Blood banks in Northern California and across the nation are sounding an alarm over a blood and platelet shortage the American Red Cross says amounts to a national emergency, with supplies at their lowest levels in at least six years.
The shortage, now in its third week, is the third and most severe supply crisis at blood banks since the coronavirus pandemic began, according to the Red Cross.
It has spurred blood banks, including those in the North Bay, to plead for donors of all blood types to visit as soon as they can, especially those with O-negative blood, the universal type that can be given to anyone in an emergency.
The Red Cross, which typically experiences a fall bounce-back from summer blood shortages, saw donor turnout drop to 10% of normal in September amid a surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the delta variant.
“This is such an unusual situation,” said Justin Mueller, the regional donor services executive for the American Red Cross’s Northern California coastal region. “Throughout this pandemic, it’s been ‘How are we going to make sure we have enough blood products?’ because the need is absolutely still there―and quite frankly, that’s what we’re tasked with each and every day.”
The Red Cross is the nation’s largest supplier of donated blood, providing supplies to hospitals, surgery centers and other health care facilities. They aim to maintain a 5-day supply of all blood types, but report stockpiles of O-positive and O-negative blood have dipped to less than a half-day supply in recent weeks. There’s also been a critical need for platelets, blood particles that help with clotting and have a five-day shelf life.
Upcoming blood drives in Sonoma County
An upcoming Vitalant blood drive:
Oct. 19 at Sonoma State University at the Bloodmobile in Parking Lot D located at 1801 E. Cotati Ave. in Rohnert Park from 10 a.m. to 3:15 p.m.
The Vitalant donation center in Santa Rosa is located at 3505 Industrial Dr., which is open everyday. For more information on times and to make an appointment, visit vitalant.org.
Red Cross blood drives include:
Oct. 19 in Santa Rosa from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the American Red Cross Chapter located at 5297 Aero Drive.Oct. 20 in Petaluma from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. in Calvary Chapel of Petaluma located at 1955 S. McDowell Blvd.
A Santa Rosa man in jail on suspicion of repeatedly sexually assaulting a minor over a period of five years knew his victim socially through a family connection, police said Wednesday.
Drue James Mordecai, 55, remained in the Sonoma County Jail, held on $3 million bail, and faces several felony charges related to the statements of a teenage victim, who reported to police that the man had abused them, said Sgt. Chris Mahurin, a spokesman for the Santa Rosa Police Department.
Court records listed 27 felony charges and two enhancements against Mordecai in the case, which included nine charges of assaulting a minor with the intent to commit a felony and five counts of committing a lewd act with a child.
Mordecai was arrested Jan. 28, after investigators with the Police Department determined they had gathered enough evidence to arrest him, police said.
He was arraigned in Sonoma County Superior Court on Monday, and the Santa Rosa Police Department released news of the arrest the following day, asking for anyone with information to come forward.
The victim and Mordecai both attended New Vintage Church in Santa Rosa, where he was a volunteer small group leader working with high school-age students for several years, Mahurin said.
It was unclear how regularly Mordecai was around students at the church or how consistent his volunteer activities were, he added.
Phone calls to the New Vintage Church seeking comment from Darren Youngstrom, the church’s lead pastor, were not returned Wednesday, nor was a request for comment from Chris Andrian, Mordecai’s lawyer.
An email to Andy VomSteeg, a man who identifies himself as having been the church’s lead pastor between 1999 and November 2019 in his LinkedIn page, also did not return an emailed request for comment Wednesday.
The Fountaingrove Lodge, an LGBT senior living community in Santa Rosa, listed Mordecai as their marketing director on Tuesday. A request for comment from the business on Wednesday, when that information no longer appeared on the site, was not returned later that afternoon.
The victim was 12 years old when the abuse started and there was no evidence that pointed to the abuse happening at the church itself, police said.
Social connections to the victim through other family members meant that Mordecai was able to interact with the youth outside of the church campus, Mahurin said.
When police had gathered details to begin confirming the victim’s testimony, Mahurin said, they also contacted Youngstrom, who sent word to the families of students who had interacted with Mordecai over the years that the abuse was suspected.
“He did a great job of communicating with us, cooperating with the investigation,” Mahurin said of Youngstrom. Mordecai would have had to pass a background check to work with students at New Vintage, Mahurin said.
Police are asking for anyone with information about this assault, or who was or who knows someone who may have been victimized to make a report through the department’s online tip line.
Mahurin said Wednesday that the department had received several tips after publishing its news release, but that no additional victims had been identified or come forward.
Mordecai is scheduled to enter a plea in a court on Monday, according to Sonoma County Superior Court records.
