Pictured: Dr. Robert Levin, health officer with Ventura County Public Health at press conference in Oxnard on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2020. Screencapture from online press conference. 

by Kimberly Rivers

kimberly@vcreporter.com

As of Wednesday, Jan. 6, officials are reporting that 305 people have died in Ventura County as a result of symptoms related to COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic.

That tally follows Monday’s report that 26 families in Ventura County lost loved ones to COVID-19 between Thursday, Dec. 31 and Monday, Jan 4. That group of 26 men and women who died ranged in age from 48 to 92 years old. Five people were under 60. 

On Wednesday Dr. Robert Levin reported 1,519 new cases of coronavirus in one day in the county, and 126 people are being treated in county area hospital ICUs. Those high numbers follow Tuesday’s report of 894 new cases in one day, and six additional deaths.

Levin emphasized the value of high testing numbers, “it uncovers cases, allows us to quarantine and isolate.” The new numbers constitute a 20% positivity rate.  As of Wednesday afternoon 969 people were hospitalized across all hospitals in the county, with 421 of them hospitalized as a result of COVID.

He joined a chorus of county officials this week, all emphasizing how overtaxed hospital staff are as a result of the high hospitalization rates, and the extra care COVID-19 patients require.  

COVID BY THE NUMBERS: According to state records the Latinx community is being hit the hardest. Of the 43,747 people who have tested positive for the coronavirus in Ventura County, 55% are Latinx, 20% are white and 4% are Black.  Of the 263 deaths related to COVID-19 in the county, 47% are Latinx, 32% are white and 12% are Asian.  www.covid19.ca.gov/data-and-tools/

County joining COVIDNet genome project

On Monday, Jan. 4, Rigoberto Vargas, director of Ventura County Public Health, told the Ventura County Reporter the county has enrolled in California’s COVIDNet Sequencing Project. 

COVIDNet is the name for the network of labs, agencies and municipalities involved in the SARS-CoV-2 Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS) Initiative. The network includes the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and local public health labs, diagnostic labs, Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, Invitae Corporation, University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and the Scripps Research Institute. 

Vargas said no samples have been tested from the county yet, and he’s not sure when the testing will begin. 

Last week, following the announcement of the new strain being detected in California, a spokesperson with the CDPH confirmed via email to the VCReporter that specimens taken during the statewide PCR testing being conducted now are selected for whole genome sequencing with COVIDNet in order to identify mutations in the virus, including the “UK (B.1.1.7) variant.” 

According to the CDPH spokesperson, whole genome sequencing and analysis is conducted “on samples that are suspected of being variant strains.” Local healthcare providers have been asked to “take several steps to help collect specimens for genetic sequencing to monitor for this and other strains, including submitting specimens for sequencing from individuals with COVID-19 who meet at least one of the following criteria: recent travel to the United Kingdom or Europe,” or being exposed to someone who has travel there. Samples with a “diagnostic test with mutations indicating it could be related to the U.K. strain” will also be sequenced. The CDPH is reviewing case records for any reports of travel to the U.K. from people who have previously tested positive. 

SMALL BUSINESS GRANT APPLICATION EXTENDED: This week Gov. Newsom announced the extension of the application deadline to Jan. 13 for small business grants up to $25,000. Those interested can visit: www.CAreliefgrant.com.

Positive samples are sent to COVIDNet labs “for processing and then ultimately for whole genome sequencing by COVIDNet sequencing lab partners” to determine how the virus is mutating in the state. This information will be used to “inform public health action,” the spokesperson with CDPH said. 

“Seriousness of purpose”

On Monday, Gov. Newsom gave an update on the status of the pandemic in the state, and reported that 3,959 had died in the past 14 days. 

The virus “remains more deadly today” than at any time since the pandemic began and said the current numbers are a reminder of the “seriousness of purpose we all must have to mitigate the spread.”

He reported that the federal government, through the Department of Defense and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is providing additional personnel for the healthcare system. “Facilities are one thing, staff is <em>the</em> thing.” 

Vaccine rollout continues, slowly

The state is still working to support local jurisdictions in administering the vaccine in a process Newsom said has “gone too slowly.” 

So far the state has received 1,297,000 doses and as of Jan. 3, less than half, or 454,306 doses, have been administered. 611,500 more doses are slated to be shipped in the next week. Newsom didn’t name specific hurdles slowing the vaccine roll out, but highlighted the need to increase vaccination sites and expanding those authorized to administer the shots to include pharmacists and dentists.

California is still in the first part of the first phase of getting the vaccine out as the number of those diagnosed with the newer, more transmissible strain increased to six. Four people in San Diego, one of whom is hospitalized, and two people in San Bernardino are confirmed as having the newest identified strain. 

Newsom reported that the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC) “does believe the vaccines…will protect” against the new strains as well as the older strain. 

State COVID19 information is online at: covid19.ca.gov.

County COVID19 information, including testing schedule are online at: www.venturacountyrecovers.org.