Coronavirus updates: California prepares for phased reopening; rising senior death toll

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Michael McGough, Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks
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Like millions of others across the U.S., Californians are eager for the economy and public life to begin to reopen after the coronavirus pandemic began upending society more than a month ago.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday outlined a four-stage “roadmap” plan for the gradual loosening of his mandatory stay-at-home order, which by Thursday will have been in place six weeks.

The state is currently in Stage 1, which involves widening the availability of COVID-19 testing and boosting hospitals’ surge capacities for a potential spike in cases. Newsom says Stage 2 — the reopening of “low-risk” retail and manufacturing businesses with some necessary adaptations, the return to office work in jobs where telework is impossible and lifting restrictions to some public spaces — is “weeks, not months away.”

Stage 3 involves “high-risk” businesses for which the likelihood of spreading the virus is seen as higher: personal services like nail salons, barbershops and gyms; moderately crowded venues such as movie theaters; and the potential return of sporting events, but with arenas closed to spectators. Newsom says this stage is likely still months away.

The fourth and final stage is the full lifting of the stay-at-home order, which would mean large-scale events like concerts and professional sports could resume with crowds. Newsom says that won’t happen until there is a treatment available for the coronavirus.

The governor’s roadmap comes as at least 1,880 Californians have died from the coronavirus as of midday Wednesday, according to a Sacramento Bee survey of individual counties’ public health departments. More than 46,500 have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the highly contagious virus, according to the state Department of Public Health.

In data released over the weekend and updated Wednesday, the state reported that more than 600 of those deaths have been residents of skilled nursing facilities, plus 19 staff members at those facilities. As of last Friday, another nearly 150 deaths were patients at assisted living facilities, which cater to the elderly but do not provide the same level of medical care as nursing home, according to the California Department of Social Services. In total, senior care homes have made up about 40 percent of the state’s coronavirus deaths so far.

Woodland nursing facility suffers 11th death

At least 11 residents at a Woodland skilled nursing facility have died from complications of the coronavirus, with five additional patient deaths reported in a week, according to Yolo County health officials.

Stollwood Convalescent Hospital, located within the St. John’s Retirement Village campus on Woodland Avenue, is the site of the county’s first and only reported COVID-19 outbreak, with 66 total residents and staff members having tested positive.

Yolo County public health officer Dr. Ron Chapman on April 21 reported six residents had died at Stollwood. Another five fatalities were reported the following week, according to a new online dashboard found on the Yolo County health department’s website. No staff have died.

The skilled nursing facility has a total of 48 beds, according to the St. John’s website.

“St. John’s continues to assertively deliver preventive and immediate caregiving to fight COVID-19,” St. John’s CEO Sean Beloud wrote in a statement posted Tuesday to the retirement village’s website. “However, while following all of the CDC, CDPH, CDSS and Yolo County guidelines, we sadly lost more loved ones this week.”

St. John’s Retirement Village in Woodland, photographed Tuesday, April 14, 2020, has 35 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and reports on its website that it has set up isolation wings for the patients.
St. John’s Retirement Village in Woodland, photographed Tuesday, April 14, 2020, has 35 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and reports on its website that it has set up isolation wings for the patients.

Latest in Sacramento area: 66 dead, first death in Folsom

As of Wednesday morning, the four-county Sacramento region had reported a total of 66 COVID-19 fatalities and more than 1,400 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.

One additional death, the first in the city of Folsom, was disclosed Wednesday morning in an update by Sacramento County public health officials, as well as 15 additional reported cases.

Sacramento County now reports 42 deaths among 1,068 confirmed coronavirus cases, last updated 9:45 a.m. Wednesday. The infection total increased by just eight cases in each of Monday’s and Tuesday’s updates, among the lowest reported in a single day this month, before rising by 15 on Wednesday morning. The county last Thursday announced five additional fatalities, representing the second-deadliest day of the pandemic. The death announced Wednesday was the first fatality reported since then.

Yolo County reported another person had been infected with the virus Wednesday afternoon, raising the total to 163. No new deaths were reported Wednesday, after two deaths were reported Monday afternoon and an additional one Tuesday afternoon. Sixteen people have died in the county, most stemming from a Woodland skilled nursing facility.