Following Mordecai’s arrest, prosecutors requested his bail remain at $3 million, which was granted by a judge, Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Staebell said.
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.
The number of coronavirus deaths in Sonoma County is soaring, a grim reminder of rampant virus transmission in the community as the infectious disease infects many more of the county’s most vulnerable residents in senior care homes and the general population.
In just the first seven days of the year, county health officials have reported 22 deaths linked to COVID-19. Ten were reported by county officials on Thursday after eight on Tuesday, boosting pandemic deaths to 214.
The 10 fatalities are the most county officials have revealed in a single day since the pandemic started last March, mirroring California’s record deadly virus trend.
With virus-related deaths clearly mounting, the county Sheriff’s Office recently acquired a refrigeration trailer that can hold 56 bodies if the county morgue gets “bombarded with deaths” and reaches its limit, Sheriff’s spokesman Juan Valencia said.
“We have not peaked in the second wave yet; we haven’t seen the worst of it,” said Dr. Gary Green, an infectious disease specialist at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital. “I really think that January is going to be, probably, the most deadly month in the pandemic so far.”
Raising the alarm, Green and other health care experts said COVID-19 is spreading in the community at a greater extent now compared with the summer months. That means more residents sick with the virus are being hospitalized, and eventually more people will die, Green said.
Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer, said the spike of deaths and people hospitalized with the respiratory disease shows how prevalent the virus is in the county. Mase stressed the importance of adhering to public health orders and personal safety rules, including masking, hand-washing and social distancing.
“We have widespread, 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,” she said.
Mase and other health care experts said a larger share of the local deaths linked to the virus now are occurring in the general population, compared to last summer when COVID-19 fatalities were mainly driven by infections in skilled nursing centers and residential care homes for the elderly. These residents still remain vulnerable to being hospitalized and dying from the virus.
Coronavirus-related deaths among senior care home residents comprised 40% of the 40 fatalities since Dec. 10, showing the dramatic swing from the start of the pandemic to last month when such elderly residents accounted for 65% of virus deaths. Among these 40 latest deaths, 15% originated from household transmission of the virus, 8% were tied to Thanksgiving gatherings, while the virus source is unknown for 35% of these fatalities, local health officials said.
Of the 18 fatalities reported so far this week, at least nine were residents living in either skilled nursing or residential care sites, while eight were people in the general population. One was disclosed late Thursday night and no information was immediately available about that fatality.
All who were living in senior care homes were 64 or older, as were four of the eight people living at home. Three of the deceased who lived at home were between 50 and 64 and one was between 18 and 49 — a stark reminder the virus can be deadly in young residents.
On Thursday, California public health authorities reported a record two-day total of 1,042 coronavirus deaths, as many hospitals statewide grapple with unprecedented numbers of patients afflicted with the virus.
The state Department of Public Health’s website listed 583 new deaths, after 459 deaths Wednesday. The previous two-day record total was 1,013 deaths at the end of December. California’s death toll since the start of the pandemic has eclipsed 28,000.
Sonoma County is unlikely to end its current stay-at-home order when it is set to expire the night of Jan. 9, Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said during her final public briefing of 2020.
As coronavirus spreads locally at the highest rate of the pandemic while parts of the state are struggling to provide enough hospital beds for patients, it’s no shock that Mase is less than optimistic about reopening in a week and a half.
That order, announced by California Gov. Gavin Newsom Dec. 3, ties the ability to gather in backyards and eat outdoors at restaurants to a region’s ICU bed availability. On Dec. 10, Sonoma and 10 other Bay Area counties preemptively adopted a collective stay-at-home order as the region approached the 15% availability threshold established by Newsom.
It’s hard to gain an accurate read on ICU capacity, a measure that can be fluid based on staffing and contingency plans. But the most up-to-date data from the California Department of Public Health shows Sonoma County with 20 available staffed ICU beds as of Tuesday. The county is licensed for 77 ICU beds, though that number can be lower based on available staffing.
Twenty available beds would put local hospitals above the 15% mark. But Mase said the overall Bay Area availability rate is at 7.5%, giving Sonoma and the other 10 counties little chance of escaping what many refer to as a “lockdown.”
While Sonoma County hospital officials insist there are no current shortages of beds or staffing at their facilities, most of the metrics have gotten considerably worse since Mase issued the local order three weeks ago. In the 19 days following her announcement on Dec. 10, the county reported 3,170 new coronavirus cases, or 16.8% of all cases since the start of the pandemic. The daily average since Dec. 10 has been 242. Before then, Sonoma County exceeded that number just two days in seven months.
Even the good news is being tempered. One positive note through most of December has been the absence of fatality clusters at local skilled nursing centers and other congregant living sites for seniors. But as the county acknowledged Wednesday, that doesn’t mean the virus isn’t infiltrating local nursing homes again.
