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This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. (NIAID/TNS)

The Tuolumne County Public Health Department reported 80 more new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, and 63 of them were new inmate cases at the Sierra Conservation Center state prison outside Jamestown, where an outbreak has added more than 1,000 cases to the county’s total this month.

Three COVID-positive SCC inmates were described as hospitalized. The department did not say where the individual inmates were hospitalized.

On Tuesday, the department stated a county resident had died after being released from isolation, but the cause of the individual’s death was unknown. Whether that death was due to COVID-19 remained unclear Wednesday.

Asked for more information Wednesday evening, Michelle Jachetta, the county public health director, responded, “We did not receive any information on the individual’s death. They had already completed their isolation period, so we are not reporting it as a COVID death at this time.”

The county’s epidemiology team will continue to investigate the cause of the individual’s death, Jachetta said. The deceased individual was not identified.

The county’s official COVID-19 death total remained at 21, with the most recent death reported Wednesday last week. Thirteen coronavirus deaths have been recorded in the county in December. The first eight coronavirus deaths in the county occurred between July and November.

Seventeen new community cases in the county on Wednesday included one man and one woman in their 60s; and a woman in her 70s. Since early this year in Tuolumne County, there have been 1,830 community cases of COVID-19, and 1,091 inmate cases. 

There were 120 active cases of coronavirus in the county as of Wednesday evening. Six individuals with coronavirus were hospitalized in Tuolumne County.

Anyone who spent time around people outside their individual households during the holiday should get tested five days after the last date of contact, the county Public Health Department said Monday.

Appointments at the state testing site at Mother Lode Fairgrounds can be scheduled or rescheduled at https://lhi.care/covidtesting online or by calling (888) 634-1123.

The current regional stay home order is based on intensive care unit availability in the 12-county San Joaquin Valley region, which includes Tuolumne and Calaveras counties. ICU availability for the San Joaquin Valley region remained at 0 percent as of Wednesday, and a four-week ICU projection on a California Department of Public Health map stated “Demand exceeds capacity.”

Dr. Mark Ghaly, the state Health and Human Services secretary, announced on Tuesday that the stay home order for the San Joaquin Valley region will be extended until projections from the state show ICU capacity above or equal to 15 percent. Projections will be calculated and updated daily moving forward.

“Please stay vigilant, wear a mask, wash your hands and maintain a safe social distance from others to help slow the spread and the impact to our local hospital and healthcare system,” Tuolumne County Public Health staff said.

As of Wednesday evening, the county had 2,921 total cases of coronavirus since early this year, with 1,689 individual cases described as recovered. The state has changed a process in the infectious disease reporting system CalREDIE, which may cause delays in Tuolumne County case reporting, county public health staff said earlier this month.

The first phase of vaccine distribution, focused on frontline healthcare workers and vulnerable members in long-term care settings because of their risk of exposure to COVID-19, continues this week.

As of Wednesday evening, California had counted more than 2.2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, resulting in 24,958 deaths. Nationally, the pandemic had resulted in more than 19.69 million confirmed cases and contributed to the deaths of more than 341,500 Americans.

The county Public Health Department says the Optum/LHI state test site at Mother Lode Fairgrounds is open after unexpected closures over the past week due to a staffing shortage. Appointments are recommended and are available several days in advance, at www.lhi.care/covidtesting or call (888) 634-1123.

People with concerns about new or worsening symptoms can call the Adventist Health Sonora COVID-19 Triage Line at (209) 536-5166 to speak to a nurse or other clinician.

The state Department of Public Health strongly recommends Californians stay home or stay in their region, and avoid non-essential travel. There is a travel advisory in effect for anyone arriving in the Golden State. When visitors get here, each individual visitor should voluntarily self-quarantine for 10 days after arrival.

The county COVID-19 call center is open during normal office hours. People who have questions or concerns can call (209) 533-7440 for information.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.net or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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