Infection growth slows in California, but deaths surge

Eufemia Didonato

California overall is not experiencing the same alarming surge in COVID-19 infections as it did in late June and early July, but record-breaking death tolls reported this week underscore the continued seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic. California set a new record Wednesday when it reported its highest COVID-19 death toll […]

California overall is not experiencing the same alarming surge in COVID-19 infections as it did in late June and early July, but record-breaking death tolls reported this week underscore the continued seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic.

California set a new record Wednesday when it reported its highest COVID-19 death toll in a single day with 197 dead. On Thursday, the state reported another 194 deaths, the second highest single-day coronavirus death toll thus far.

Deaths have dramatically increased from the flat-line levels in May and June: As of Friday, an average of 109 people died from the virus in California every day over the last two weeks. Two weeks ago, about 87 people died every day on average over a two-week period.

Some of those deaths, however, may have occurred several days or weeks ago because of the verification process used by local health officials.

In the last week, California reported nearly 60,000 new cases, bringing the state total now to more than 493,000 infections — marking a roughly 13% increase in seven days, according to the latest state public health data. The death toll stands at 9,005.

For the last two weeks, the positivity rate — the portion of tests returning positive — has hovered around 7.5%. That suggests that coronavirus cases are still steadily increasing across the state, but are not ballooning as they once were.

Still, there are some parts of the state where cases are continuing to dramatically rise. Fresno County, for example, had a positivity rate of over 10.7% this week. Tulare County was over 17.7%.

The Central Valley, as well as parts of Southern California like Imperial County, are seeing a dramatic increase in COVID-19 patients entering local hospitals. In the Sacramento region, Placer and Yolo counties reported fewer than 10 adult ICU beds available.

At least 6,600 people are in hospital beds with COVID-19 and about 30% of them are in intensive care units, according to state public health data released Friday morning.

The number of people hospitalized with the virus is likely higher than that, because historical data from some facilities was not included in the state’s daily release because of a reporting issue.

The World Health Organizations suggests a rate of lower than 5% before reopening the economy, and California puts individual counties on notice when they hit 8% or higher.

Public health experts have repeatedly emphasized that reopenings should only occur when there is sustained declines in cases, rather than simply slowed or plateaued growth in infections.

All these ongoing COVID-19 concerns come as state officials try to learn more about who is most impacted by the virus, and attempt to assist Californians struggling to secure unemployment benefits and renter protections.

‘I thought I was going to die’: COVID-19 can ravage young adults, too

Five months into the coronavrius pandemic, it’s still true that older people typically get worse cases and have far higher death rates from COVID-19. But it’s also clear that far more younger people are getting infected by the virus than their parents and grandparents.

In Sacramento County, the 20-29 age group has emerged as the most infected group, followed by those in their 30s. And in some instances, those cases have been life-threatening.

Kris Obligar, a 27-year-old Sacramentan, recalls being in a hospital intensive care bed at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in early July, terrified and crying. The virus had made it impossible to breathe, and her condition was deteriorating fast. Doctors told her they possibly needed to perform an emergency tracheotomy on her – cutting a hole in her throat.

“I thought … I might die,” the Sacramento speech therapist said. “My mind and body went into panic mode.”

She doesn’t know where she caught the virus — she said she had been taking precautions. Obligar would social distance with friends at the park, wear a mask to the store and elsewhere, and order takeout rather than sit at restaurants.

“I feel like most people think that having ‘2’ or ‘3’ in front of their age is a silver bullet and (is) going to protect them, and that is simply not true,” said Dr. Vanessa Walker, a critical care physician at Sutter Roseville and medical director of Sutter’s regional electronic ICU system. “This isn’t an in-and-out thing, just out of work for a week, and back to business as usual.”

As hospitalizations rise, effort to secure 10,000 ventilators lags

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s drive to obtain 10,000 ventilators to help California hospitals treat COVID-19 patients has fallen well behind schedule as coronavirus infections continue to surge.

The state Department of General Services has received 188 ventilators out of 8,000 promised by Ashli Healthcare Inc. of Bakersfield, the state’s main supplier, department spokeswoman Monica Hassan said this week.

As part of the $139 million deal, Ashli was supposed to have delivered more than 1,000 by the end of July and another 3,500 in August, with the balance of the shipments due in September.

Hassan said the issue stemmed from a supply chain and raw material issue that “suppliers across the nation are facing.

“DGS recently received a list of additional ventilator models from the state Emergency Medical Services Authority and is working to procure those models as a back-up plan to acquire as many ventilators as possible,” she said in an email.

New work-from-home policies may lure Bay Area workers here

Sacramento-area business leaders believe the coronavirus pandemic may also carry with it an economic silver lining — a chance to lure thousands of high-tech workers from the Bay Area.

