Coronavirus roundup: Southern Marin has most cases; schools close for academic year; county prepares
APRIL 13 — Southern Marin has the most coronavirus infections in the county, the county’s public-health officials are preparing for a “significant hospital surge” in the next two to six weeks and public schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year as the number of Marin coronavirus cases topped 150 and deaths hit double digits.
Meanwhile, the leading model tracking the pandemic’s trajectory last week revised down its projections for hospital usage and deaths, saying the nationwide peak is potentially behind us, which suggests physical-distancing practices are working better than expected.
Marin: 164 confirmed cases, 10 deaths, per the Marin Department of Health and Human Services as of 2 p.m. April 11. Up from 141 cases, seven death the previous week.
California: 21,794 confirmed cases, 651 deaths, per the California Department of Public Health as of 4 p.m. April 12. Up from 14,336 cases, 343 deaths the previous week.
U.S.: 554,849 cases, 21,942 deaths, per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of 4 p.m. April 12. Up from 330,891 cases and 8,910 deaths the previous week.
World: 1,773,084 cases and 111,652 deaths, per the World Health Organization as of 1 a.m. April 13. Up from 1,210,956 cases and 67,594 deaths the previous week.
County breaks down cases by region
Marin public health officials on April 10 announced they had enough data to break down confirmed COVID-19 cases by geographic region.
At press time April 13, Southern Marin — which includes Tiburon, Belvedere and Strawberry, as well as Sausalito and Mill Valley — had 41 cases. Greater San Rafael, including surrounding unincorporated areas like Terra Linda, had 40 cases; Central Marin had 37 cases; Novato had 30 cases; San Anselmo-Fairfax had 13 cases; and West Marin had “less than 10 cases,” or the remaining three.
County officials have previously said they couldn’t ethically release regional data until they had enough cases “to safely convey this information without disclosing protected (patient) information,” while doing so too early could also create a false sense of security that the virus is only prevalent in certain communities.
Marin prepares for surge
Marin officials announced last week that in working with local hospitals, the county has been able to expand its total number of beds by roughly two-thirds — to 400 from 239 — to accommodate COVID-19 patients who require hospitalization.
As of The Ark’s press time, just 28 patients have required hospitalization; 24 of those were older than 50, and all 10 Marin residents who have died have been older than 65.
“We’re obviously caught up in this pandemic, but we’re not seeing the surges that we expected before we made the decision to radically change together, to shelter in place,” Marin Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis said in a video message April 7. “Local hospitals are not overrun, and we’ve had time to prepare.”
In addition to increasing bed capacity, officials say they are limiting visitations, postponing elective surgeries and routine appointments, providing off-site places for patients not requiring hospital-level care to self-isolate and have set up a donation site for personal protective equipment at coronavirus.marinhhs.org/donation-options.
Of all 164 reported cases, 103 patients — or roughly two-thirds — are older than 50. Some 35 patients are 35-49, 20 patients are ages 19-34, and six patients are 18 or younger.
Marin public schools close
The Marin County Office of Education announced April 7 that public schools will remain closed for the remainder of the academic year after Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond suggested it was unlikely that students would be able to return before June.
California has not formally closed schools, but they’re affected by the indefinite statewide shelter-in-place order. California is among 17 states that have formally or effectively closed schools statewide for the rest of the academic year.
The local districts have remained a step ahead of formal shut-down directives, initially announcing March 13, ahead of the Bay Area and state shelter orders, that they would close through March 30. That was later extended to May 1, a few days before the Bay Area shelter order was extended to May 3.
“We are committed to providing thoughtful and meaningful instruction to students while they are learning at home, and to modify and evolve our continuity of learning plans,” Reed Union School District Superintendent Nancy Lynch said in announcing the extended closure. “I know this is not the news we had all hoped for, however we are prepared to move forward.”
Tara Taupier, superintendent for the Tamalpais Union High School District, which includes Redwood and Tamalpais high schools, said the district will find a way to celebrate graduating seniors in June.
“While this news is not unexpected, given the serious measures required to minimize the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, I want to acknowledge that it represents a significant disappointment to students, staff and parents/guardians,” she said. “I know this is not the end of the school year we had hoped for, especially for our 12th-grade students who will be beginning new chapters in their lives in the fall. In the coming weeks, we hope to know more about options for graduation ceremonies.”
