More limits to Sonoma County businesses likely as virus cases, deaths mount
What a difference a little more than a month makes in the fight against the coronavirus. Headed into Memorial Day, many in Sonoma County were giddy. Having apparently averted a surge of the infectious disease, local officials had just cleared the way for restaurants to serve meals outdoors, and badly hurting businesses were plotting their reopenings.
Now, it appears much of the traction gained against the fierce pathogen has been lost. Six people died in the week culminating with the Independence Day holiday — boosting the death toll to 11 — the deadliest weekly stretch of the pandemic since the first case emerged in the county on March 2. About 540 local residents are confirmed to have been stricken by the virus during the past two weeks, including a single-day record of 92 on Friday, nearly double the previous high for a 24-hour period.
The past two weeks represent almost 40% of the overall cases, boosting the local case rate to a whopping 106 per 100,000 residents over 14 days.
So the region staggered into the July Fourth weekend with Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase once again urging people to stay home. The chair of the Board of Supervisors, Susan Gorin, conceded the county might have reopened business sectors and much of public life too fast. And now the county appears likely to join the group of 22 counties statewide struggling most to contend with spikes of cases, deaths and hospitalizations related to the virus.
To be sure, Sonoma County is not yet on the state’s dreaded watchlist for counties that must reinstate severe restrictions on certain businesses. Yet it now seems inevitable, Mase and elected leaders say.
“We are tracking toward having to shut down more right now, and that sucks — what other word can I use other than it sucks,” said James Gore, a county supervisor. “But we’ve made a commitment to science and to tracking this with legitimate criteria.”
Particularly with the rapid increase in the number of fresh COVID-19 cases, which surpassed 1,350 on Friday, the county could soon land on the state’s monitoring list of locales having trouble slowing the spread of the virus. That in turn would lead to state-ordered closures of local bars and museums, and suspension of indoor dining and drinking at restaurants, brewpubs and wine tasting rooms. Those public health measures undoubtedly would cause another painful round of local job losses, as the county desperately tries to recover from April’s lofty unemployment rate, a level not seen here in nearly 80 years.
The state first made public on the California Department of Public Health’s website June 5 six benchmarks all 58 counties must meet in order to continue to keep their communities and wide swaths of business sectors open. Counties fail to achieve those targets by inadequate levels of testing, elevated transmission of the virus, increasing hospitalization, inadequate intensive care unit bed capacity at local hospitals and not enough ventilators for ICU patients.
Other factors that could put the county on the state’s monitoring list are large outbreaks in group residential settings such as skilled nursing centers and other senior living sites — where there’s been a dramatic recent jump in cases and a few of the recent deaths — or significant shortfalls of either contact tracers or personal protective equipment for local health care workers. Sonoma County now has 100 people working as contact tracers, essentially detectives tracking the spread of the virus.
If a county ends up on the watchlist for three or more days, it’s placed on the state’s "targeted engagement list,“ that group of 22 counties where Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered a limited number of business and public closures. As of Saturday, the group included: Fresno; Glenn; Imperial; Kern; Kings; Los Angeles; Madera; Marin; Merced; Monterey; Orange; Riverside; Sacramento; San Bernardino; San Diego; San Joaquin; Santa Barbara; Santa Clara; Solano; Stanislaus; Tulare; and Ventura counties.
Just two days before the July Fourth holiday, state health officials placed Monterey County into the troubled group due to a bulging number of confirmed coronavirus cases. That same day, Contra Costa County was taken off the list after meeting the state’s benchmarks for three consecutive days, according to state public health department data.
However, state-imposed restrictions and limitations on Contra Costa County’s residents and businesses must remain in effect for three weeks from the day they were imposed, even though the county achieved removal from state monitoring status, according to Contra Costa County health officials. That’s the way it goes for any counties that land on the watch list, no matter how slowly or quickly they progress and can leave the group.