Here’s the idea: Some of the Bay Area’s leading tech companies are telling their employees they can stay home permanently. Twitter and Square, for instance, have said anyone who wants to work remotely can continue doing so even after their offices reopen.

If tech workers are no longer tethered to their offices in San Francisco, why not just move to Sacramento?

“How do we build the case that we’re the community for Google employees?” said Barry Broome, chief executive of the Greater Sacramento Economic Council, the region’s main business recruiter. “How do we build the case that we’re the community for Twitter employees? That we’re the community for Facebook employees, that we’re the community for Salesforce employees?”

Broome acknowledged that the Sacramento area is laboring under something of a handicap: The economy’s poor, undermining what he called “the optics of being healthy” as the region tries to sell itself. The unemployment rate in Sacramento now hovers around 12.8 percent.

But some Sacramento experts believe the influx of workers will help the region overcome one of its biggest stumbling blocks as it tries to diversify its economy: the shortage of high-tech talent, especially in the executive ranks. Although UC Davis and Sacramento State have become reliable sources of computer engineers, some companies say they’ve struggled at times to make all the hires they need.

New unemployment benefits could take months to process

During a testy oversight hearing Thursday afternoon, Employment Development Department head Sharon Hilliard said California could take as long as five months to process any additional federal employment benefits once they come.

That’s because of what Hilliard calls an “antiquated” system for processing these claims, one that hasn’t yet been modernized.

The exact details of the federal benefits have not yet solidified in Congress. But as the original $600 weekly unemployment supplement introduced under the CARES Act nears expiration — July 31 is the last day — millions of Californians who depended on the extra financial help could soon face budget hardship.

California’s unemployed workers, like those in the rest of the country, received an extra $600 payment each week from late March until last week. Congress is considering continuing the payment, but at a reduced rate.

“I think that the level of outrage that you’re hearing today would be nothing compared to the level of outrage if we tell the people of California it would take almost half a year to process their unemployment insurance supplement,” Assemblyman Jay Obernolte, R-Big Bear Lake, told Hilliard.

Questions remain about efforts to slow COVID-19 in Central Valley

State experts could be in Stanislaus County as soon as next week to help local officials get control of the spread of the new coronavirus, which is surging throughout the San Joaquin Valley and disproportionately affecting the valley’s Latino residents.

This is part of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s Monday announcement that the state was sending more help to the eight-county valley, which stretches from Stockton to Bakersfield.

But Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services spokesman Raj Singh said local officials are frustrated — since the beginning of the pandemic, the governor’s office has not given local officials any notice before Newsom makes an announcement affecting Stanislaus County, he said. Singh said local officials learn about the governor’s initiatives during his news conferences.

“We’re hearing it at the same time as you are during the press conference,” Singh said. “This has been (true) from Day One of the pandemic.”

Singh said it then can take days after an announcement before local officials can get the details and specifics about how these initiatives will work. For instance, Singh said, officials don’t know how much of the $52 million Newsom has pledged for the Central Valley is coming to Stanislaus County and how that money can be spent.

New COVID-19 testing sites in Sacramento County to open

Sacramento County officials on Thursday announced they have come up with enough testing materials to add new test sites in four communities – Folsom, North Highlands, Rancho Cordova and Galt.

Those will supplement existing test sites at Cal Expo, the La Familia Counseling Center in south Sacramento and several other sites.

The sites will open next week and will operate by online appointments for Sacramento County residents, regardless of legal status. Each site will be open one day a week.

Health officials said test results will be available within three days. Currently, many test results in Sacramento and throughout the state are being delayed by lack of materials, forcing some people to wait more than two weeks to learn whether or not they are infected by COVID-19.

“It is critical we offer accessible testing led by and within the diverse neighborhoods of Sacramento County,” said Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye. “County Public Health is closely watching the trends and working with hospitals, businesses and community groups to identify clusters.”

For detailed information, including days of operation and location, go to the Sacramento County COVID-19 testing sites web page.

Alcohol ban on Truckee River extended amid COVID-19 fears

Citing the risk of increased COVID-19 exposure, among other concerns, Placer County supervisors approved extending an alcohol ban along the Truckee River until mid-October.

Effective immediately, the ban will be enforced by the Sheriff’s Office along the river between Fanny Bridge and the River Ranch.

With residents looking to get outside during the state’s stay-at-home order, recreation along the river has significantly increased since Memorial Day weekend. County officials say commercial rafting businesses have voluntarily reduced boat capacity by 50% to address COVID-19 concerns, but there are more and more private rafters coming each week.

“With our current environment of uncertainty, and many of our businesses already having to take measures to reduce or close their operations due to an increase in COVID-19 cases, safety must be our top priority,” District 5 Supervisor Cindy Gustafson said in a statement.

Coronavirus limits outside visitors to Stanislaus reservoirs

Only residents of Stanislaus County will be allowed at Woodward and Modesto reservoirs because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The restriction applies to day use starting Friday and will extend to camping after Aug. 6.