Taupier also noted that counselors and Wellness Center staff are also available to students for their social and emotional needs.
Hotels, vacation rentals ordered to shut down
The county on April 9 issued a directive that all short-term rental operators — from hotels and bed and breakfasts to time shares and vacation rentals — must cease all operations through May 3 that don’t directly assist with combating the spread of the coronavirus.
Marin officials say they’re still seeing visitors and vacationers from outside the county, which is considered non-essential travel under both the regional and statewide shelter orders.
Exceptions to the order include lodging for the homeless; for those who need to isolate outside the home; for those who have sick house mates quarantining at home; for supporting essential workers, such as travel nurses; or for those facing displacement due to other habitability issues at their own homes.
Airbnb-style short-term home rentals are already banned in Tiburon and Belvedere, while Tiburon’s two hotels, The Lodge at Tiburon and Waters Edge Hotel, were ordered to comply effective 11:59 p.m. April 9.
“The Lodge at Tiburon intends to remain open, as we are currently providing lodging for local residents, which complies with the guidelines outlined in the county order,” Ralph V. Izzi Jr., vice president for public affairs for Lodge operator TPG Resorts & Hotels, said in an email interview. “During this time, hotel staff and guests are following CDC guidelines concerning social distancing and other best practices regarding sanitization. Additionally, The Lodge at Tiburon has registered with the state’s emergency-management office should the state require lodging options for medical personnel and/or governmental authorities like the National Guard.”
For the Waters Edge, however, the order was moot.
Manager Justin Flake of the Marin Hotels group, which operates Waters Edge, said in an email interview that while several employees are staying at the hotel, it stopped accepting guests several weeks ago.
“It broke our hearts to do so, but we furloughed 95 percent of the staff the week the first shelter-in-place order went into effect,” he said. “As with many hotels right now, we are working with lenders, landlords and creditors on forgiveness or delayed payments as we try to navigate our way through this incredibly stressful time.”
He said he has not been asked to use Waters Edge as a shelter but that he likely wouldn’t be able to even if the request came in because of personal protective equipment shortages and availability.
“We would be very concerned about putting our staff in a situation where they would likely be exposed to COVID-19,” he said.
Data shows big drop in traffic
Car traffic in and out of Tiburon has seen a significant drop since the shelter-in-place order went into effect, according to figures provided Tiburon Police Chief Mike Cronin, though visitors, workers and the joint community’s 11,000 residents — which includes children — are still making some 10,000 vehicle trips per day.
With many Tiburon and Belvedere residents and parents working from home, and children participating in distance learning amid school closures, some 13,927 vehicles traveled to and from the peninsula on the first full day of the Bay Area’s shelter order March 17, according to data captured by the department’s license-plate-reading cameras on Tiburon Boulevard and Paradise Drive.
That compares with 27,209 vehicles on March 19 of last year.
By the third week of the order — after the regional shelter directive was extended to May 3 and after parking lots with access to parks, open spaces and trails were closed countywide — car travel dropped to 9,421 vehicles on April 7.
County cracking down on parking
Despite those parking-lot closures, the Marin Sheriff’s Office said April 9 the county continues to see visitors traveling to the county for non-essential reasons, specifically “visitors not practicing (physical) distancing and crowding our trails, parks and neighborhoods, which puts the health and safety of our county at risk.”
The Sheriff’s Office said it has issued thousands of warning citations, but it will now begin issuing $100 tickets in no-parking zones in the county’s unincorporated areas, particularly in areas where parks and open space are accessed.
This includes Strawberry and parts of Tiburon.
Tiburon had already begun issuing tickets to non-residents who park in residential areas and then walk to open spaces, such as Blackie’s Pasture. Police issued about 20 tickets during the first week of enforcement.
Health official details his ordeal
Willis’ 4½-minute video update on YouTube April 7 primarily focused on detailing his experience fighting COVID-19. Willis announced March 24 that he was Marin’s 39th case.
In the video, Willis said he was finally able to come out of isolation 16 days after being diagnosed, his fourth day without fever.
“At the time I was diagnosed, I was optimistic because my symptoms were mild. I underestimated how serious my illness would be,” said Willis, 54. “I developed a viral pneumonia that landed me in bed for about 12 days of fever, cough, chest tightness and fatigue.”
