Fourth Sonoma County resident dies from complications of the coronavirus

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A fourth Sonoma County resident has died from complications of the new coronavirus, an indication the infectious disease that’s inflicted pain and death around the world remains a major threat in the area, county health officials said Monday.

Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer, declined to release any information about the person — other than it was someone 65 or older like the previous three people who died.

The virus-related death comes a week after the previous fatality and provides a stark reminder as local public health officials allow more retailers and other businesses deemed low risk to reopen the community outbreak may have eased but by no means has it ended.

“It signifies that we’re not out of the woods,” Mase said during a conference call with The Press Democrat’s editorial board.

More cases of infected residents, she said, are likely to be detected as a result of a higher volume of daily testing and the ongoing gradual lifting of public and business restrictions in the area through the summer.

Around the country, health experts have predicted a second big wave of coronavirus cases to swamp certain cities and states in the fall, but Mase said it was too early to determine whether that will occur in Sonoma County. She was certain, though, that as people return to work locally and interact at parks and other public places in the coming weeks and months there will be more transmission of the virus in the community.

“We’re reporting somewhere in between 5 and 15 cases every day and have been pretty steadily, partly because we’re testing more people and partly because COVID is there and it’s easily transmitted,” the county’s top public health official said.

During a later press briefing Monday, Mase was asked what she expects as an eventual local death toll from the coronavirus, she said: “Predicting things like the number of deaths or hospitalizations is really difficult, like a crystal-ball thing.”

As of Sunday, five COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in Sonoma County and two of them getting treatment for the virus in hospital intensive-care units, according to California Department of Public Health data.

Regarding the latest death, which occurred Sunday and was announced Monday, county officials declined to reveal the person’s gender, age, place of residence and the way the person contracted the virus.

Officials also declined to provide that demographic information about the previous local COVID-19 deaths on May 2, April 10 and March 20.

Also, Napa County reported its third virus-related death Monday, an elderly patient from Napa who died at a local hospital, county officials said in a prepared statement.

That county’s first death during the pandemic occurred March 31 when Santa Rosa Police Detective Marylou Armer, 43, an American Canyon resident, died at a Vallejo hospital.

Napa County has 79 confirmed virus infections as of Monday night.

In Sonoma County as of Monday night, there have been 312 local cases since the pathogen emerged with the announcement of the first local infection on March 2.

There are 140 active cases, including the 5 patients hospitalized with COVID-19, and 168 people have recovered from the respiratory disease.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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

Mase on Monday reported that a good deal of coronavirus transmission is occurring in people homes as couples and families infect each other.

“And so when people especially over 65 or those with underlying conditions get COVID, the outcomes can be dire, and that again is at the root of what we’re trying to do to protect our vulnerable populations,” she said.

County public health officials continue to ramp up coronavirus testing toward a goal of up to 800 tests daily countywide conducted by public and private health care providers.

As of Monday night, 10,014 of the county’s nearly 500,000 residents have been tested.

On Monday, during her daily virtual coronavirus update on Facebook Live, Mase said the county was on track to reach its testing benchmark of 750 tests a day established by Gov. Gavin Newsom to enable further easing of state-mandated public health emergency restrictions.

The state is paying for two public testing sites in Sonoma County and up to 520 tests a day will be conducted there by May 18, she said, adding to the county’s testing capacity of 250 tests daily.

The county public health team’s virus testing has been so far focused on people in high-risk occupations, group settings like nursing homes and close contacts of people already infected. Eventually it will include people in the general public with viral symptoms.

“Testing in Sonoma County has been dramatically increased in recent weeks,” the health officer said, noting the two state-funded sites in Santa Rosa and Petaluma opened last week for anyone in the county who wants to be tested.

“Communitywide testing is a critical step for reopening the county and that allows us to identify and increase our understanding of COVID-19 community spread.”

Mase said public health workers are trying to collect a broad sample of testing results, including data from those who do not have symptoms, since up to one-third of people who test positive for the virus are asymptomatic.

Furthermore, most new local cases of COVID-19 are being discovered through county public health investigations that include tests of residents who have been exposed to the virus by people known to have it, rather than through general community testing, she said.

“We test contacts (of infected people), we find cases,” Mase said. “The reason we don’t have a lot of cases with all the (other) testing that’s happening is because ... community transmission pretty much has been interrupted by shelter in place (implemented March 18 and most recently relaxed last week).”

Across the Bay Area, there have been reports of growing frustration with the slow pace of local and state public health officials allowing businesses to reopen given the economic carnage and flood of job losses since early March.

The most high profile was Tesla CEO Elon Musk who Monday confirmed he defied local officials and resumed automobile production at the company’s Fremont factory in Alameda County.

Mase said she was unaware of any significant instances in Sonoma County of large employers similarly flouting shelter-in-place rules.

Staff Writers Will Schmitt and Chantelle Lee contributed to this report. You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or On Twitter @jjpressdem. You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or On Twitter @pressreno.

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