With the coronavirus raging and leaving a deadly wake in Sonoma County, the nearly monthlong lockdown set to be lifted Saturday has been extended at least another month.
County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase confirmed Friday the local public health stay-home order that strictly limits daily life and commercial activities will remain in place four more weeks. The directive had gone into effect Dec. 12 to counter an alarming increase in COVID-19 transmission and help contend with expected challenging weeks of the infectious disease.
With 3,029 new virus infections the past two weeks and deaths mounting in January at a record pace, it’s unsurprising the lockdown will continue into February.
On Friday, local public health officials reported five more people died of complications of COVID-19, raising the weekly death toll to 23 and to 27 so far this month. Now, 219 county residents have lost their lives to the contagion since the pandemic began last March.
And this winter resurgence of the coronavirus is expected to claim more lives in the coming weeks, as one local infectious disease doctor on Thursday called the number of deaths “the tip of the iceberg.”
The physician, Dr. Gary Green, at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital predicted: “I really think that January is going to be, probably, the most deadly month in the pandemic so far.”
Mase has issued a blunt warning to county residents to adhere to the public health order because the area is experiencing “really widespread community transmission now with a case rate that is three to four times higher than what it was just six to eight weeks ago.”
Much like the widespread restrictions issued in March at the start of the pandemic, the county’s extended lockdown will deliver yet another blow to some of the county’s core economic sectors and small businesses. Restaurants, breweries and wineries only can sell food and beverages for takeout or delivery. A slew of personal care salons will remain closed for haircuts, manicures and pedicures, among other services. Hotels are barred from booking leisure travel guests.
Retail operations will be allowed to continue at 20% of customer capacity, or 35% capacity for stand-alone grocery stores.
Residents are advised to stay home, except for essential work and errands and outdoor recreation to remain healthy. All gatherings outside the home of any size are temporarily banned. Outdoor services are allowed at places of worship. Families can take their children to playgrounds.
Last month, the county’s return to a shutdown came a week after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a stay-home order for all regions of the state where hospital intensive care unit bed availability dropped below 15%. At that time, the ICU capacity for Bay Area hospitals was 17.8%. This week, as of Tuesday, the latest data available, that ICU availability has plunged to 7.4% for the region.
However, Sonoma County hospitals still have roughly 28% of intensive care beds open. For the most part, they continue performing elective surgeries and keep balancing treating virus patients and those suffering with other illnesses.
Although the rampant virus spread is assaulting a broad part of the county, once again the pandemic is tormenting skilled nursing centers and residential care homes for the elderly. The virus devastated these sites in August but had ebbed, only to come roaring back. There’s been about 150 new infections at senior care homes of the county most vulnerable residents the past two weeks, and 10 residents have died from COVID-19.
For nursing home residents, death from COVID-19 is one of extreme isolation and misery, said Jenny Fish, a local hospice physician and one of the founders of HPEACE, a health care advocacy organization. Fish works with a number of hospice nurses who care for patients in local senior care homes.