Sonoma County nearing new closures as state moves to put county on watchlist
A new wave of coronavirus-related restrictions on indoor businesses could arrive Monday, Sonoma County health officials acknowledge, as the region edges closer to inclusion on a state watchlist of counties with elevated hospitalizations and growing caseloads.
The prediction Wednesday evening followed a day of confusion and miscommunication among elected supervisors and public health officials over whether the county already had been been placed on the California Department of Public Health’s watchlist or was merely being monitored by the state.
An initial communication from county health officials to elected supervisors Tuesday night saying the county had been notified it was on the state’s watchlist proved incorrect. Instead, the county is partway through a monitoring period that public health officials expect will lead to placement on the watchlist as early as Friday.
Assuming the outlook does not improve over the subsequent days — and it is not expected to — the state will impose new restrictions at the beginning of next week, a prospect that had business owners on edge as they contemplated another cycle of disruptions and lost revenue.
“Zig zag,” said Gina Huntsinger, director of the Charles M. Schulz Museum, which celebrated its reopening on Wednesday, only to brace for renewed closure. “We’re going to stay open until we know for sure. We just plan days at a time now, as opposed to years at a time.”
The state-imposed limits are designed to curtail indoor business activities "which promote the mixing of populations beyond households and make adherence to physical distancing and wearing face coverings difficult,“ according to the state Department of Public Health website.
That includes closing down bars, plus indoor dining and drinking at breweries, restaurants and wineries, many of which just reopened weeks ago.
Movie theaters, family entertainment centers, museum and card rooms also would have to be shuttered. The restrictions would last for at least three weeks, with possible extensions based on caseload conditions in the county.
More than two dozen counties statewide, including Marin and Napa, which was added Wednesday, also are on the watchlist, as much of the state reverses course on economic reopenings that at one point rewarded flattening the curve.
But even having three more days to operate before additional restrictions come into play in Sonoma County means that restaurateurs, bars, tasting rooms and others at least get the weekend before roping off their indoor seating or closing down, as some must do.
“I get to give my staff a little bit more notice that they’re not going to have shifts next week, as opposed to not having shifts two days from now,” said Crista Luedtke, who runs a bar and two restaurants in Guerneville, including one she just reopened Friday.
Sonoma County has had 1,519 cases of COVID-19 since the pandemic emerged locally in early March, including 32 new cases Wednesday. Of that number, 338, or more than a fifth of the cases, have been confirmed in the first eight days of July, and nearly two-thirds of the positive cases have emerged since the start of June. Nine of the confirmed 14 deaths from complications of the virus occurred after June 28.
Though the county is out of compliance in eight coronavirus-related measures, three are of particular concern. They include a case rate of nearly 108 per 100,000 population and a diminishing number of available intensive care beds, now just 3%, or two actual beds, at local hospitals, though surge capacity can be made available, Health Officer Sundari Mase has said.
But it’s the three-day average increase in hospitalizations, last updated at 54%, that has generated the most scrutiny from the state. Anything above 10% is considered beyond the threshold, though Mase has repeatedly cautioned that Sonoma County’s relatively low hospitalization rate means even a small increase can throw off the percentage.
Mase said Wednesday, Day 2 of the current phase of state oversight, that discussions were underway in advance of what would be intense, targeted engagement with the state likely over the weekend to identify what the state has described as “drivers of the changing situation.”
These might include outbreaks at senior care facilities such as one that has involved 30 residents and 12 staff so far infected at Broadway Villa Post Acute, a skilled nursing facility in Sonoma.
Mike Empey, Broadway Villa’s administrator, confirmed June 30 during a brief interview on the property that two residents who had tested positive for the virus have died. Since then, county health officials have reported several more deaths among skilled nursing residents, but Empey on Wednesday declined to say whether any were from Broadway Villa.