Nearly 348,000 Californians infected; public schools close for fall

Public school campuses in Sacramento County will not reopen when classes begin for the new school year, officials announced Wednesday, the latest widespread closure meant to curtail the rapid surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

The move, which affects some of the largest school districts in California and leaves tens of thousands of families and teachers scrambling to plan for longterm distance-learning programs, comes as coronavirus cases have accelerated locally and statewide.

The coronavirus has infected nearly 348,000 Californians, with the state seeing its second-highest increase of cases in a single day Tuesday, according to public health data.

The virus has infected roughly 1 in 113 Californians, about 7,200 of whom have died.

Over the last week as of Tuesday, about 7.3 percent of all coronavirus tests came back positive. That rolling average is close to the state’s self-imposed benchmark of keeping the positivity rate at 8 percent or less before reopening the economy.

And a growing number of Californians are requiring hospitalization, or in some cases intensive care, which has alarmed state and local health officials in recent days.

About 6,800 Californians infected with the virus are in hospital beds, based on state data reported Wednesday. About 28 percent of hospitalized patients are in intensive care.

Widespread closures statewide — including all indoor business at restaurants, wineries, theaters, zoos, museums, card rooms, bars and family entertainment centers — announced by California Gov. Gavin Newsom this week remain in effect.

In addition, shopping malls, gyms, indoor church worship, nail salons and barber shops are also shut down for indoor activity in 32 counties representing about 80 percent of Californians, including Sacramento, Placer, Yolo, Sutter and Yuba counties. Those 32 counties have been on the state’s monitoring list for troubling coronavirus trends for three or more days.

Sacramento County public schools won’t reopen this fall

The Sacramento County Office of Education, which oversees districts serving more than 250,000 students from kindergarten through high school, announced Wednesday its 13 districts will continue distance learning programs they implemented in the spring.

“Conditions are not safe enough for students, staff and families to allow school to open up in person at this time,” said Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools Dave Gordon.

The decision affects the following districts: Elk Grove Unified, Folsom Cordova Unified, Sacramento City Unified, Twin Rivers Unified, Natomas Unified, San Juan Unified, Arcohe Union, Center Joint Unified, Elverta Joint, River Delta Unified, Robla and Galt Joint Union elementary and high school districts.

Sacramento County health chief Dr. Peter Beilenson and county health officials, who have been in close, daily consultation with school officials, say they believe the schools’ decision is the right one given the recent surge in coronavirus cases.

“It is a reasonable decision given the large increase in cases we’ve experienced, particularly among young people under 49, the kids and their parent’s ages,” Beilenson said. “We laid out the story for them of what was going on in the county now.”

City of Galt growing COVID-19 hotspot

A sharp increase in coronavirus cases has emerged in recent weeks within the agricultural city of Galt in Sacramento County, but finding targeted solutions to tackle the surge is proving challenging for local and county officials.

Galt’s per capita infection rate is higher than any other city or unincorporated area of Sacramento County, excluding the tiny Delta city of Isleton, where 15 cases have been reported.

City officials aren’t certain why the spread of the coronavirus has become particularly bad in Galt.

The increase started to pick up as many businesses began reopening across the region in June, in line with trends statewide, and some residents may be getting sick from interactions with people and businesses in nearby Lodi and the greater San Joaquin County area, which has seen “nothing short of an explosion in COVID-19 cases.”

Sacramento County public health officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye said the county simply doesn’t have enough health department staffers to offer more detailed statistical, demographic and anecdotal information to most cities. Contact tracers report family gatherings are a leading cause of infections in Galt, as well as the region.

“We are definitely getting an outpouring of requests for data and there is no way we can meet all requests given the constraints, and given our priority is doing the contact tracing and contacting people,” Kasirye said.

California to begin publishing COVID-19 data on jails

California’s jail oversight board on Wednesday said it would collect and publish data about COVID-19 cases in county facilities, a response to months of public criticism and an apparently faltering effort to get similar information from the state’s health department.

The Board of State and Community Corrections in a letter to sheriffs asks them to provide data about COVID-19 deaths as well as positive cases among employees and inmates.

Jails and prisons in California and across the country are home to the most significant COVID-19 outbreaks. They account for nine of the 10 highest case counts, according to The New York Times. An outbreak at San Quentin State Prison has infected more than 2,000 people in custody. Jails in Fresno and Monterey counties have seen an explosion in cases in recent days.

A 64-year-old inmate at San Quentin State Prison, sentenced to death row for murder in Sacramento County, died from what appeared to be complications related to COVID-19, state officials announced Wednesday. Eleven people at the prison have died thus far.

While the state provides detailed data about COVID-19 in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and prisons, there has yet to be a comprehensive accounting of its spread in local jails.

“We are alarmed by the BSCC’s statement that cases are being significantly underreported,” said Brian Goldstein, director of policy and development with the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice. “Now California must act quickly to track the scope of COVID-19 infections, to inspect these facilities and protect those inside.”

UC Health system sprints toward treatment breakthrough

The University of California Health has gathered information on all COVID-19 patients treated at its five academic health systems into one secure database UC researchers can study to quickly advance new theories and potential treatments.