Kate Pack, health program manager of Sonoma County’s epidemiology team, said that since Dec. 8, 44 elder care facilities have reported at least one case among staff or residents, with 24 categorized as outbreaks — defined as three or more cases among staff, or one COVID-positive resident if the infection is determined to have been acquired on-site. Pack cited a total of between 243 and 249 cases here during the month in senior homes, including 137 in Santa Rosa and 59 in Petaluma.
A Santa Rosa City Council candidate has retained a key Democratic endorsement after apologizing for years-old online posts that reveal frustration with Democrats and use of vulgar language that has been called out as transphobic and unprofessional.
Eddie Alvarez is endorsed by the Sonoma County Democratic Party in the District 1 race to represent the Roseland and South Park areas. The endorsement gives him access to the local Democrats’ slate mailers and helps Alvarez, a dispensary owner, stand out from his two competitors, electrical engineer Jorge Inocencio and neighborhood advocate Duane De Witt.
But there was a time — June 2016, to be specific — when Alvarez was feeling less than charitable toward the Democratic Party, which was then trying unsuccessfully to push former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton into the White House, only to be foiled by Donald Trump, who ran as a Republican.
He shared on Facebook an image of a middle finger featuring, in block letters: “This lifelong Democrat says bye bye Democratic Party.”
“#F—Dem and the horse they rode in on,” he added in a caption to the post.
That sort of comment stands in stark contrast to Alvarez’s current campaign. He recently touted a campaign event in Roseland that included a walking tour of the district with Pat Sabo, the local party chairwoman.
“It was pretty much the frustration of being ignored,” Alvarez said of his post from four years ago, calling it “a poor choice of words. Thankfully, we moved beyond them.“
A second post from February 2018 criticized the #MeToo movement, in which Alvarez commented that he was calling “bullsh–” on the movement “because you’re walking the same path as every other disenfranchised group” and lamented that activists were “falling for the tired trick of getting you to invest your energy in protests” instead of trying to influence the world in other ways.
A third, apparently posted regarding the brief federal government shutdown of January 2018 likened vocal support for Trump at that time to “buying a hooker that’s walking around with his thing hanging out … yes, somebody is gonna get screwed, but you might be surprised on whose (sic) doing the screwing, and most importantly who is getting screwed.”
After two straight nights of destructive and sometimes violent street protests, Santa Rosa is set to enter a state of local emergency, laying the groundwork for City Manager Sean McGlynn to impose a curfew beginning tonight at 8 p.m., according to a city spokeswoman Monday morning.
Santa Rosa spokeswoman Adriane Mertens said the city will move on the emergency option Monday, following violence downtown overnight that included looting and thousands of dollars of property damage. Downtown buildings were also hit on Saturday night, with windows broken at businesses and churches and anti-police graffiti scrawled across various structures.
The recent protests are a response to the death of George Floyd on Memorial Day, after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into the neck of Floyd, a black man, for nearly nine minutes, leading to murder and manslaughter charges for one officer involved. His death, which was caught on video, is the latest instance of an unarmed person of color dying at the hands of American law enforcement, and his name has become a rallying cry for protesters demanding justice and change.
Santa Rosa police arrested one person suspected of looting at the downtown Plaza mall early Monday and said thousands of dollars of damage had been done to city and private property overnight in continuing unrest stemming from demonstrations against police brutality.
The curfew is intended to aid law enforcement by clearly delineating a time by which any peaceful protests Monday must conclude, said Mayor Tom Schwedhelm, a former Santa Rosa police chief. He noted that the recent demonstrations — a collective response mirroring nationwide unrest stemming
“Due to the last two nights’ events, we feel for the safety of this community that we have to do this curfew,” Schwedhelm said. “Not an enviable position to be in.”
Schwedhelm noted that response times for calls for service elsewhere in the city could be longer due to the heavy use of police resources downtown when monitoring large demonstrations by peaceful protesters and subsequent acts of violence and vandalism.
“We are doing everything we can to make it was safe as possible for everyone,” he said, “and we are relying on the professionalism of the Santa Rosa Police Department to do that in the best way possible.”
Protests began peacefully around 5 p.m. Sunday, police Lt. Jeneane Kucker said. But three hours later, groups of people began blocking the intersection of Third Street and Santa Rosa Avenue.
Several subjects were using spray paint on the street and objects on Old Courthouse Square, she said.
By 9 p.m., some in the crowd moved west to the Third Street onramp to Highway 101.
“Protesters engaged with officers, but remained peaceful and did not get onto the freeway,” Kucker said. “Eventually, a few protesters began throwing water bottles at officers, who were blocking the off-ramp to northbound Highway 101.”