He said on the 10th day he visited the hospital for shortness of breath but, after receiving clear chest X-rays, was allowed to return home.
“I’m relatively healthy, but I’ve needed help for almost everything at home,” said Willis, who is married with three children.
“What I’m most excited about now is getting to sit downstairs with my family to eat dinner,” he said. “We’re having one of the meals prepared by a friend. … If you know anyone fighting this illness at home — and if you don’t, you may soon — it goes a long way to find a meal or card on your doorstep. I hope everyone can find some amazing support as I’ve had.”
Report your symptoms daily
Marin public-health officials are promoting use of the COVID Symptom Tracker app, available on Apple and Android devices and developed by researchers at Harvard University, Massachusetts General Hospital, King’s College London and Stanford University.
The initial one-time survey takes about a minute to complete, and the daily check-in take a matter of seconds. Researchers say that residents providing daily reports of whether they’re sick or well can help locate hot spots, determine possible unknown symptoms of the disease and could potentially be used as a planning tool to target quarantines and deploy ventilators.
Popular model shows flattening
Early last week, an influential trajectory model by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine had been predicting peak national hospital usage on April 15 and peak deaths, at more than 3,100 in a single day, on April 16, with the total toll reaching nearly 100,000 Americans by August.
But by April 8, the daily-updated model suggested the national peak hospital usage would occur April 11 and the peak number of single-day deaths would occur April 10, at roughly 1,980. According to the WHO, April 10’s actual figure was 1,931 but, so far, it has been the peak, with 1,920 deaths on April 11 and 1,928 on April 12, the last reported figure before The Ark’s press deadline.
The institute’s model now predicts roughly 68,850 Americans will die of COVID-19 by August. Experts with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, who frequently reference the institute’s models in their press briefings, have said they expect the death toll to range from 100,000 to 240,000.
“Our model suggests that — with social distancing maintained throughout — the end of the first wave of the epidemic could occur by early June,” institute officials said. “The question of whether there will be a second wave of the epidemic will depend on what we do to avoid reintroducing COVID-19 into the population. … An estimated 97 percent of the population will still be susceptible to the disease” until there is a vaccine.
While the national peak, driven largely by new cases and deaths in New York, may potentially be behind us, other regions and states still have not seen the worst of the disease.
In California, the institute’s model was largely unchanged: Peak hospital use was predicted for April 17, and the state was expected to have enough hospital and intensive-care-unit beds to accommodate new cases. Single-day deaths were expected to peak at 52 on April 19, with the total statewide toll hitting roughly 1,500 by August.
The state’s own disease-modeling team predicts the peak will come in mid or late May, with slowing through June.
• Nugget Markets, including the location at The Cove Shopping Center, is now requiring all patrons wear face coverings before entering their stores. The company is also supplying face coverings for all employees, and employees must get their temperatures taken at the start of their shifts. Those who have a fever are sent home with pay and cannot return until they’ve gone three days without a fever.
• Los Angeles and many of its surrounding cities have instituted mandatory face-covering rules. Workers at most essential businesses must wear masks, which businesses owners are required to provide for employees or reimburse workers, though coverings are not required to be medical grade. The general public, when in places where physical distancing isn’t practical, also must wear masks.
• Jobless Californians who qualify for unemployment insurance will see a boost in assistance this week. The $2.2 trillion federal stimulus and relief package included a $600 weekly increase in unemployment benefits for up to four months, a fixed figure on top of state benefits that, in California, range from $40 to $450 per week depending on previous income. The state processed 2.3 million new claims in the past month, more than all claims filed in 2019.
• The state has launched a new website, OnwardCA.org, to help connect displaced workers with some 100,000 job opportunities in critical industries, including health care, agriculture, logistics and groceries. The site offers access to emergency resources and to training.
• The California insurance commissioner has ordered companies to provide partial credits or refunds for premiums for March, April and potentially May for lines of insurance in which “the risk of loss has fallen substantially.” That includes private and commercial auto insurance, workers’ compensation, commercial multiperil, commercial liability and medical malpractice insurance.
Hannah Weikel contributed to this report. Kevin Hessel is The Ark’s executive editor. Reach him at 415-435-2652, on Twitter at @thearknewspaper and on Facebook at fb.me/thearknewspaper.