Placer County stands at eight deaths and has reported 145 total cases, last updated 8 a.m. Wednesday. The county has not reported a death since April 16, and has reported just 13 new infections since then.

El Dorado County reported no additional cases Wednesday afternoon, with the total number of people infected there at 44. Most of those cases originated from the Lake Tahoe region and El Dorado Hills. There have been no deaths reported.

Sacramento County, Yolo County extend public health order

Sacramento County announced Wednesday it would extend its public health order another three weeks to May 22.

Health officials say they want to see infection rates drop and testing capacity increase before they allow more people to go to work and more businesses to open.

As part of the extension, county health services director Dr. Peter Beilenson announced they would allow tennis courts and dog parks to reopen, and food trucks to do business, so long as people continue to follow the six-foot social distancing rules.

“We know people are antsy and we want them to have the ability to use recreation areas and participate in non-contact sports,” Beilenson previously told The Sacramento Bee.

Rules on dentist and doctor office visits have been eased, as have rules for real estate sales home visits.

Yolo County, meanwhile, said late Wednesday it would be extending its shelter-in-place order through May 31, but said it would formally announce the extension and its details Thursday.

Data show big contrast between rural counties and urban hubs

Rural parts of California are generally faring far better than urban areas, according to a Sacramento Bee analysis and review of infection and death rates across all 58 counties statewide.

Nationwide, there were roughly 305 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 17 deaths per 100,000 residents as of Monday, according to Worldometer, much of it clustered in the New York and New Jersey area.

By comparison, California had 113 confirmed cases and 4.5 deaths per 100,000 residents, according to data from the state Department of Public Health. And in California counties with fewer than 200,000 residents, there were about 38 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1.2 deaths per 100,000 residents as of Monday, far below statewide rates.

Sacramento small businesses plan to reopen; others rebel

Encouraged by the governor’s suggestion they could be weeks from being allowed to reopen, small retail business owners across the Sacramento area are hard at work developing strategies.

But, as Newsom added Tuesday, retailers that open will need to make modifications to their normal operating procedures.

Florist Deanne Ireland, owner of Nina’s Flowers and Gifts in Elk Grove, is working out the logistics on how to handle a variety of interactions in a socially distant way, such as greeting customers and handling cash.

“We’re going to have to have a person at the door,” she said Tuesday. “We probably will stick to some kind of measure to allow only one to two people inside. We talk about how we’re going to handle it. It’s a business that’s always been personal. We have customers who hug us.”

But some other businesses in the Stage 3 “high-risk” camp, like gyms and salons, are choosing a more defiant route. A handful of hair salons have reopened in Placer County, according to their Facebook pages, with owners recently telling news outlets including Fox 40 and ABC 10 they felt they had to violate the countywide and statewide health orders in order to sustain their livelihood and provide for their families.

And Fitness System CEO Sean Covell said Tuesday that his gyms in Lodi, West Sacramento and Sacramento’s Land Park neighborhood would reopen this Friday, writing in a message to members that “no city, county, or state official has the power to cancel the Constitution and the Bill of Rights of the United States.”

Covell threatened to sue in federal court if the state and local governments attempt to “restrict the ability of our members and employees to work and exercise unencumbered by draconian restrictions imposed by the State or county agencies.”

The front entrance at Fitness System’s health club in Sacramento, with a copy of the Bill of Rights taped to the door. Club’s owner says he will reopen Friday despite California’s stay-at-home order.
The front entrance at Fitness System’s health club in Sacramento, with a copy of the Bill of Rights taped to the door. Club’s owner says he will reopen Friday despite California’s stay-at-home order.

Sacramento County spokeswoman Kimberly Nava told The Bee that if Covell does open up on Friday, he’ll be expressly violating the county’s order, a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $50 to $1,000 and up to 90 days in jail.

“Law enforcement is going to come out there and ask him to close,” Nava said.

