Though coronavirus activity in California’s capital region has continued to improve for weeks by other available metrics, and the pace of fatalities has slowed from its peak, Sacramento continues to tick past milestones in terms of death toll.

Sacramento County now confirms 450 resident deaths from COVID-19 since the pandemic started about seven months ago, health officials said in a Friday update.

That includes the city of Sacramento, which just surpassed 250 dead.

The 450 countywide fatalities are composed of 251 in the city of Sacramento, 108 in unincorporated territories, 38 in Elk Grove, 24 in Rancho Cordova, 15 in Citrus Heights, seven in Galt, six in Folsom and one victim whose place of residence within the county wasn’t reported, according to local health officials.

At least 179 Sacramento County residents died of the virus in August, which remains the worst month of the pandemic by that measure. The county has now confirmed 96 deaths for September, making it deadlier than July, when 88 died. September’s total is still growing, as cause-of-death determinations continue to be made official.

The summer death numbers are most alarming when compared to those from late spring. Only 18 COVID-19 deaths were reported countywide each of May and June.

The chronology of those deaths reflect the devastating surge of COVID-19 that lasted for most of the summer, from which the state and capital region are still recovering.

The numbers also demonstrate how quickly a surge can translate into high fatality totals. The capital city, for instance, took a little over five full months to go from 0 to 100 reported deaths, reaching that milestone in early August. In the next two months, 150 more residents have died.

Severe spikes in other closely monitored coronavirus metrics — new infections, the rate of tests returning positive and the number of patients hospitalized — started to show up in the data in the second half of June, preceding the rise in death tolls by a few weeks for both Sacramento and California as a whole.

What should Sacramento expect for October?

Data from early October remain very preliminary, but at least six county residents have died of coronavirus in its first five days, according to the local health office.

The hope, obviously, is that COVID-19 deaths will continue to decline from September to October as they did between August and September or from April to May, and that another spike or surge in viral activity will be avoided.

Toward that end, Sacramento’s metrics have been promising early this month.

The county had 108 people with lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in hospitals Oct. 1. That number dropped to 85 hospitalized as of Friday, with 29 in intensive care units each day, according to state data.

Both figures are at their lowest points since late June and compare favorably to Sept. 1, when there were 187 hospitalized and 54 in intensive care. The county’s summer peak of roughly 280 hospitalized and 90 in ICUs came in late July.

Test positivity rate — the percentage of diagnostic tests returning positive, which health experts view as a simple but meaningful measure for true spread of the virus — is the lowest it’s been in Sacramento County since mid-June, county data show. The rolling weekly average for test positivity is 2.8%, county health officials said this Tuesday. That’s down from a peak of nearly 9% in early August.

For virtually all of May and up through June 16, Sacramento County’s test positivity stayed below 2%, another correlation with those months’ low hospitalization and death figures.

Health officials at the local and state levels have cautioned for weeks that the threat of COVID-19 has not passed, and that the final three months of 2020 and beyond will bring their own unique challenges.

Among the hurdles: the switch from distance learning to in-person or hybrid models for the county’s 13 K-12 school districts, most of which haven’t finalized a transition plan; social distancing and business capacity limitations as the county continues its reopening process, having entered the state’s “red” tier in late September; colder and potentially wetter weather driving people to gather indoors; Halloween, Thanksgiving and a slew of December holidays including Christmas and Hanukkah tempting friends and family members to gather; in-person voting for the Nov. 3 presidential election; and the threat of flu season hitting hospitals with a “twindemic.”

Sacramento County health chief Dr. Peter Beilenson told The Bee at the start of this month that the goal is to have the health crisis “managed” by Halloween. Management, he explained, would mean keeping spread of the virus minimal enough that the county’s testing and contact tracing efforts can be effective in limiting that spread even further.

“That way we can much better control the outbreak,” even in light of all of the above-listed challenges, he said.

Over 130 dead in rest of Sacramento region

Sacramento, Yolo, Placer, El Dorado, Sutter and Yuba counties have combined for 583 COVID-19 deaths and over 34,000 infections since the coronavirus crisis began impacting the six-county region.

Sacramento County health officials have reported 23,649 all-time infections and 450 deaths, with 126 new cases added Friday.

The county now estimates 21,315 cases are “likely recovered,” which, subtracting the fatalities, indicates that a little less than 1,900 cases are considered active. That number lingered between 3,000 and 3,600 during the summer surge; it was as low as about 250 in early June.

Sacramento is in the red tier, the second-most restrictive within California’s four-tier reopening system.

Yolo County health officials have reported a total of 56 COVID-19 deaths among 2,918 infections, reporting nine new cases Thursday after seven new cases Wednesday. There were five infected patients in Yolo County hospitals and none in ICUs, according to state data updated Friday. The county maintains six available ICU beds.

Yolo does not estimate active cases.

Yolo County is in the red tier and could be promoted to orange as early as Tuesday if its infection and positivity rates remain low.

Placer County has reported a total of 3,750 cases and 51 deaths, with 20 new cases reported Thursday and another 20 Friday. The county disclosed four deaths last week.

There were 11 people hospitalized specifically for COVID-19 in Placer County and none in the ICU as of Friday, the county says. Placer’s hospitalized total had plateaued at around 65 in early-to-mid August before declining sharply; the ICU total peaked at 16 on Aug. 25.

Like Yolo, Placer is on track to be promoted to the orange tier next week.

El Dorado County has reported a total of 1,232 COVID-19 cases and four deaths. The county reported 3 new cases Thursday, after recording 13 new cases Wednesday. One infected patient was hospitalized and in intensive care as of Friday, according to state data. The county reported one death in July, one in August and two in September.

El Dorado is in the orange tier, but was put on notice by the state this week about falling out of that tier. If its metrics don’t return to meet orange criteria next week, the county will have to return to the red tier. That would force a few types of businesses to close while others would have tighter capacity restrictions applied.

Sutter County has reported a total of 1,771 COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths. The county reported one death Monday, and had one patient hospitalized with none in intensive care as of Thursday afternoon.

In neighboring Yuba County, a total of 1,222 residents have been infected with COVID-19 and 10 have died, with one death also reported Monday. The county reported six new cases Wednesday afternoon and five Thursday. There were six infected people in Yuba County hospitals Thursday, with two of them in intensive care, the county said.

Sutter and Yuba share a health office, but Yuba County got the go-ahead to move forward into the red tier this week, while Sutter County will have to wait until at least next Tuesday.

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Michael McGough anchors The Sacramento Bee’s breaking news reporting team, covering public safety and other local stories. A Sacramento native and lifelong capital resident, he interned at The Bee while attending Sacramento State, where he earned a degree in journalism.

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