most serious cases.

Just today, Mase alerted health care providers that they could use an alternative method that does not require a swab to collect samples for COVID-19. This second tactic involves spraying a saline solution into a person’s nose with an aspirant and collecting the liquid that comes out, she said.

Friday was the first full day the entire state of California was under a shelter-in-place order, which has already been in place in Sonoma County. County spokeswoman Jennifer Larocque said the statewide order mirrors Sonoma County’s, which is more specific and tailored to Sonoma County, she said.

“Anybody is at risk for COVID-19,” said Mase, who encouraged people to adhere to the stay-at-home directive that went into effect in Sonoma County on Wednesday.

“What we’re seeing in our community is what others have seen — it’s not going to get better right away” Mase said.

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

The Press Democrat wants to know what stories you see emerging and what you’re experiencing locally during the shelter-in-place order. Reach out to us at coronavirus@pressdemocrat.com.

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