Q&A: Sutter, Yuba Counties Trace Birthday Party COVID-19 Cluster

Jun 15, 2020

Health officials in Sutter and Yuba county say they, and counterparts in three other counties, are trying to find all of about 40 people who attended a birthday party where at least one person in attendance had COVID-19. 

For more on a significant increase in cases there, NSPR’s Marc Albert spoke with Dr. Phuong Luu, health officer for Sutter and Yuba Counties, who said tracing the movements of those potentially exposed hasn’t been easy.

Here are highlights from their conversation. You can also listen at the top of the page.

Interview Highlights

On tracing those who attended the birthday party 

It's been quite difficult to follow all 40. We're not able to reach all 40. And it's actually across multiple counties. We are not an island in and of ourselves. And when people go to these large gatherings, especially when they know that they are already symptomatic, it makes the contact investigation very difficult and very challenging because now we're trying to quickly identify all the individuals, but it's been a significant challenge.

On the recent increase in cases in Sutter County

This is not unique to the U.S. and our region. As you look at the entire state, we're seeing an increase in the case count, we're seeing an increase in hospitalization overall. And then within particular the Sierra-Sacramento Valley region, every county is seeing a significant increase in the case counts: Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado, Butte, etc. 

On where the new cases are originating 

There are themes to where the increased case counts are coming from. One is that they're coming from household and family clusters, meaning that these individuals are familially related. They don't live in the same household under the same roof, but they're not adhering to social distancing tenets that we have been pushing.

We are seeing that repeatedly. So people are not taking it seriously — the fact that they should only really spend prolonged periods of time with individuals who live under the same roof as them. Doesn't matter that you're related to them. If they don't live under the same roof as you in the same house as you, you should limit your length and proximity in terms of interaction with them.

On how concerned she is as the county health officer

My level of concern is significant because people are not listening to the tenets. We can't stress this enough. People need to take this seriously. COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. It is still a threat. And what we are seeing in the community is people thinking that it has gone away. It is no longer an issue. Here we have people questioning that it even exists. That is very unfortunate. And we're seeing that in the lack of adherence to the tenets that we would like them to adhere to. 

COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. It is still a threat.

People going to a birthday party when they already know that they have a fever, people traveling in from out of state and getting on a flight when they knew that they were having a cough. Those are very dangerous actions and we're really disappointed. I'm disappointed that residents aren't actually taking this seriously and also really putting at risk their loved ones, their friends, their family members when they go to these gatherings. 

On cases that are originating in workplaces

In the workplace, what we're noticing is essential sectors — sectors who have maintained being allowed to remain open all this time, never closing since middle of March — some of them are not implementing the robust measures that we know are helpful: daily symptom screening and temperature check before employees start work, sending employees home if they fail the symptom screening, social distancing and making sure that employees wear facial covering when social distancing is not possible. Those are measures not to just say, 'OK, let's do them.' But they are actually really, really helpful to ensure that we don't have workplace outbreaks. And most of the workplace outbreaks that we have identified are in those workplaces that do not have all those measures implemented.

On testing asymptomatic people

They're getting tested because we need to know the extent with which when someone is a close contact, how many of those individuals actually are infectious. So say if one of those asymptomatic individuals tests positive, and we know where they were, we would then expand to their work site to make sure that their coworkers who are deemed close work contacts are also screened. The goal of contact investigation is to expand the circle of infection, individuals who might have been exposed, and quickly isolating, quarantining them to break the chain of transmission. Because if you only focus on the symptomatic cases, you're going to miss a significant chunk of those individuals who are already infectious.

On whether there are some people who remain asymptomatic throughout the duration of the disease

It's along a continuum. So the literature shows that about 20% of individuals never develop new symptoms. Some individuals never develop any symptoms. Other individuals develop only mild symptoms. And then other individuals develop severe symptoms to the point of needing hospitalization or unfortunately even death.

On the definition of someone who has “recovered” from COVID-19

When we define recovered, we are noting that someone is the noninfectious. The designation of being noninfectious does not mean that the consequences of COVID-19 infection is gone. A lot of these individuals have lingering symptoms, and they can be very, very significant. 

On the trigger point for countywide restrictions being re-implemented

The state has county-specific metrics that they monitor. And at this time, fortunately both Yuba and Sutter are not listed within the counties that the state is concerned about, and that comprises of number of new cases within a 14-day period for a population of 100,000. They also monitor hospitalized cases and they monitor what's called test positivity, meaning within a one-week period, the percentage of the tests that actually returned positive. As of this time, fortunately, both events that are doing fine.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview.