The Union Democrat
Tuolumne County’s death toll doubles since August
Tuolumne County has doubled its total number of COVID-19 deaths in less than five months with the addition of another fatality reported on Thursday.
An unvaccinated woman in her 40s was identified by the county Public Health Department as the 146th resident to die from the virus that first emerged in Wuhan, China, two years ago.
The woman’s death brought the county’s overall toll to 146, an increase from 73 at the beginning of August, despite the widespread availability of vaccines that have proven to reduce the chances of serious illness from the disease.
Only seven of the 73 county residents
“You’ve got an effective means of preventing disease, transmission, preventing hospitalization. I get it, people are concerned about it, but recognizing the burden of the disease is greater than the risks associated with the vaccine.”
— Dr. Eric Sergienko, Tuolumne County interim health officer
who have died since Aug. 1 were fully vaccinated.
Dr. Eric Sergienko, the interim county health officer, said on Friday that the surge in COVID-19 deaths since Aug. 1 is largely due to the delta variant, though many could have been avoided if the people were vaccinated.
“Let’s label those vaccine-preventable diseases, because we had the vaccines available to us,” he said. “The vast majority of those people that died were unvaccinated, so it speaks to the value of the vaccines. And it really is from the delta wave.”
From the beginning of the pandemic, epidemiologists have said battling coronavirus is not just about eliminating the disease altogether — it’s about flattening the curve through preventative measures to ease strain on local health care systems, Sergienko said.
“If your health care system is out of surge, the doctors can focus more attention on an individual, rather than try to manage a whole overflowing emergency department, ICU, or step-down unit,” he said. “You can have the right number of care providers to ensure an individual is getting optimal care.”
The delta variant wave is now an example of what county residents should hope to avoid repeating as the omicron variant spreads, Sergienko said.
“When you see that number of cases happening so rapidly as we did with delta, you’ve got doctors, nurses, technicians taking care of more than they should be, and that leads to mortality that could have been avoided,” he explained. “That’s my concern with omicron. If we have that kind of explosive growth that we’re seeing in South Africa, our system will get strained again, and then people will get sub-optimal care. And it’s not just people who have COVID, it’s people who have heart attacks and car crashes.”
Sergienko said getting vaccinated is still the obvious way to protect yourself and your loved ones from COVID-19. The county’s deaths since Aug. 1 underscore that, he added.
“If those people had been vaccinated they may have avoided hospitalization, they may have avoided death,” he said. “Again, the vast majority who have died since vaccines have been available have been the unvaccinated. I can safely say that those folks were likely surrounded by people who were unvaccinated, living in bubbles of unvaccinated people living together.”
Sergienko noted that health care professionals are accustomed to dealing with statistics and numbers, empirical research and fact-based proofs, so it can be difficult to comprehend when a significant portion of a community or given population wilfully rejects science and science-based answers to potentially fatal disease.
“It’s the frustrating thing,” he said. “You’ve got an effective means of preventing disease, transmission, preventing hospitalization. I get it, people are concerned about it, but recognizing the burden of the disease is greater than the risks associated with the vaccine.
“It’s difficult to understand why folks aren’t doing it. As always, we’ll continue recommending people get vaccinated and addressing misinformation and disinformation that’s out there.”
The county continues to have a larger percentage of unvaccinated residents than both the state of California and nation as a whole.
Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed on Thursday that about 56% of the county was fully vaccinated, compared with 64.4% of the state and 60.5% of the U.S.
Earlier this year in May is considered to be the point when vaccines became widely available to the general population, both in the county and throughout the United States.
The county’s first two deaths from the coronavirus were both reported together on July 27, 2020, with the third not coming until Sept. 8 of that year.
A fifth death reported on Oct. 28, 2020, served as the start of a nearly four-month winter surge that led to the deaths of 54 more county residents between then and Feb. 22.
An additional 19 county residents died from Feb. 23 to when the 74th death was reported on Aug. 11, which marked the beginning of another surge driven by the highly contagious delta variant that doctors say began spreading locally in mid-july.
On Thursday, the county also added 14 new cases of COVID-19 that included 13 unvaccinated people.
There were also 75 active cases and seven people in the county who were hospitalized on Thursday, six of whom were reported to be unvaccinated.
The county’s daily case rate also increased slightly on Thursday to 19.8 per 100,000 residents averaged over the previous two weeks, up from 19.4 per 100,000 on Wednesday.
New cases in the county on Thursday were identified as one boy under age 12; one girl and one boy between 12 and 17; four women between 18 and 29; two women in their 30s; three women in their 40s; one woman in her 60s; and one man in his 70s.
There have been 7,979 total confirmed cases in the county as of Thursday, which includes 1,621 that were infections among inmates at Sierra Conservation Center state prison in Jamestown.
A total of 6,137 of the county’s non-inmate cases have not resulted in death, or about 96.5%.
Calaveras County added eight new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, though its public health division does not publicly disclose vaccination status of new cases or deaths that would shed light on any potential disparities.
The death toll in Calaveras County was at 91 as of Thursday.
A total of 4,448 cases have been confirmed in Calaveras County since the pandemic began, with 4,322 — about 97% — of those not resulting in death.