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Nevada County health officials warn against COVID-19 complacency

John Orona
Special to Sierra Sun

By the numbers

As of April 14

Number of COVID-19 cases in Nevada County: 34

Number in western county: 10

Number in eastern county: 24

Number of deaths: 1

Learn more at Sierra Sun's coronavirus page.

Although Nevada County’s count of COVID-19 cases has remained steady at 34 over the last week, health officials warn complacency in adhering to social distancing and shelter-in-place warnings could become deadly.

According to County Public Health Officer Ken Cutler, the county’s low number of confirmed cases could be misleading due to limitations in testing capacity and the speed of results.

“It’s very reassuring that we’ve had relatively stable numbers, but it has to be taken in the context of we haven’t done a huge amount of testing so we don’t know exactly how many positive cases are out there in the community,” Cutler said Tuesday during a public health update to the Board of Supervisors. “Please do not let down your guard and don’t look at these numbers as an indication of the extent of transmission in our community.”

Cutler pointed out that about half of the county’s cases were confirmed between March 28 and April 2, with two confirmed since. The county has had no additional confirmed cases since April 7.

“That is an indication that all these efforts that people are making are helping,” Cutler said. “However, we know that (the virus is) very efficient and very severe for people in a closed environment like a skilled nursing facility.”

Cutler said 82% of cases were from people between the age of 18 and 64, with about an even split in gender. Of the 34 confirmed cases, 26 are no longer case managed or in isolation, with eight still working with communicable disease nurses, Public Health Director Jill Blake said.

Cutler estimated the county has conducted about 900 tests, though the public health department has not been able to track all tests since commercial labs began providing testing. The county is notified when hospitals have confirmed cases.

ISOLATION ORDERS

The lack of testing capacity and slow result time led Cutler last week to issue isolation and quarantine orders for those who have been in contact with COVID-19 patients or suspected cases.

According to Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital President Brian Evans, who gave an update on the hospital to the board, prevention measures like that have helped the hospital prepare for the possibility of a surge in cases. Evans said the hospital is limiting visitors, screening people that come in and limited elective procedures and surgeries.

While it has helped slow the spread the hospital, finances have taken a hit.

“Rural hospitals throughout the United States are having a tough time financially and many of them have closed in the last 10 years,” Evans said. “We’re not in a situation where that’s going to happen, but we do have to be prudent about our financials to make sure the hospital stays strong for generations to come.”

Evans said the hospital is now doing well with supplies after significantly increasing usage of personal protective equipment during the first phase of the pandemic.

While things are looking good now, Evans echoed concerns that, particularly with Nevada County’s demographics, its curve can change easily.

“Even though it’s heartening that we haven’t had a rapid rise on laboratory confirmed cases recently, we do know that if the COVID-19 virus gets into certain settings, like a skilled nursing facility, things can change rapidly,” Evans said.

John Orona is a reporter with The Union, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. To contact him, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.


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