Coronavirus cell

An colorized electron microscope photograph from Elizabeth Fischer shows viral particles being released from a dying cell infected with the coronavirus. Contact tracers reach out to people who test positive and those they've been in contact with and can help them with isolating. (Courtesy of Dr. Elizabeth Fischer/KHN/TNS)

Tuolumne County public health officials are urging people who have attended recent events and gatherings to get tested for COVID-19 amid rising local cases and hospitalizations, as well as the growing threat of the more contagious Delta variant to derail progress that has been made toward ending the pandemic.

There were 12 new cases in Tuolumne County reported from Saturday to Tuesday, as well as a death and two more new cases on Wednesday.

The person who died was a man in his 70s who had been recently hospitalized for the deadly virus. He was not vaccinated, according to Michelle Jachetta, the county public health director.

Active cases in Tuolumne County have also gone from the single digits a month ago to 22 on Wednesday, which was down from a recent high of 32 on Tuesday.

Tuolumne County’s 14-day average of new cases per day was 4.8 this week. That’s up from 0.5 on June 15, when the state lifted COVID-19 restrictions on businesses and other activities.

Three people were hospitalized for COVID-19 in Tuolumne County as of Wednesday, none of whom were vaccinated.

One of the 14 people in Tuolumne County who tested positive between Saturday and Wednesday had received their first dose of the Moderna vaccine within two weeks of becoming infected, while the rest had not received any doses.

The mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna require two doses spread out several weeks from each other to be fully effective, while the one produced by Johnson & Johnson requires only one shot and reaches full effectiveness two weeks later.

Tuolumne County’s new cases since Saturday were identified as three boys and one girl 17 or younger, a man and a woman 18 to 29 years old; two men and a woman in their 30s; two women and a man in their 50s; a man in his 60s, and a woman in her 80s.

Public health officials in Tuolumne County are strongly encouraging anyone who has attended recent large gatherings — such as the Tuolumne Lumber Jubilee, the Mother Lode Fair, as well as any concerts, barbecues, or other Fourth of July celebrations — to get tested five days after the most recent event they attended.

The county is also urging everyone to get vaccinated who hasn’t already.

“Vaccination against COVID-19 continues to be the most important step you can take to protect yourself, those around you, and our community,” the county Public Health Department said in a daily coronavirus update released about 3 p.m. Wednesday.

In a message to unvaccinated Californians this week, the state Department of Public Health reminded that COVID-19 vaccines are “safe, free, and provide excellent protection from severe COVID-19 illness, hospitalization and death.”

Out of more than 20 million vaccinated individuals in the Golden State, 584 people have contracted COVID-19 and required hospitalization. That represents .003% of the total who are vaccinated.

Tuolumne County has reported only one known, confirmed case of a fully vaccinated person testing positive for the virus out of 98 new cases since May 24, when it began to track the vaccination status of new cases.

“The data and science clearly demonstrate vaccines are highly effective at preventing serious illness and death from COVID-19, including the Delta variant,” the county Public Health Department has said.

Last week, the department reported the first three known, confirmed cases in Tuolumne County of the Delta variant that’s said to be more contagious and has become the predominant strain in California.

Jachetta said the department does not know whether any of the new cases are the Delta variant. About a third of all tests in the state go through Whole Genome Sequencing to determine the strain of the virus, and she said the results “take quite a while to get back.”

Jachetta also said she was still awaiting answers from Dr. Eric Sergienko, the county’s interim health officer, to questions from The Union Democrat regarding the Delta variant cases, including the date the cases occurred, gender and age of the people who were infected, and whether they required hospitalization or have recovered.

It’s possible the people who recently tested positive are infected with the variant “as about 35% of all tests in California have been the Delta, and it is now the predominant strain in the state,” she said. “The mRNA vaccines are still highly effective against the Delta variant, and we recommend anyone who hasn’t yet to get vaccinated.”

The department said last week that estimates show the COVID-19 mRNA vaccines produced by Pfizer and Moderna may be up to 88% effective, though recent reporting on a study from Israel said they were 64% effective at preventing infection and 94% effective at preventing severe illness, hospitalization and death.

Tuolumne County also lags behind the state as a whole in terms of the vaccination rate, with nearly 46% of residents 12 or older being fully vaccinated as of Tuesday compared with nearly 60% statewide. None of the vaccines are currently approved for use in children younger than 12.

Data from the state Department of Public Health on Tuesday showed the county had 21,202 people who were fully vaccinated out of about 46,300 who are old enough to be eligible, while there about 20.2 million statewide fully vaccinated out of about 33.9 million eligible.

“We have seen the effectiveness of the vaccines in reducing the burden of disease and we thank everyone involved in the tremendous effort to help protect our residents through the COVID vaccinations,” the Tuolumne County Public Health Department said. 

The department also urged everyone to continue washing hands frequently; wearing masks when indicated; and staying home if feeling sick, to help keep themselves, their loved ones, and the community safe and healthy.

Calaveras County reported seven new cases from Saturday through Tuesday, the latest available data as of 3 p.m. Wednesday, in addition to two previously unreported COVID-19 deaths.

Cori Allen, director of the Calaveras County Health and Human Services Agency, said they were notified about the two additional deaths late Sunday by the California Department of Public Health.

Allen said both people died sometime in June and had been “COVID-positive at some point” prior to their deaths, but she didn’t have exact dates. They were identified as a man in his 50s and woman in her 90s, but Allen said she did not know whether they had been vaccinated.

“We urge the community to continue taking all precautions including self-monitoring for symptoms and staying home when sick, wearing a face covering when unvaccinated, washing hands frequently, disinfecting shared surfaces that are frequently touched and to get vaccinated if you are ages 12 and older using one of the three vaccine options available,” she said. “Continue to be cautious of everyone you come into contact with.”

Editor's note: This is an updated version of a story that was originally posted about 8 p.m. Tuesday adding new information about recently reported cases and deaths.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.net or (209) 768-5175.

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