Coronavirus cell

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 death of an unvaccinated Tuolumne County man in his 40s to COVID-19 was confirmed Wednesday afternoon as local sports games were being postponed and some businesses forced to temporarily shut down amid a new surge of infections.

No other information about the man’s death was disclosed by the county Public Health Department, including when and where he died. He was the 150th county resident killed by the virus since the pandemic began nearly two years ago.

There were also 58 new cases of COVID-19 in the county confirmed on Wednesday, which included 33 involving unvaccinated people and three inmates at the Sierra Conservation Center state prison outside Jamestown. 

The county had 240 active cases as of Wednesday afternoon, which included nine people hospitalized for the potentially deadly disease. Seven of the patients were reportedly unvaccinated.

In addition, the county’s daily case rate continued rising on Wednesday to 51.6 per 100,000 residents averaged over the previous two weeks. That was up from 46.4 per 100,000 on Monday and 18.8 per 100,000 two weeks earlier on Dec. 22.

Dr. Eric Sergienko, the county’s interim health officer, told the county Board of Supervisors at a public meeting on Tuesday during a monthly presentation on the status of the pandemic that the recent trends suggest the highly contagious new omicron variant has made its way to the county, though no cases have been officially confirmed yet as that can take weeks from the time a person tests positive.

Sergienko said what the county is seeing in terms of increasing numbers was similar to what has been seen in other parts of the United States and world where the omicron variant was known to be present.

The continued concern, as it has been since the start of the pandemic, is how the rise in cases will impact the local medical system through hospitalizations.

While the omicron variant has appeared to cause milder illness than previous strains, Sergienko said data from South Africa where the omicron variant first emerged shows that the peak of hospitalizations there was close to what it was during an earlier surge caused by the delta variant.

Sergienko said he expected the omicron variant to peak in Tuolumne County within the next week or two.

The county Public Health Department was reminding people the agency’s pandemic response team is continuing to do case investigations and contact tracing.

“Due to the large increase in cases that we are experiencing, we will not reach everyone,” the agency said Tuesday. “If you receive a positive test result, you will likely receive a text or email from a ‘Virtual Agent’ to make contact and provide some information on what to do next. You can help slow the spread of COVID-19 by responding to texts, calls, or emails, and self-isolating when you have symptoms or a positive test result.”

It’s also crucial to notify any close contacts from two days before you became ill or got tested, the department said. Any close contacts should follow current quarantine guidance and get tested three to five days after exposure.

“If you are at high risk of severe disease or hospitalization, you can contact your doctor to discuss potential treatment options,” the department said. “If you are not symptomatic, have not tested positive for COVID-19 recently, and are not in quarantine, get vaccinated or boosted.”

The California Department of Public Health issued updated isolation and quarantine guidelines for the public and for healthcare personnel over the past weekend. The updated Tuolumne County local health order for isolation and quarantine can be viewed at https://bit.ly/3FVT0gz online.

Cal/OSHA Emergency Temporary Standards are still in effect in the workplace, Tuolumne County Public Health said Tuesday.

Some businesses in the county have been forced to temporarily shutter because so many employees have tested positive amid the latest wave of illness.

Rush Creek Lodge, located near the entrance to Yosemite National Park on Highway 120, said on its website that it planned to be closed from Jan. 1 through 11 for the safety of guests after a number of cases among employees were identified through ongoing staff testing.

“We are so sorry that Covid has once again impacted our world and your world,” the lodge’s website said.

Badger Pass Ski Area in Yosemite announced on Tuesday that downhill operations for skiing and snowboarding will be temporarily closed until Sunday “due to impacts of COVID-19,” though other parts of the operation would remain open.

“The safety of our team members and park visitors is our highest priority and we thank you in advance for understanding,” a message on the ski area’s Facebook page said.

The undefeated Columbia College men’s basketball team have also had two games postponed this week, one that was scheduled to take place Wednesday against Fresno City College and another on Saturday against Porterville College at home.

New dates for the games had yet to be announced as of Wednesday, with the next one scheduled to take place on Jan. 12 against Reedley College in Reedley.

No high school sports teams had announced any postponements of upcoming games as of Wednesday afternoon, though the California Interscholastic Federation recently voted to allow winter sports teams to play games on Sunday due to a number of cancellations in other parts of the state.

New community cases in the county reported on Wednesday were identified as four girls and one boy under age 12; three girls and five boys between 12 and 17; five women and six men between 18 and 29; five women and two men in their 30s; two women and four men in their 40s; six women and two men in their 50s; one woman and five men in their 60s; two women in their 70s; and two men in their 80s.

Also Wednesday, the Calaveras County Public Health Division added 31 new cases of COVID-19. Calaveras County’s coronavirus death toll was at 94, with its two most recent deaths counted Dec. 29. Its public health division does not publicly disclose vaccination status of new cases or deaths.

Testing

When you should get tested: Five days after travel or close contact with others outside your household; as soon as possible if experiencing symptoms; and/or every 14 to 28 days if regularly working with the public.

Testing is available from:

• Local health care providers;

• Adventist Health Sonora, call first: (209) 536-5166;

• Rite Aid at 855 Mono Way, Sonora: www.riteaid.com/pharmacy/services/covid-19-testing

• Mother Lode Fairgrounds, 220 Southgate Drive, Sonora  — 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. seven days a week. Appointments are recommended and can be scheduled at www.lhi.care/covidtesting or by calling (888) 634-1123.

Vaccinations

• Book vaccine appointments at https://myturn.ca.gov or call (833) 422-4255.

• Homebound residents in Tuolumne County can contact health@tuolumnecounty.ca.gov or (209) 533-7440 for a mobile vaccination appointment. They or their caretakers can also go to https://myturn.ca.gov and select “homebound.”

• CVS and Rite Aid stores in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties: sign up at https://www.cvs.com/immunizations/covid-19-vaccine or www.riteaid.com/pharmacy/covid-qualifier

• Adventist Health Sonora: find more information at www.adventisthealthsonora.org/covidvaccine or call (209) 536-5165.

• Safeway pharmacy: register at mhealthsystem.com/3127tuolumne or call (209) 533-7812.

• Save Mart pharmacy: register at https://savemartluckysched.rxtouch.com/smsched/program/covid19/Patient/Advisory or call (209) 536-1118 for Sonora store.

• Twain Harte Pharmacy: call (209) 586-3225 for information and appointments.

• Groveland Pharmacy: call (209) 962-5211 for information and appointments.

• Information on VA Clinic vaccinations: https://www.va.gov/health-care/covid-19-vac