Coronavirus updates: U.S. death toll surpasses 1,000; 60 dead in California

More than 1,000 people have died from coronavirus in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University’s online tally which is tracking the global spread of COVID-19.

As of Wednesday night, there were nearly 69,000 confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. with 1,041 deaths reported nationwide, according to the university’s data.

California’s shutdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic could very well last into the summer, as the virus has now resulted in at least 60 deaths in the state.

Gov. Gavin Newsom in a Tuesday news conference said an April lifting of the stay-at-home and social distancing measures he ordered into place last Thursday “would be sooner than any of the experts (he) talked to would believe is possible.”

Newsom suggested the dramatic social distancing measures could continue for as long as 12 more weeks, which would be mid-June.

Newsom’s comments came after President Donald Trump said he would like to see much of the United States back open for business by Easter, which this year is April 12. On Wednesday afternoon, Newsom said in another conference the state had confirmed 2,535 cases of the coronavirus.

All of this comes as the U.S., including California, face ever-increasing urgency to slow the spread of the virus, “flattening” the curve to a level hospital systems can handle.

The crisis has already forced astounding measures, with statewide stay-at-home orders requiring residents only leave home for essential reasons. The result has included entire sectors of California’s economy being effectively shut down.

Sacramento County passes 100 cases, reports 5th death

The official totals jumped to 113 infected and five dead from the coronavirus in Sacramento County, public health officials said Wednesday morning.

County officials decline to offer details about the cases, but continue to say “individuals who died from complications of COVID-19 were older than 70 and had underlying health conditions.”

The first of the four deaths in the county was an elderly female resident of an Elk Grove assisted living center. Another was a Sacramento city substitute teacher. The most recent was identified by his pastor as Don Sperling, 85, who died Saturday. Sperling, a former assistant city treasurer, attended the same church, Faith Presbyterian Church, as the school teacher.

Sacramento Fire Department employee tests positive

A member of the Sacramento Fire Department has tested positive for the coronavirus, the agency says.

The city Fire Department said in a news release that it learned Wednesday morning “that a member of our agency has tested positive” for COVID-19, but that the employee has been off duty since March 11 due to previously scheduled time off.

“The member is currently at home resting and monitoring symptoms,” the news release said. “The Sacramento Fire Department is following the recommendations set forth by the Sacramento County Public Health Department and the policies of the Sacramento County Emergency Medical Services Authority.”

No further details were released about the employee.

The announcement comes one day after the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District, which serves most of Sacramento County outside Sacramento city limits, disclosed its first confirmed case of COVID-19 in a first responder.

California death toll now at 60

Sacramento matches San Mateo for the fourth-highest death toll among California counties, each with five of 60 confirmed deaths across the state, according to a Bee survey of data released by county public health departments as of Wednesday morning.

Santa Clara County has reported 16 fatalities, Los Angeles County has confirmed 11 deaths and Riverside County officials say six have died so far.

Following Sacramento and San Mateo are San Joaquin County, which disclosed its third death late Wednesday morning, and San Diego and Alameda counties at two each. Contra Costa, Orange, Placer, San Benito, San Bernadino, San Francisco, Monterey, Sonoma, Ventura, Yolo and Orange counties had each reported a single death as of midday Wednesday.

UC Davis Med Center staff infected with coronavirus

Employees of UC Davis Medical Center, the research hospital in Sacramento in which the nation’s first known case of community-transmitted coronavirus was treated, were told earlier this week that some staff members have tested positive for COVID-19 and “many” more infections are expected.

In an internal email obtained by The Sacramento Bee, David Lubarsky, CEO of UC Davis Health, alerted hospital employees that some of their colleagues had been infected.

“Last week, we had the first of what will be many members of our UC Davis Health family who test positive for COVID-19,” he wrote. “That person, and a few others we’ve learned about since Friday, have all been very likely community-acquired infections, from family members or others living in close quarters to them.”

One Medical Center employee, a 48-year-old emergency room nurse, told The Bee she received a positive coronavirus test result Monday.

Lubarsky said in his memo the infected staff members “very likely” caught the virus outside the hospital. But the nurse, who asked not to be identified, said she believes she caught it March 15 from a patient brought to the ER from a skilled nursing facility.

Lubarsky did not say how many staff members contracted the coronavirus, but he said the recent tests were cases detected as “backlogged test results” began to come in, and that “literally dozens” of UC Davis Medical Center team members “will have to call in sick.”

In early March, the hospital said 89 employees, who were placed on in-home isolation precautions after coming in contact with a Solano County woman believed to be the first U.S. case of community spread, were “doing well and will be returning to work.” All tested negative for the virus.

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What to know as coronavirus testing arrives in Sacramento

Private, drive-up testing for COVID-19 came to Sacramento earlier this week and is now up and running, but not just anyone can go and get a test.

The free program, an initiative called Project Baseline operated by Google’s sister company Verily, expanded to Sacramento with a soft launch Tuesday.

Verily began conducting tests at a site at Cal Expo in Sacramento, but testing remains appointment-only. Verily uses a website to screen patients, asking interested people to fill out a questionnaire to see if they qualify for the in-person test.

