COVID-19 in Siskiyou County: Here's our coronavirus 2020 timeline

Skye Kinkade
Mount Shasta Herald

It’s been months of masks, online school, outdoor-only dining, bans on indoor worship and admonishments from health leaders against traveling during the holidays.

Yet Siskiyou County's coronavirus caseload continues to climb. More than nine months after going into state-mandated lockdown, the first coronavirus vaccine doses have been administered to the county’s frontline health care workers at Siskiyou County’s two hospitals.

Take a look at how the virus has advanced through the community, from the first COVID-19 diagnosis in March to a county with a total caseload of 1,132 and 11 deaths as of Wednesday afternoon.

COVID

March 4: Caseload - 0 

Fears of coronavirus spreading in the U.S. prompts a shortage of N95 masks from the shelves of local stores, although experts are not encouraging the wearing protective masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

March 16: Caseload - 0

Mercy Medical Center Mt. Shasta suspends elective surgeries to conserve Personal Protective Equipment and other supplies preemptively in the event of a COVID-19 surge.

Former Siskiyou County Health Officer Dr. Stephen Kolpacoff spoke about the importance of social distancing and hand washing as ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19 when at a March 17, 2020 press conference to announce a public health state of emergency in Siskiyou County.

March 17: Caseload - 0

Siskiyou County declares a public health emergency related to COVID-19. During a press conference on the steps of the courthouse in Yreka, Siskiyou County Health Officer Dr. Stephen Kolpacoff urges people to wash their hands and keep social distance.

“We wanted to be ahead of this, and if we can be proactive and have the citizens of the county really work with us, we can mitigate the spread,” Kolpacoff says.

March 18: Caseload - 0

Local schools, including College of the Siskiyous, close  their campuses to in-person classes to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The only holdouts? McCloud Elementary, Yreka Union School District, Montague and Bogus schools.

Meanwhile, local hospitals brace for their first cases of COVID-19. Test kits become “widely available” and hospitals began screening patients to determine who may be infected with coronavirus, said Mercy spokesperson Allison Hendrickson.

“Our staff go through an evaluation process where they immediately mask the patient and place them in droplet isolation with eye protection until further assessment if they are presenting with the symptoms of COVID-19,” Hendrickson added.

At the same time, Siskiyou County stores step it up with curbside service and a shopping hour for seniors. 

“We are out of toilet paper, gloves, and hand sanitizer,” said Ramshaw’s Ace Hardware Bill Ramshaw. “We ordered extra gloves and paper towels.”

Staff members at Fairchild Medical Center are screened as a COVID-29 safety precaution.

March 19: Caseload - 0

California Gov. Gavin Newsom declares a state of emergency in California, closing schools and numerous businesses and ordering people to stay home except for essential activities to avoid spreading or contracting COVID-19.

March 21: Caseload - 2 (first cases)

Siskiyou County Public Health reports the first two coronavirus cases in Siskiyou County.

March 23: Caseload - 3

A third COVID-19 case is reported in Siskiyou County. Public health officials say those cases include a 50-year-old male, a 64-year-old female and a 50-year-old female but decline to say where the patients live or any other information, citing patient privacy.

March 25: Caseload - 3 

Denny Bar Company in Etna shifts its focus to distilling hand sanitizer to help meet the demand in the community. They gave away small bottles and later make larger batches for regional hospitals, medical professionals, first responders, law enforcement and shipping carriers, said marketing manager Lance Banks.

March 31: Caseload - 3

Newly appointed Siskiyou County Health Officer Dr. Aaron Stutz asks those who do not live in Siskiyou County to stay away. Those who visit their second home or travel to Siskiyou are ordered to self-quarantine for two weeks after their arrival.

“This is an effort to prevent unintentional spread of COVID-19 to residents who would otherwise be at a reduced risk for exposure,” Stutz said. “As with any pandemic, our primary concern is keeping our residents safe.”

April 1: Caseload - 3

Local hospitals work to create “surge plans” to ensure they are prepared for COVID-19 patients. Visitors are no longer allowed at the hospitals.

Meanwhile, Castle Crags State Park is one of dozens to be closed, along with U.S. Forest Service campgrounds of high visitation. Although the campground and bathroom facilities are closed, trails in the park remain open and officials encourage people to recreate safely.

April 15: Caseload - 5

Siskiyou County health officials ask the community to begin wearing masks in public.

“Since not everyone with COVID-19 knows that they are sick, wearing a face covering helps make sure that you are not unknowingly affecting others,” Stutz says in the advisory. “If worn by everyone when outside the home, this may help slow the overall spread of the virus and keep our community safe.”

April 29: Caseload - 5

In an effort to deter out-of-area climbers, officials close Mt. Shasta above 10,000 feet. 

The only people allowed past that threshold are government workers on official business, said Don Lee, visitor information services specialist for the U.S. Forest Service Mount Shasta Ranger District.

Lee said the mountain sees anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 people flock to the area during climbing season. Another factor in the decision, Lee said, is unnecessary risk for emergency personnel, who might be exposed to the virus in a rescue situation.