The move was announced Thursday by the county Parks and Recreation Department, which manages both east county attractions.

The sites have operated this summer with social distancing and other rules aimed at slowing the virus. But the crowds have proven to be too large, and they have mostly been people from other counties, department Director Jackie Dwyer said in an email.

“Upon consultation with the sheriff and our public health team, the decision has been made to reduce public access to Woodward and Modesto reservoirs for the health and safety of Stanislaus County,” an online post said. “Stanislaus County remains on the state public health officer’s monitoring list due to elevated levels of transmission of COVID-19.”

Systemic racism drives COVID-19’s disproportionate impact on Latinos, study says

As the U.S. experiences increasing cases of COVID-19 and deaths, Latinos continue to contract the virus at disproportionate rates, leading some experts to suspect systemic biases across housing, healthcare, and education are to blame.

Public health experts worry racial inequities are making the Latino community more susceptible to getting sick and dying.

During a virtual news conference Wednesday hosted by the American Heart Association’s Voices for Healthy Kids, top public health leaders discussed the barriers Latinos face that make them more vulnerable to infection. Those barriers include higher poverty rates, a lack of access to proper healthcare, working essential jobs, and living in multi-generational households.

“The news is sobering every day,” said the panel’s moderator, Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, chief medical officer for prevention at the American Heart Association. “The truth is that COVID-19 has had a disproportionate impact on Latinx communities.”

Latest Sacramento-area COVID-19 cases and deaths

The six-county region of Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer, Yolo, Sutter and Yuba has topped 15,000 cases, with at least 15,039 infections reported as of Friday afternoon. A total of 200 have died from the virus in the region.

Sacramento County reported 156 new cases Friday morning, bringing the total number of infections in the county to 9,820. The county announced another six deaths have occurred, bringing the death toll to 133. At least 281 patients with COVID-19 are in hospitals, and 91 of them are receiving intensive care, according to state data released Friday. There are 79 ICU beds available.

Yolo County has reported a total of 1,510 cases and 41 deaths. On Friday morning, the county reported 16 new COVID-19 cases but no new deaths. As of Friday morning, there were 11 patients in hospitals in Yolo County, seven of whom were in intensive care. The county had eight ICU beds remaining, according to state data.

Placer County has reported 1,876 cases and 15 deaths, including 54 more infections Friday. There are 60 people hospitalized in the county because of the virus and 14 are being treated in ICUs. The county reports it has three more adult ICU beds available at local hospitals.

El Dorado County has reported a total of 613 cases and one death from COVID-19. On Thursday, the county reported 24 new cases and no new deaths. As of Thursday morning, three infected people in the county were hospitalized; two of them were in intensive care, according to state data. The county reported 10 new cases on Wednesday. Nearly half of the total number of cases have been reported in the Lake Tahoe region.

Sutter County has reported a total of 755 COVID-19 cases and six deaths due to the virus. The county added 24 cases to its total Thursday evening, but no new deaths. The county reported 32 new cases Wednesday and 34 new cases Tuesday, along with two new deaths this week. Eleven infected people in the county were hospitalized Thursday, and seven of them were in intensive care.

Yuba County has reported a total of 465 COVID-19 cases and four deaths due to the virus. On Thursday evening, the county reported 23 new cases after adding a record-high 26 new cases to its total Wednesday. No new deaths were reported Thursday. The county reported one new death Wednesday. Six infected people in the county were hospitalized Wednesday, and one of them was in intensive care.

Latest coronavirus numbers worldwide

Worldwide, more than 17.3 million people have been infected with the coronavirus and over 674,000 people have died as of Thursday night, according to data maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

The United States accounts for the largest share of infections for any country, with nearly 4.5 million cases and more than 152,000 deaths.

Brazil follows, with more than 2.6 million infections and over 91,000 deaths. India is third in cases at nearly 1.6 million and sixth in deaths with nearly 35,000. More than 46,000 have died in the United Kingdom, exactly 46,000 in Mexico and over 35,000 in Italy.

What is COVID-19? How is the coronavirus spread?

Coronavirus is spread through contact between people within 6 feet of each other, especially through coughing and sneezing that expels respiratory droplets that land in the mouths or noses of people nearby.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s possible to catch the disease COVID-19 by touching something that has the virus on it, and then touching your own face, “but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”

Symptoms of the virus that causes COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath, which may occur two days to two weeks after exposure.

Most people develop only mild symptoms, but some people develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal. The disease is especially dangerous to the elderly and others with weaker immune systems.

The Bee’s Tony Bizjak, John Holland, Dale Kasler, Matt Kristoffersen, David Lightman, Nadia Lopez, Sawsan Morrar, Phillip Reese, Ryan Sabalow and Kevin Valine contributed to this story.

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