Covell’s lawyer, Brian Chavez-Ochoa, said the gyms would be operated with “masks, social distancing, cleaning equipment after each use.” Chavez-Ochoa said he expects law enforcement to prevent the three gyms from opening. If that happens, Covell plans to sue Newsom and other officials in U.S. District Court in an effort to overturn the stay-at-home orders, Chavez-Ochoa said.

What about schools?

Also during Tuesday’s daily coronavirus news briefing, Newsom said the state is considering the possibility of starting school earlier this coming year to compensate for learning lost in March and April.

“We recognize there’s been a learning loss because of this disruption,” Newsom said. “We’re concerned about that learning loss even into the summer.”

Newsom said the state is considering starting the school year anywhere between late July or early August, but that the state has not made any decisions. Many schools statewide already begin classes around mid-August.

“If possible, this could help us address equity issues facing our most vulnerable students while providing an opportunity to start recovering the learning loss we know students have experienced between the time we closed campuses and shifted to distance learning,” State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “We also recognize the importance of schools reopening to help parents and caregivers in their much-needed return to work.”

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El Dorado County asks Newsom for permission to ease into reopening

Citing a low infection total and no reported coronavirus fatalities, El Dorado County on Tuesday announced it would not extend its local public health directive, letting it expire this Thursday, becoming the first California county to do so.

The county is now urging Newsom to loosen his statewide stay-at-home order for residents with the blessing of public health officer Dr. Nancy Williams.

The request from the county’s Board of Supervisors and Williams, who join a growing call across Northern California’s suburban and rural areas to start reopening parts of the local economy. The city of Roseville and six north state counties have also sent letters to the governor, as has Placerville, the seat of El Dorado County.

“There’s definitely a chance we’ve missed infections, we’ve definitely missed infections,” Williams told the board during a Zoom teleconference meeting Tuesday. “Yes we’ve missed some probably, but at the same time those numbers just tell me there’s not much COVID here.”

Williams said during the board meeting that letting the directive expire shouldn’t be interpreted as business as usual for the county. Rather, it reflects a belief that Newsom’s statewide order will “sufficiently protect our community,” she said.

The county has also ordered a ban on nonessential travel to the unincorporated portion of the Lake Tahoe basin earlier this month, which will remain in effect. Most of the county’s confirmed cases have concentrated in South Lake Tahoe and in El Dorado Hills.

During his Tuesday briefing, Newsom acknowledged the pleas coming from municipalities looking to give their local businesses a lifeline, though he did not specifically address El Dorado County. He said that there will be some “regional augmentations” to when and how different counties can reopen, but that they would be “stringent.”

“We’re not just going to blithely (reopen) without community surveillance obligations that are attached to those regional efforts,” Newsom said, adding that if the state reopens too quickly, it could cause “a second wave that could be even more damaging than the first.”

Several residents who spoke during the board’s public comment period Tuesday argued that the current stay-at-home order were an infringement of their civil liberties. Drew Buell, a pastor at Cool Community Church, said the community has been “shoved in a corner and told that our First Amendment rights have been set aside.”

World numbers: 3.1 million infected, more than 215,000 dead

About 3.19 million people worldwide have tested positive for the coronavirus, and over 227,000 have died as of Wednesday afternoon, according to a data map maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

The United States makes up more than 1 million reported cases and has suffered over 60,000 deaths, more Americans than were killed in the Vietnam War. More than 23,000 of the coronavirus deaths have come in New York state, another 6,700 in New Jersey, and more than 3,000 in Massachusetts and Michigan.

After the U.S., Italy has reported more than 27,000 COVID-19 fatalities, the United Kingdom surged to 26,000 Spain is above 24,000 and France has surpassed 24,000, according to Johns Hopkins. Belgium is next on the list at 7,500 dead, followed by Germany at 6,400, Iran at nearly 6,000 and Brazil at over 5,500.

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 CDC 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 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 Rosalio Ahumada, Tony Bizjak, Sophia Bollag, Jayson Chesler, Dale Kasler, Sawsan Morrar, Jason Pohl, Phillip Reese, Ryan Sabalow, Andrew Sheeler, Darrell Smith and Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks contributed to this report. Listen to our daily briefing:

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