When Rocio Marquez lost her job cleaning offices about two years ago, she took a leap of faith and started her own business.
A former Monterey County strawberry picker who moved to Sonoma County six years ago, Marquez had always dreamed of being her own boss and wanted to see if her entrepreneurial skills could mean a boost in income, she said.
Over the course of several months, she and her husband scraped together enough money to open Pupusas y Tacos “Marquez,” a green food cart parked on the Whiskey Tip lot at the edge of Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood. Marquez put in long hours to keep it running, slowly building her business with the patronage of hungry workers who stopped at her Stony Point Road location for a bite to eat before work or for lunch.
But the coronavirus pandemic and county and state orders for people to stay at home have upended her business, depleting the steady stream of customers that once frequented her cart as more are out of work and strapped for cash, Marquez said.
“I’m going to wait to see what happens but right now I’m not making enough to pay rent, to cover the cost of food,” Marquez said, though she remained hopeful. “Really, there’s nothing to do. We’re just in the hands of God.”
The slowdown has meant one or two customers every few hours, spoiled meat that she’s had to throw away and lingering fears about how she’ll pay for the small group of employees that help run her business.
Marquez is not alone. Latino entrepreneurs across Sonoma County are struggling to keep their businesses afloat as a local order for residents to stay at home that went into effect March 18 has curtailed or halted most economic activity for the sake of minimizing the virus’ spread, said Herman J. Hernandez, the president of the Sonoma County Latino leadership group Los Cien.
The order has sent shock waves throughout the local Latino community, particularly among undocumented workers and low-income families — two groups who are more likely to be living paycheck to paycheck and who can have a hard time recovering from financial and psychological blows, he said.
“It’s kind of a shock and unbelievable that you’re in a situation like that,” Hernandez said. “When you look at the Latino community, at times at the top of the list is ‘How am I going to continue to support my family?’ ”
Answers to those immediate concerns were a primary focus for Sonoma County Supervisor James Gore, who volunteered to work as the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors’ liaison to the Latino community during the pandemic because of his ability to speak Spanish and his prior collaboration with the community during the Tubbs and Kincade fires, he said.
Conversations with dozens of local Latino-serving nonprofits and organizations made it clear that basic necessities like food, housing and cash, as well as accurate information about the virus, was in high demand, he said.
To address that information gap, Sonoma County supervisors have set aside over $25,000 to boost the public awareness of the coronavirus within Spanish-speaking communities, a strategy intended to make sure the community understands the threat of the virus and local stay-at-home orders, Gore said. The campaign includes paid radio public service announcements that launched Monday and Tuesday across six local stations after starting on one station last week. How frequently the radio station plays the announcements, and during which hours, varies from station to station, county spokeswoman Melissa Valle said.
Supermarkets across Sonoma County last week began playing informational video or audio messages about the virus as part of the outreach plan. Gore and a team of Spanish-speaking county officials on Tuesday also went live on KBBF, a local bilingual radio station, to take questions from Sonoma County residents about the virus. The radio station hosted a similar segment with Gore last week.
“It requires an intentional effort,” Gore said of the county’s outreach to Spanish-speaking residents. “You can’t just put out translated documents and expect it’s going to hit folks in a targeted way.”
The timing of the county’s efforts received some criticism among some local Latino group leaders, who said the county waited too long to actively inform the community about the virus. That included Zeke Guzman, president of the nonprofit group Latinos Unidos del Condado de Sonoma County, who last weekend spoke to a handful of farmworkers who described the virus as nothing more than a cough, Guzman said. He and another community organizer also witnessed several Latino families at local parks who weren’t following social-distancing guidelines required by the county’s order.
“I don’t want to knock on anyone, this is a crisis,” said Guzman, who hopes to secure grants that will allow KBBF to launch more in-depth announcements about the coronavirus. “But we also want to look at how effective what we’re doing is and who it’s going to reach.” Gore acknowledged the frustration over the timing of the county’s effort, but added that county staff members are tasked with dealing with solutions to both short and long-term problems that will arise from the pandemic.
“We have to attend to the present, but we also have to reach into the future to think about how we’re going to get ahead of this,” Gore said.
At the Graton Day Labor Center, recent phone check-ins with the center’s roughly 200 members show only about 10% are working, most of them farmworkers whose employers aren’t covered by the shelter-in-place order that restricts or bans all but nonessential businesses including agriculture, said the center’s executive director, Christy Lubin
The rest of the members, whose jobs range from day laborers to domestic workers and nannies, are struggling to find work. Some are single parents who can’t leave their homes because schools stopped classroom instruction and there’s no one else to care for their childen, Lubin said.