On Tuesday, signs for the testing “admission station” could be seen posted at the fairgrounds, with one worker holding a sign that said “Please roll up your window.” During a drive-through test, drivers and passengers typically remain seated in the car as a healthcare provider take a sample from up the patient’s nose or throat.

The testing service, which will be operated by county agencies, is not intended for people with severe coronavirus symptoms but is an effort to ease the burden on hospitals and government labs by testing adult residents with milder symptoms.

A Bee review of the questionnaire found Verily is still restricting tests because of capacity issues to those who are part of high-priority groups, such as being a healthcare worker, being over the age of 60 or having existing health conditions.

People pull their vehicles up to a checkpoint with signage for testing at CalExpo on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Sacramento.
People pull their vehicles up to a checkpoint with signage for testing at CalExpo on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Sacramento.

Park playground equipment is now off-limits

No more jungle gyms.

Playground equipment at Sacramento county and city parks are now off-limits to children and their families, officials say. The fear is that playgrounds have frequently touched surfaces and could bring children dangerously close to each other, leading to more COVID-19 infections.

Seven parks in the Sacramento County parks system have had their playgrounds cordoned off with caution tape, county spokesman Ken Casparis told The Bee on Tuesday.

“Many people use these playgrounds and they have so many high-touch areas that we wouldn’t be able to keep cleaning them and make them safe,” Casparis said. “So, we we just had to close it down.”

A sign has been posted advising visitors that the playground at Seely Park was closed on Tuesday March 24, 2020, to slow the coronavirus spread. The park on Pope Avenue in Arden Arcade in Sacramento, California is part of the Fulton-El Camino Recreation & Park District.
A sign has been posted advising visitors that the playground at Seely Park was closed on Tuesday March 24, 2020, to slow the coronavirus spread. The park on Pope Avenue in Arden Arcade in Sacramento, California is part of the Fulton-El Camino Recreation & Park District.

Schools, students and parents adjust to online learning

K-12 parents in the Sacramento area described frustration about the timeframes in which schools are distributing work.

Struggles and delays come amid a huge transition period, as teachers need hours of training on using platforms such as Zoom or Google Clasroom to teach online.

The Elk Grove Unified School District announced on Monday it will finish the remainder of the school year online. The district, the largest in Northern California, made its announcement to close its schools a week before other Sacramento-area school districts after discovering that a parent of a student was ordered into quarantine.

Beginning Wednesday, teachers will receive training on how to use Synergy, Zoom, Google Apps for Education, Microsoft and Edgenuity to create a new curriculum, according to the announcement.

High school and middle school students will pick up online instruction April 16, and elementary-aged students will begin April 20, more than a month after schools closed.

Schools in Folsom Cordova Unified and San Juan Unified began distributing Chromebooks to students this week in preparation for online learning, also referred to as “distance” learning.

Within the Sacramento City Unified School District system, C.K. McClatchy High School parent JeVonne Howard said some of her daughter’s teachers have been communicating online since schools have closed, but not all of them.

“I reached out to each of my daughter’s teachers last week,” Howard told The Bee. “Three of the six responded. Only two gave assignments or a plan.”

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First US coronavirus child death reported, then walked back

California health officials on Tuesday announced the state’s first death involving a coronavirus patient under the age of 18, which was also believed to be the first COVID-19 child death in the United States.

Authorities said the child was from Lancaster, in northern Los Angeles County. The death was among four new coronavirus fatalities initially announced Tuesday by health officials for a total of 11 in the county.

But then, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued a statement later Tuesday evening saying the juvenile fatality will require further evaluation by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to confirm that the death was the result of COVID-19 and not something else. The county statement called the patient’s case “complex” but said patient privacy rules prevent the release of further details to the public.

As of Wednesday morning, the county website still showed 11 COVID-19 deaths.

The minor’s exact age was not released by health officials, but Newsom said in Tuesday’s news conference that the victim was a teenager.

Latest numbers: COVID-19 totals near half-million worldwide

Italy has approached 75,000 infections and the United States has passed 61,000 as the worldwide count of confirmed cases totaled more than 450,000 midday Wednesday, according to data tracked by Johns Hopkins University. China, where growth exploded in the Hubei province but has since slowed considerably, stands at under 82,000 cases and almost 3,300 deaths.

Johns Hopkins also reports that Switzerland (at about 11,000 confirmed cases), France (23,000), Iran (27,000), Germany (37,000) and Spain (48,000) are also at five-digit infection totals. More than 1,000 people have died in Italy (7,500 dead), Spain (3,434), China (3,285), Iran (2,077) and France (1,100) as of noon Pacific Time, according to Johns Hopkins.

The exponential growth trend seems all but certain to push that global total beyond 500,000 before the end of the week.

In the United States, just shy of 850 people have died of the coronavirus, with more than 280 of those deaths in New York state, where 30,800 infections have been reported thus far. Washington state has 125 fatalities among about 2,500 confirmed cases, according to Johns Hopkins.

California had almost 2,700 cases and at least 59 confirmed deaths as of midday Wednesday, according to The Bee’s survey of county health departments’ numbers.

Reminder: What is COVID-19? How is the coronavirus spread?

Coronavirus is spread through contact between people within six 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, Sawsan Morrar, Jason Pohl, Ryan Sabalow and Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks; and McClatchy reporter Maddie Capron contributed to this report.

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