California reaches 600,000 cases; Sacramento sheriff withholds data

California has surpassed 600,000 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases and just a handful shy of 11,000 Californians

California has surpassed 600,000 lab-confirmed coronavirus cases and just a handful shy of 11,000 Californians have died of the virus over the course of the pandemic, state health officials said Friday.

An increase of over 7,900 new daily infections and 188 deaths pushed California’s totals to 601,075 and 10,996, respectively, according to the California Department of Public Health.

The coronavirus crisis continues under an air of uncertainty in California, but the state’s situation is becoming a bit clearer as health officials work through a backlog of data that piled up due to a technical glitch from late July.

Gov. Gavin Newsom in a midday news conference said 3,505 of Friday’s reported 7,900 cases are new while the remaining 4,400 are from that backlog. If accurate, 3,505 would mark the lowest case single-day increase since June 16, state data show.

Last week, CDPH froze the state’s watchlist — the counties it has put on notice for elevated COVID-19 activity, and which are subject to stricter shutdown restrictions — until the data issue is completely resolved.

At that point, 38 of the state’s 58 counties, combining for more than 97% of California’s population, were on the list.

The state looks at a few different criteria for the monitoring list: a case rate above 100 cases per 100,000 residents over the past 14 days, a positive test rate above 8% over the past seven days, a 10% or higher increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations over the past three days or available ICU beds falling below 20% of a county’s total will all land a county on the watchlist.

The state temporarily removed counties’ numbers in these categories from the monitoring list webpage last week as it began sorting out the data problem — including the addition of thousands of older cases into the system this week. But case rates per capita and test rate positivity remain available elsewhere on the CDPH website and are becoming more accurate as the state adds thousands of backlogged results.

A Bee analysis of those figures as reported Thursday, with data reflecting the two-week period from July 29 through this Wednesday, found that as many as 46 counties may now meet the watchlist criteria for new cases.

The eight counties exceeding 100 cases per 100,000 residents, but not among the 38 on the watchlist when it was frozen, are Amador, Calaveras, El Dorado, Inyo, Lake, Lassen, Mendocino and Tehama, The Bee determined.

Two of those are comparatively borderline: El Dorado and Lake counties’ rates are about 107 and 114 new cases per 100,000, respectively. The remaining six are all above 150. Amador and Lassen counties’ rates are each over 300.

Newsom suggested during Friday’s news briefing that the state watchlist could be updated early next week.

K-12 schools are not allowed to reopen for in-person learning until their county has been off the watchlist for two consecutive weeks.

Newsom and the state earlier this month also announced that schools in watchlist counties with fewer than 200 cases per 100,000 residents over the preceding two weeks could make use of a waiver process and, with approval from their county’s health office, reopen while their county is still on the watchlist.

According to Thursday’s state numbers as analyzed by The Bee, Sacramento County and a couple of its neighbors may be too close to call until the backlog is fully cleared: Sacramento’s most recent rate is 191 per 100,000, Yolo County’s is 194 and Placer County is at 155. Yuba and Sutter counties, which share a health office, are both above 250 new cases per 100,000 residents the past two weeks.

A disclaimer accompanying daily updates from CDPH earlier this week that warned of underreported case totals was removed from the state’s data webpages with Friday’s update. A number of counties’ COVID-19 dashboards, include Sacramento’s, continue to include disclaimers.

State Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said last week that the backlog included about 295,000 older case reports statewide dating back to a July 25 server outage. The undercounted COVID-19 infection total would depend on what percentage of those returned positive for the disease. It’s unclear as of Friday how those underreported cases may have been distributed geographically.

Neither death figures nor hospitalization totals were impacted by the data error, officials say.

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August off to deadlier start than July in Sacramento

Sacramento County’s coronavirus death toll has grown to 199 all-time, as local health officials updated the COVID-19 data dashboard Friday morning.

Classified by the date on which a fatality occurs — as opposed to when it was confirmed by the coroner or reported publicly — Sacramento County can now confirm 33 deaths from COVID-19 in the first 10 days of August. If that pace continues, the county would see 100 residents die of the virus in August, which would be more than July and almost triple the second-worst month of April, when 34 residents died.

The dramatic figure for the start of August could grow even higher, because the official determination of COVID-19 as the cause of or significant factor in death can take more than a week in some cases. Last weekend alone already accounts for 11 deaths, with five dying Saturday and six Sunday.

More up-to-date data now show the month of July saw at least 83 residents die of COVID-19, with July 25 and July 29 tying for daily records of seven COVID-19 deaths in Sacramento County.

Hospitalization rates still declining across California

The most promising sign of statewide progress in the battle against COVID-19 has been the significant decline of patients in hospital and ICU beds since late July. Newsom and Ghaly in recent news conferences have both expressed some optimism due to those metrics.

California’s total for hospitalized COVID-19 patients fell below 5,200 on Friday, according to CDPH. That tally had been as high as 7,170 as of July 21. That’s a decline of more than 27% in just over three weeks.

ICU cases are also on a downward trajectory, from a peak of over 2,000 in late July to fewer than 1,700 as of Thursday, an 18% drop.

The state decline is buoyed largely by Los Angeles County, which makes up one-quarter of the state’s population and which has seen hospitalizations drop by 800 patients, from about 2,200 on July 21 to just below 1,400 by Friday.

