California processing backlog; deadly start to August in Sacramento

The coronavirus is continuing its deadly impact in the Sacramento region, with August already off

The coronavirus is continuing its deadly impact in the Sacramento region, with August already off to a troubling start.

Public health officials, in a Monday update to Sacramento County’s COVID-19 data dashboard, confirmed several more July deaths for nearly 80 in the month, including the deadliest day of the pandemic, and have already confirmed well over a dozen resident deaths from the virus in the first six days of August.

In a breakdown of coronavirus deaths as they’ve occurred by day — as opposed to the dates on which cause of death is made official or is first disclosed publicly — the county now reports a stunning 79 fatalities for the month of July. That’s more than double the previous worst month of April, when 34 died, and over quadruple the 18 observed in each of May and June as the curve of the virus had appeared to be flattening prior to a late June surge.

On July 29, seven Sacramento County residents died of COVID-19, the most since the pandemic started in March, according to local health officials.

The county also confirms multiple coronavirus deaths every day from Aug. 1 to Aug. 6, for a total of 16 in that six-day stretch, the most recent on record. That’s a preliminary total that could grow further, because it can take a week or longer in some cases for authorities to officially determine cause of death.

Sacramento’s count includes deaths “specifically due to COVID-19, as identified from hospital discharge summaries, death notes, and/or death certificates,” according to the county’s online dashboard.

As of Monday’s update, the county has confirmed 177 COVID-19 deaths, including 119 residents of the city of Sacramento. The remaining 58 come from Sacramento County’s surrounding suburbs and unincorporated territories.

In neighboring Yolo County, at least 44 residents have died of the virus. Half of those, 22, lived in elderly care homes, according to the county’s public health dashboard.

In Placer County, 22 residents have died of COVID-19, with six of those fatalities reported in an eight-day stretch ending Monday. During its low point of virus activity, Placer went close to a month — from mid-April to mid-May — without reporting any deaths.

And El Dorado County, long faring the best in the greater Sacramento area for coronavirus activity, on Monday reported its second death all-time from COVID-19, this one in a resident of the greater Placerville area.

Those four counties have combined for just under 17,000 total reported COVID-19 infections, but that metric continues to be problematic as state and local health officials continue sorting out a California-wide data problem that created a backlog of some 295,000 case reports statewide with tests dating back to late July.

Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a Monday news briefing that the issue has been addressed but that the backlog likely won’t be fully processed until later this week.

State and local death and hospitalization figures were not affected by the glitch, officials said.

The California Department of Public Health reports over 561,000 total infections statewide with the data issue still making that number an underestimate. The state has recorded more than 10,300 COVID-19 deaths as of Monday’s update to the numbers.

Newsom and state officials are cautiously optimistic that the state may again be bending the pandemic’s curve, though, as hospitalization figures have recently declined. The number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized statewide has fallen 22% in the last three weeks, now below 5,600 after a peak in July of nearly 7,200 hospitalized with the respiratory disease.

But Central Valley health facilities continue to be stretched thin with limited intensive care space available, including in Fresno, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Solano and Yolo counties.

$13.5 million contract with local company set to speed up Sacramento testing

A Folsom-based biotech company is expected to be approved Tuesday for a $13.5 million contract to rapidly process about 19,000 diagnostic COVID-19 tests a week.

Sacramento County health chief Dr. Peter Beilenson said StemExpress would process all samples taken at county-run testing sites with a goal of returning results in less than three days. Company founder Cate Dyer said the hope is to get that turnaround time “down to 24 to 48 hours.”

In recent weeks, test result delays statewide have stalled contact tracing efforts to target and isolate people who have the coronavirus.

“The effect of contact tracing is being able to get to people quickly. If not, those are opportunities lost for doing intervention,” Dr. Olivia Kasirye, Sacramento County health officer, previously told The Bee. “If it is beyond the 14 days, there is no point.”

The county Board of Supervisors will review and is expected to approve the contract during its Tuesday meeting.

SacRT bus driver tests positive for coronavirus

Sacramento Regional Transit in a statement Monday evening said it received “written notice from a bus operator that they tested positive for COVID-19.” The statement said the employee, who last drove a bus Friday, wore a mask, is currently self-isolating and is expect to make a full recovery.

SacRT shared the routes and times during which the driver worked:

Thursday, August 6:

7:10 a.m. – 9:57 a.m. Route 11

2:30 p.m. – 3:11 p.m. Route 134

3:30 p.m. – 3:35 p.m. Route 161

4:35 p.m. – 5:25 p.m. Route 109

Friday, August 7

7:10 a.m. – 9:57 a.m. Route 11

2:30 p.m. – 3:11 p.m. Route 134

3:30 p.m. – 3:35 p.m. Route 161

4:35 p.m. – 5:25 p.m. Route 109

SacRT says its buses and light-rail cars are cleaned and sanitized daily.

