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Coronavirus hospitalizations in Sonoma County fall to 2-month low

Hospital admissions related to the virus have fallen to early July levels, the result of an overall infection decline and fewer new cases among residents of senior care homes.|

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The number of Sonoma County residents afflicted with the coronavirus who need hospital care has fallen to the lowest level since early July, the result of an overall infection decline and fewer new cases among vulnerable residents of area senior care homes, local health officials said Monday.

County Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase said during a press briefing the number of fresh virus infections countywide has been declining for more than a week, and that downward trend is leading to fewer hospitalizations.

The county’s elderly nursing home residents have comprised at least 80% of the 114 individuals who have died in six months from the pandemic disease, and now infection-control improvement at senior care sites is helping to curtail virus-related hospitalizations.

“Those are the people at highest risk that have been getting hospitalized,” Mase said of seniors. “As we see those (senior care site) outbreaks resolving, I think we’re seeing less hospitalizations.”

The decline in local hospitalizations mirrors a statewide trend. Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday the number of state residents with COVID-19 needing hospital treatment has declined close to 25% — from 3,311 to 2,573 — the past two weeks. In fact, that number under 2,600 of virus-related hospital patients in the state on Saturday was the lowest daily total since April, according to California public health data.

Also, Newsom said COVID-19 hospital patients in the state requiring intensive care has decreased by a similar margin, from 1,080 to 811. Although hospitalizations are on the decline, California remains a hot spot for the contagion, leading the nation in overall cases of about 775,000 and Sunday surpassing 15,000 virus-related fatalities — fourth most in the country.

In Sonoma County on Sunday, there were 24 people hospitalized with the coronavirus, compared with 41 a week ago and significantly less than the six-month pandemic high of 52 hospitalizations on Aug. 15, according to county public health data. The two dozen hospital patients were the fewest since July 7, when there were 21.

Dr. Bill Carroll, the chief medical executive at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital, said Monday the hospital has seen a decline in COVID-19 patient admissions over the last two or three weeks. Now, there is only one coronavirus patient being treated at Sutter.

Carroll said he’s heard similar hospitalization trends from chief medical officers at Kaiser Permanente Medical Center and Santa Rosa Memorial and Sonoma Valley hospitals.

While the county has cut COVID-19 hospitalizations, it has not yet been able to suppress overall circulation of the highly contagious virus. Still mired in “widespread” transmission with about 30 other counties under the state’s four-stage community reopening plan, Mase said Monday Sonoma County will not be advancing this week to the next level.

And so when state officials reassess the county’s progress on Tuesday on two key benchmarks connected with tamping down the virus, it will be insufficient to enable the county for at least another three weeks from easing business restrictions. That means restaurants, wineries and breweries will remain barred from serving customers inside and gyms, fitness studios and nail salons won’t be permitted to resume indoor activities.

Sonoma County’s daily virus transmission rate is 9.8 people per 100,000 residents and its testing positivity percentage, the daily share of all COVID-19 tests that are positive, is now 5%. That puts the county closer to reaching the two benchmarks state officials require for counties to get out from under the most restrictive reopening stage.

To move ahead and ease more business limitations, the county must reduce its new daily virus infection rate to below 7 cases per 100,000 people. The county’s coronavirus positivity rate already is below the 8% threshold set by the state to progress to the next reopening stage.

Carroll, the Sutter hospital chief medical executive, said along with fewer virus-related admissions the hospital’s seven-day COVID-19 testing average of patients showing virus symptoms has dropped sharply from nearly 10% at the beginning of August, to 5.8% as of late last week.

“If we do really three basic things ... wear a mask, hand-wash and social distance, if we do those things we can definitely control it,” he said of further virus spread. “I think we're really starting to see the rewards.”

However, Carroll said the lessons learned in late spring when the county lifted public health restrictions, then the number of new infections soared over the summer showed “that we can never get complacent” protecting ourselves from this novel coronavirus.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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