Hospital numbers have dipped in other hard-hit Southern California counties as well, including Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino — which still have the three highest raw hospitalization totals in California aside from Los Angeles County.

But elsewhere, especially in the Central Valley, hospitalization and ICU figures remain either on the uptrend or have roughly plateaued from highs reached in July. Sacramento, Fresno and Stanislaus counties are among those plateauing, while Placer and the Yuba-Sutter bi-county area have seen hospital rates continue to climb at a mostly steady pace, data show.

Newsom is dispatching three coronavirus “strike teams” to the Central Valley, with emphasis on the San Joaquin Valley, in an effort to bring the pandemic’s impact there under control.

Sacramento sheriff not disclosing jail COVID-19 numbers

Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones is refusing to give COVID-19 testing and case information to an oversight board in charge of monitoring the state’s jails.

The Board of State and Community Corrections recently launched an online dashboard tracking COVID-19 in California jails, following months of demands from experts, officials and advocates.

Sacramento County is one of just two counties that said it will not provide the information to the state. The other is Tehama County.

“After a review of the BSCC tracking system, the Sheriff’s Office does not believe that the data being collected is comprehensive enough to show a complete picture related to COVID and our jail system,” spokeswoman Sgt. Tess Deterding said in a statement. “For that reason, we have elected not to share information.”

The Bee asked Deterding for the Sheriff’s Office’s most updated case numbers, some of which was the same information it is refusing to tell state oversight officials. As of Tuesday, she said, staff had completed 2,688 COVID-19 tests since the pandemic began. Of those, 42 have been positive. There were 18 COVID-19 positive inmates in custody.

Deterding did not answer a follow-up question about what additional information the sheriff wanted to see collected.

Sacramento County’s two jails, one downtown and one in Elk Grove, housed about 2,700 people as of last week.

Latest Sacramento-area numbers: Over 20,000 cases, 284 dead

The six-county region of Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer, Yolo, Sutter and Yuba counties has reported 284 combined coronavirus deaths. The region on Thursday morning surpassed 20,000 confirmed cases for the course of the pandemic.

Sacramento County has now tallied 13,615 confirmed infections, disclosing 738 cases Thursday and another 399 Friday. It’s unclear how many of those recently reported cases are from the backlog as opposed to more recently tested cases.

At least 199 Sacramento County residents have died, the county reports: 131 from the city of Sacramento, 11 from Elk Grove, 11 from Citrus Heights, seven from Rancho Cordova, six from Galt, four from Folsom and 29 in unincorporated territories.

State data show 240 COVID-19 patients in Sacramento County hospitals as of Friday, a decline of 13 from Thursday’s number after the total had plateaued for a little more than a week. The county’s all-time high was 281, on July 30. ICU cases rose by two in the day’s update, though, to 87. The state says 97 ICU beds remain available in Sacramento County.

Placer County has reported 2,543 cases and 27 deaths, disclosing one death Thursday after reporting two each on Tuesday and Wednesday. Placer added 73 infections to its count Thursday and 57 more Friday.

The county says 50 patients in Placer County hospitals are being treated for COVID-19, 12 of them in the ICU. The hospitalized total fell by five but the ICU total increased by one since Thursday’s update.

Yolo County on Thursday reported nine new COVID-19 cases with no new deaths from the virus. The county reported a record-high 75 new cases Monday due to a backlog and it has now reported a total of 1,927 cases and 45 deaths. The county reported one death each on Friday and Sunday. Eight infected people in the county were hospitalized Wednesday, six of them in intensive care, according to state data. The county has only four ICU beds available.

El Dorado County added nine new cases Thursday, bringing its total to 802. The county reported its second death from COVID-19 on Monday.

The county now has two COVID-19 patients in its hospitals, both of them in the ICU. Currently, the county has eight available ICU beds. The county remains the capital region’s only one not placed onto the state’s coronavirus watchlist, reflecting its relatively low case total, but changes to the watchlist have been frozen until the state’s backlog issue is fully resolved.

In Sutter County, 1,041 cases and seven deaths have been reported through Wednesday evening. Sutter hospitals are currently caring for 17 with the virus, with six in the ICU.

Yuba County has reported 688 cases and four deaths. Thirteen were hospitalized there as of Wednesday, including three in intensive care.

World numbers: Global death toll over 760,000, infections top 21 million

Over 21 million lab-confirmed cases of the coronavirus have been reported worldwide and over 761,000 people have died as of early Friday afternoon, with the United States leading the globe in both figures at more than 5.28 million infections and 168,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Brazil is next in terms of death toll, recently surpassing 105,000. After that are Mexico at nearly 55,000, India at over 48,000, the United Kingdom at almost 47,000, previous European epicenter Italy holding steady at just over 35,000, France at over 30,000, Spain at a little over 28,500 and more than 25,000 in Peru.

The long list of countries with five-digit death tolls continues with nearly 19,000 dead in Iran, over 15,000 in Russia, 14,000 in Colombia, just over 11,000 in South Africa and more than 10,000 in Chile. Belgium will join that group soon, recently surpassing 9,900 fatalities, and Germany and Canada have each recorded more than 9,000 fatalities, according to Johns Hopkins.

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, Molly Burke, Jayson Chesler, Dale Kasler and Jason Pohl; and The Fresno Bee’s Manuel Tobias contributed to this report. Listen to our daily briefing:

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