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As Sonoma County coronavirus cases rise, local leaders prep for worst-case scenario

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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 rising tide of coronavirus cases, and the prospect of a greater surge, has Sonoma County’s health and government officials prepping for a worst-case scenario by securing hundreds of additional hospital beds to handle a potential crush of sick people in the coming weeks.

The county’s confirmed cases increased to 29 Monday, three weeks after the first one and a fourfold jump in a week. On the same day the United States reported more than 100 coronavirus-related deaths for the first time in a single day, pushing the death toll over 500.

County public health officials say they expect the local wave of coronavirus, which has already killed one resident, to get possibly much worse before it gets better.

“We can expect more cases,” Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s interim health officer, said. “Every day we’ll have more cases.”

Once the county gets long-term projections in a couple of weeks, local officials then will have clearer picture of how widespread the contagion likely will sicken the community, said Mase, the county’s top public health official.

However, local leaders aren’t waiting for Imperial College London to provide possibly grim virus case projections to Sonoma County and the other Bay Area counties before moving to bolster hospitals and make sure they aren’t overwhelmed by coronavirus patients. Local officials are paying $50,000 for the case modeling data.

Less than a week after Mase issued the unprecedented stay-at-home order, directing people to largely remain indoors and shuttering most businesses, county leaders are looking at the possibility of a dramatic spike in residents contracting the virus. Mase said last week that 20% to 40% of residents in county, which has a population of more than 500,000 ultimately could be stricken.

With that in mind, she and supervisors Shirlee Zane and David Rabbitt confirmed Monday the county is working to secure hundreds of additional hospital beds, looking at Sonoma State University dormatories, the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building and area hotels, to help boost the county’s surge capacity if and when it’s needed.

County Emergency Management Director Chris Godley said through a spokeswoman such alternatives could be ready to go in two weeks.

Local officials are looking to secure up to two major sites for more hospital beds, based on a survey of health care providers’ needs. The two sites would be in addition to the beds available at the county’s three main hospitals, Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital and Kaiser Permanente Santa Rosa Medical Center, as well as plans to increase patient capacity at each.

Mase said “all of our (health care) partners” would be involved in a surge, with community clinics likely serving as an initial triage point, getting sick patients to the right places quickly.

“Staff at these community clinics are also going to serve partially as our surge staff for the alternative care sites,” she said.

The alternative sites would house less ill patients to clear space for COVID-19 patients at the county’s hospitals, which combined have 746 rooms, including intensive care and general patient rooms, according to reports submitted to the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development in 2018, the most recent reports available.

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.

County government officials intend to add hundreds more hospital beds, knowing Sonoma County has yet to hit its peak of coronavirus infections. Still, leaders are maintaining some level of optimism residents will heed safety warnings to remain cloistered as much as possible to help “flatten the curve,” now a ubiquitous phrase referring to the exponential growth of infections if the virus is left unchecked. As of Monday night, more than 16,200 people have died around the world, including 536 in the nation and 27 in California.

“Planning to be overwhelmed is not a bad thing,” Rabbitt said. “We always want to plan for the worst-case scenarios. We’re not at the peak yet. The whole thing is about flattening that curve. The whole thing is to make sure our hospitals are not overwhelmed.”

Mase took another step toward prevention Monday, when she ordered county parks and open spaces closed, strengthening her shelter-in-place order in the wake of a weekend filled with beachgoers flocking to the county coast and across the Bay Area.

County officials worry residents aren’t taking the directive to stay home, or the disease, seriously enough.

The virus, which causes the respiratory disease COVID-19, has infected at least three health care workers here, and there are now six cases of community transmission, a key inflection point that led to Mase’s extraordinary move last week to upend daily life and commerce. Five residents were infected due to recent travel, and 15 cases are still under investigation, officials said.

One local elderly man who recently returned from a cruise died from the disease Friday, and the county also reported its first virus patient recovery Sunday.

Sonoma County officials say the growth in infected residents partly reflects the increased testing. There have been 529 tests to date countywide, with 475 coming back negative, 29 positive and 26 still pending. As testing keeps ramping up, officials have said expect more cases of the virus to emerge.

The escalation of coronavirus cases in the community mirrors a nationwide trend that led U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams to warn citizens across the country Monday to heed medical guidance related to the disease.

“I want America to understand this week, it’s going to get bad,” Adams said Monday.

Supervisor Zane, who represents the central Santa Rosa and Rohnert Park 3rd District, Sonoma County’s most densely populated supervisorial district, said she hopes there aren’t too many more deaths locally.

Between an ongoing push for protective medical gear for nurses on the frontlines treating patients with the infectious disease, and the call from health and political leaders in Washington, D.C., for essentially an all-out battle requiring every U.S. citizen to make smart decisions to defeat a common enemy, Zane said each county needs to do his and her part.

“It is kind of a wartime mentality, isn’t it, and it’s something this country hasn’t seen since World War II,” Zane said. “It’s a question for all of us. Are we willing to make that sacrifice for the greater good? That’s what the government asked of people during World War II, and that’s what’s being asked of us now.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The total number of coronavirus cases in Sonoma County has grown from 7 cases on March 16 to 29 cases on Monday, a more than fourfold increase. An earlier version of this story misstated the magnitude of the increase.

You can reach Staff Writer Tyler Silvy at 707-526-8667 or at tyler.silvy@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @tylersilvy.

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