It’s been 40 days since a Sonoma County resident succumbed to COVID-19, the longest period without a pandemic-related death since just before the first summer surge in 2020.
The last reported COVID-19 death in the county was Oct. 13, a woman between 85 and 95 with underlying health issues, according to county public health officials. The woman was fully vaccinated but not boosted.
“The reason why we’re 40 days out is because of our vaccination rate,” said Dr. Gary Green, an infectious disease expert at Sutter Santa Rosa Regional Hospital. “It’s not because people are being careful, because people are sort of going to restaurants without masks. I think I think the vaccination rate is the main reason for that.”
With the arrival of colder weather, indoor gatherings and holiday travel, the county is starting to see an uptick in both new COVID-19 cases and subsequent hospitalizations, but “nothing too severe yet,” Green said. The unvaccinated and elderly residents with significant health problems are currently the most likely to be hospitalized, he said.
“We’re seeing a slight uptick in hospitalizations but not in mortality because our county is pretty well vaccinated,” he said.
According to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard, nearly 85% of local residents 65 and older have received a booster shot. In the past two months, a weekly average of about 8,400 local residents in this age group have received a booster.
The county’s overall vaccination rate is 79%, with an additional 6% partially vaccinated. Sonoma County has recorded 523 pandemic deaths.
Dr. Sundari Mase, the county’s health officer, said the county’s high vaccination rate among the most vulnerable residents — those 65 and up — is in fact preventing the worst outcomes of the pandemic. But she also pointed out that current subvariants of the virus are not causing the same level of severe illness that earlier strains did.
“Even the variants that we’ve seen don’t look like they’re evading the vaccine yet, and also that they’re not more virulent strains,” she said.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, as the virus spread in the local community, it was weeks before SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 illness, began claiming lives. By late June 2020, though, pandemic deaths were occurring every few days, sometimes daily.
The deadliest period came in the winter months between December 2020 and February 2021, when the virus claimed 152 lives. But the introduction of vaccines and natural immunity began to cut into mortality.
In spring of 2021, during a period of low COVID-19 transmission, no deaths occurred for 26 days between April 22 and May 19. That was the second longest period without a pandemic fatality.
Then came the delta variant, a virulent strain of the virus that shattered cautious optimism built up during the spring and led to 81 deaths that July, August and September.
Local health experts warn that the virus has shown its ability evolve.
But the lack of recent deaths is good news and something to be thankful for as the winter months approach, Mase said.
“It’s really good news that we haven’t seen the really negative outcomes,” she said, adding that continued success depends on residents staying up to date on their vaccinations and practicing proven precautions, such as indoor masking and avoiding gatherings when sick.
You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or email@example.com. On Twitter @pressreno.