Majority of federal COVID-19 relief went to sheriff payroll in Sacramento County

County government documents show that the bulk of $181 million that Sacramento County has received as part of the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) signed in March has gone to paying salaries and benefits for public safety officers, mainly at the Sheriff’s Office.

A staff report shows the county has spent $148 million of that federal money in recent months, with over $104 million going toward Sheriff’s Office payroll, another $21.5 million to probation officers and $1.8 million to park rangers.

A much smaller proportion, less than 3% of the federal money, went directly toward public health and medical expenses. Just $10,000 went toward contact tracing, which local and state health officials have for weeks pointed to as a key component in mitigating virus spread and preventing outbreaks by telling those exposed to positive cases to self-isolate.

CARES Act funding is not supposed to be used to backfill revenue losses or normal payroll costs in general, but guidelines issued by the U.S. Treasury let local governments use it to cover salaries and benefits of public safety and health workers who are “substantially dedicated to mitigating or responding to” the pandemic. The Treasury also allows local governments to assume all public health, law enforcement and public safety worker expenses are included in that definition, unless local leadership decides otherwise.

Sacramento County Chief Fiscal Officer Britt Ferguson told The Bee that using CARES Act funding for Sheriff’s Office, probation officials and park rangers for the 2019-20 fiscal year let the county avoid “massive budget cuts,” which he said was necessary to address an estimated $170 million in reduced revenue, such as loss of sales tax resulting from the coronavirus shutdown.

Of the remaining $33 million in federal funding to be spent in the current fiscal year, Ferguson said the county is putting about $14.3 million toward the public health department’s testing and contact tracing efforts, while the rest will continue to go to payroll for county employees in certain departments.

Latest Sacramento-area numbers: More than 250 dead

The six-county Sacramento area of Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer, Yolo, Sutter and Yuba counties has reported more than 250 combined coronavirus deaths and over 18,000 confirmed cases.

Those counties are still in the process of adding cases from the statewide backlog, so infection totals are likely underestimates, but their death figures are considered accurate.

Sacramento County has now tallied 12,040 confirmed infections, disclosing 1,245 new cases. At least 177 residents have died.

Placer County has reported 2,319 cases and 22 deaths, with 81 new infections reported Saturday, 96 Sunday and 37 Monday. The county reported one death per day last Monday through Thursday, one over the weekend and another Monday for six in the last eight days. Sixty-four people are being treated for COVID-19 at Placer County hospitals, with 12 in the ICU due to the disease, the county says.

Yolo County has reported 1,834 cases and 44 deaths, with the backlog leading to a record-high 75 new cases being reported Monday. The county reported one death each of Friday and Sunday.

El Dorado County reported its second death from COVID-19 on Monday. In its daily coronavirus update, county spokeswoman Carla Hass said the man was between the ages of 50 and 64 and lived in the Placerville area. No other details were released, including when the man died.

The county had gone 24 days between Monday’s reported fatality and the first on July 18 of an elderly man from the Lake Tahoe area. Up to that point, El Dorado had been by far California’s most populous state without a confirmed COVID-19 death, at roughly 200,000 residents.

County health officials added 26 new cases on Monday — including 11 in the South Lake Tahoe area, six in Placerville and three in El Dorado Hills — bringing the total to 755. The number of hospitalized patients increased by one to four, two of whom are in intensive care. The county remains the capital region’s only one not been placed onto the state’s coronavirus watchlist, reflecting its relatively low case total; but changes to the watchlist have been frozen until the backlog issue is fully resolved.

In Sutter County, 996 cases and seven deaths have been reported. Sutter hospitals are currently caring for 12 with the virus, with six in the ICU.

Yuba County has reported 666 cases and four deaths. Fourteen people in Yuba County were hospitalized as of Monday, including three in intensive care.

World numbers: Over 20 million infected, nearly 750,000 dead

A map and data compiled by Johns Hopkins University shows the global coronavirus infection total surpassed 20 million on Monday, with the United States passing 5 million cases over the weekend.

The U.S. now accounts for about 163,000 of the 737,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths worldwide as of Monday evening, according to Johns Hopkins. Brazil is next in terms of death toll, recently surpassing 101,000. After that are Mexico at 53,000 dead, the United Kingdom at nearly 47,000, India at more than 45,000, previous European epicenter Italy at 35,000, France at just over 30,000, Spain at about 28,500 and 21,000 in Peru.

The long list of countries with five-digit death tolls continues with 18,800 dead in Iran, almost 15,000 dead of the virus in Russia, over 13,000 in Colombia, and just over 10,000 in each of South Africa and Chile.

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.

Sacramento Bee reporters Tony Bizjak, Molly Burke and Alexandra Yoon-hendricks contributed to this report.

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