The database contains more than 460 million pieces of information, all stripped of details that could identify a single patient, as federal law requires. Researchers will be able to see things such as medication orders, blood sugar and other test results, admission details, discharge details, COVID test results, vital signs, race, ethnicity, and sex of the patients.

“Having access to this diverse data set that is already integrated may contain insights into COVID-19 that they (UC researchers) may not find elsewhere, and can make their work more efficient,” said Dr. Atul Butte, chief data scientist for University of California Health. “This type of dataset may provide a window into patterns they might not have otherwise been able to identify.”

COVID-19 pandemic tanks transportation sales tax effort

Sacramento County leaders on Wednesday dropped their plans to put a half-cent transportation sales tax measure on the November ballot after recent polling showed the measure was unlikely to pass.

Measure A, which would have raised about $8 billion over 40 years for road and transit improvements, appears to have been supported by about 62 percent of potential voters, but would have needed two-thirds majority approval to pass.

The Sacramento Transportation Authority board, made up of county supervisors and council representatives from cities, voted 13-0 to shut down its effort to offer the transportation package to voters.

Officials cited the economic and social shock of the coronavirus pandemic and the upheaval of recent police protests, saying that the voting public had become less in the mood to agree to increase the sales tax.

“We understand the public sentiment at this time given the pandemic and social unrest, people are focused on other things,” said STA board chairman Darren Suen, a member of the Elk Grove City Council.

‘Vast majority’ of Sacramento State classes staying virtual in fall

A “vast majority” of classes at Sacramento State will remain online-only due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, according to the recently approved campus reopening plan for the fall semester.

University President Robert Nelsen in a Wednesday letter wrote that a “very limited number of students and faculty” will head back to campus this fall, and that the fate of athletics “unfortunately, remains undefined” as the campus awaits further guidance from the state.

The academic plan will “significantly reduce the number of faculty, staff, and students on campus during Fall 2020” but will include limited exceptions for certain instruction that can only be done in-person, the document says.

That includes nursing students, who must proceed with some amount of face-to-face instruction for accreditation purposes, Nelsen wrote.

Latest Sacramento-area numbers: 140 dead, 9,400 infected

The six-county region of Sacramento, El Dorado, Placer, Yolo, Sutter and Yuba has reported 9,412 people infected by the coronavirus as of Thursday morning. The virus has killed a total of 140 in the region.

Sacramento County reports 6,174 confirmed coronavirus infections since the pandemic started, of which 92 people have died, according to the county’s data dashboard updated Wednesday morning. The county reported 236 new cases of the virus Wednesday.

There are now 169 COVID-19 patients in Sacramento County hospital beds, seven fewer compared to the previous day. But hospitalization rates have steadily increased in the county since the end of June. Currently, 56 patients are in intensive care units.

The city of Sacramento, which accounts for about one-third of the county’s roughly 1.5 million residents, has now surpassed 3,880 cases and has had 50 residents die.

Placer County reported 16 new cases Wednesday afternoon, bringing the total number of infections there to 1,167. One more person has been hospitalized from the virus, with 46 residents now in hospital beds and 11 in intensive care. Eleven people have died of COVID-19 in Placer County thus far. The vast majority of cases, about 80 percent, have originated from the south Placer area including Roseville, Rocklin and Lincoln.

Yolo County on Wednesday evening reported 24 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death due to the respiratory disease. The county has reported a total of 1,023 cases and 30 deaths. The county on Tuesday reported 33 new cases and one death. About one in ten infections have been linked to outbreaks at long-term care facilities. Stollwood Convalescent Hospital’s outbreak, which was first reported in April, has accounted for 17 deaths.

El Dorado County on Wednesday afternoon reported 13 new COVID-19, the same number of new cases it reported Tuesday. The county has reported a total of 363 COVID-19 cases. Of those, 161 remain active cases, with two individuals hospitalized, both in intensive care. The number of hospitalized residents decreased by one as of Monday. The county is still reporting no confirmed COVID-19 deaths, but has seen case totals climb faster in the past few weeks. Nearly half of the county’s cases have been reported in the Lake Tahoe region.

North of the four-county capital region, Sutter County reported 11 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday night, for a total of 454 confirmed infections. Of those, 12 are in the hospital. The county has a total of four fatalities, but no new deaths were reported Wednesday.

Yuba County reported 12 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday night for a total of 231 cases. Of those, five are in the hospital. Three have died in the county thus far, but no new deaths reported Wednesday. The county reported a death from COVID-19 on Saturday; the first of the pandemic came in early April.

In the Yuba-Sutter area, about a third of the patients testing positive showed no symptoms of the virus, based on local public health data reported.

World numbers: Death toll over 584,000, more than 13.5 million infected

Nearly 13.6 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 worldwide and nearly 585,000 have died as of Thursday morning, according to data maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

About one-quarter of each — about 3.5 million infections and over 137,000 deaths — have come in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins.

After the U.S., the coronavirus has hit hardest in Brazil, where 1.9 million have tested positive and more than 75,000 have died.

Next by death toll are the United Kingdom at more than 45,000, Mexico at nearly 37,000, Italy at nearly 35,000, France at just over 30,000 and Spain at more than 28,000, 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 Sacramento Bee’s Rosalio Ahumada, Cathie Anderson, Tony Bizjak, Michael Finch II, Michael McGough, Sawsan Morrar and Jason Pohl contributed to this story.

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