Coronavirus cell

June 11, 2020, Fort Detrick, Maryland, USA: Colorized scanning electron micrograph of a cell heavily infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus particles (orange/red), isolated from a patient sample. The image was captured at the NIAID Integrated Research Facility (IRF). (NIAID via ZUMA Wire/TNS)

Tuolumne County added 41 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, including 13 inmates at Sierra Conservation Center state prison near Jamestown.

The county Public Health Department announced on Tuesday that 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 Thursday.

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.

Asked about the individual’s death again Thursday evening, Jachetta responded, “We do not have any further details at this time.”

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 were counted between July and November.

Twenty-eight new community cases in Tuolumne County on Thursday included four women and three men in their 50s; two women and two men in their 60s; three women in their 70s; and two men in their 80s.

Since early this year, there have been 1,858 community cases of COVID-19, and 1,104 inmate cases counted in Tuolumne County.

There were 128 active cases of coronavirus in the county as of Thursday evening. Six individuals with coronavirus were hospitalized in Tuolumne County.

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 Thursday, 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 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 Thursday evening, Tuolumne County had 2,962 total cases of coronavirus since early this year, with 1,709 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 Thursday evening, California had counted more than 2.24 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, resulting in 25,386 deaths. Nationally, the pandemic had resulted in more than 19.9 million confirmed cases and contributed to the deaths of more than 345,000 Americans.

The COVID-19 testing site at Mother Lode Fairgrounds, set up by the state and run by Optum Serve-LHI, unexpectedly closed again Thursday for the fourth time in seven days due to reported staffing shortages.

The social media announcement came in the midst of the winter holidays, while the Tuolumne County Public Health Department is urging everyone who spends time around people outside their individual households during the holidays to get tested.

Staffing issues that have prompted four days of unplanned closures of the largest test site in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties also coincide with the pandemic’s December surge, a crucial shortage of intensive care units in the 12-county San Joaquin Valley region, and an ongoing regional stay home order.

The unplanned closures of the Mother Lode Fairgrounds testing site also come at the end of a month in which the county tallied 13 coronavirus deaths. The county’s official COVID-19 death total remained at 21 Thursday, with the most recent confirmed death reported Wednesday last week.

“It is our understanding that the site will open again as scheduled after the holiday on Saturday, January 2nd,” Tuolumne County Public Health said.

OptumServe bills itself as a federal health services business of Optum and UnitedHealth Group, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The company is a pharmacy benefit manager and care services group operating in 150 countries around the world. LHI is a subsidiary of OptumServe.

The county Public Health Department posted to social media on Thursday morning, “We have been informed that the State COVID testing site at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds is experiencing staffing issues and has had to close the site temporarily. We do not have information on when it will reopen at this time.”

People who had appointments scheduled through their patient portal should receive notifications of cancelation, Tuolumne County Public Health said.

The Mother Lode Fairgrounds is also scheduled to be closed on Friday, which is New Year's Day.

“We apologize for the inconvenience and understand that this is frustrating,” county public health staff said Thursday. “We continue to work with the site management team and the state to help resolve the challenges surrounding clinical staffing during this difficult time.”

The department advised people can check for alternative testing sites online at

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 or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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