May 1: Caseload - 5

The Mount Shasta Fourth of July committee announces “with heavy hearts” that the town’s annual celebration, including the 40th annual walk/run, downtown parade, artisan street fair and fireworks show over Lake Siskiyou have been canceled.

“It is hard to imagine a Fourth of July in Mount Shasta without the run/walk, and we understand the economic and social implications of canceling this generational event,” says Justi Hansen, executive director of the Siskiyou Outdoor Alliance. “Still, public safety must be our number one priority.”

May 19: Caseload - 6

The Siskiyou Golden Fair, scheduled for Aug. 12-16, was canceled in an excruciating decision by the fair board. In its place a junior livestock market animal show and competitive exhibits are planned.

May 20: Caseload - 6

Under guidance from public health officials, some Siskiyou County businesses get a green-light for reopening, with restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus. 

May 26: Caseload - 6

Hair salons and churches are permitted to reopen with safety modifications. Some churches decide all the regulations are too restrictive and opt to continue services from afar.

Dressed in personal protective gear outside of the McCloud Healthcare Clinic, Director of Clinical Operations Darlene Shoop, Chief Medical Officer Jeanne Yalon-Owens, FNP-C, and Quality Improvement Supervisor Kim Santi, LVN, ready people to get their noses swabbed to be tested for the coronavirus in late May, 2020.

June 12: Caseload - 15

As local business reopenings continue, state health regulators permit libraries, nail salons and other businesses to reopen, with modifications, as the coronavirus caseload moderates. By June 30, the county’s caseload is 29.

July 6: Caseload - 32

The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Shasta reopens, catering to working parents who need child care.

July 13: Caseload - 43

Siskiyou County restaurants and bars suffer a setback in reopening plans when California Gov. Gavin Newsom announces re-closures due to a surge in ICU usage. Mt. Shasta Cinemas is also affected by the order, two weeks after reopening. Other businesses ordered to close statewide include wineries, tasting rooms, family entertainment centers, zoos, museums and card rooms.

July 22: Caseload - 55

Tables, umbrellas and tents pop up like mushrooms around the county as restaurant owners create impromptu outdoor seating areas to comply with Gov. Newsom’s July 13 order that banned indoor dining.

Mount Shasta’s Black Bear Diner utilizes its front parking area and areas along the east side of the restaurant for outdoor seating, said Director of Operations Services Sherri Degraffenreid.

“We watched (Newsom’s) press conference on Monday. We were able to close one service and opened with outdoor service the following day,” said Degraffenreid, who worked with Solano’s and Ramshaw’s Ace Hardware to purchase “every umbrella in town.”

Although the tables with umbrellas were functional, Degraffenreid said larger, more permanent tents have been erected in the parking lot, as Newsom’s order is “indefinite.”

Although they didn't know that students wouldn't be returning at the time, teachers and the custodial staff were hard at work at Mount Shasta's Sisson School were busy in March disinfecting every possible surface while students were at home to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Aug. 24: Caseload - 124

Students returning to the College of the Siskiyous in Weed for the fall semester are being given a color-coded wrist band to wear when they arrive.

The bands, which are a different color each day of the week, ensure that every person on the campus has had their temperature taken, does not have COVID-19 symptoms and has not been in contact with someone who does have symptoms.

Students living in the COS lodges do not have roommates.

COVID-19

Aug. 28: Caseload - 128

The state rolls out a color coded tier system to indicate what businesses may be open. Siskiyou County is placed in the orange, or moderate tier, allowing restaurants to open for dine-in at 50% capacity.

Aug. 31: Caseload - 137

After a blanket of smoke from local and regional wildfires recedes, Weed Elementary School opened its doors for face-to-face learning. Other Siskiyou schools create their own plans for reopening, most opting to continue online learning to begin the year.

It's unusual to see the bar at Watson's Vets Club empty, especially on Labor Day, but that's the situation thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. Pictured behind the bar is owner Kris Watson.

Oct. 6: Caseload - 171

Siskiyou County is moved into the least restrictive yellow reopening tier, along with Trinity and Humboldt.

Most notable for the county is the ability for bars to reopen at 50% capacity.

“We are so, so stoked,” said Kris Watson, owner of Watson’s Vets Club in Mount Shasta, which had been closed for most of the past six months. Watson said he planned to follow whatever regulations are necessary to reopen his doors.

Oct. 29: Caseload - 221

Siskiyou Domestic Violence and Crisis Center reports during a candlelight vigil that there has been a 123%  increase in calls to the their hotline amid the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2019, the SDV&CC’s hotline had 70 calls in the third quarter of the year, compared to 175 calls during the same time period in 2020.

Nov. 3: Caseload - 268

Siskiyou County sees an exponential leap in COVID-19 cases over the month of October, from zero active cases on Oct. 1 to 56 on Nov. 3. Public health officials ask people avoid large social or family gatherings as more schools open for face-to face learning and Thanksgiving approaches.

Nov. 6: Caseload - 292 (first death)

Siskiyou County officials announce the first COVID-19-related death. They decline to provide any further information about the person, citing patient privacy, but investigation revealed the infection was likely the result of community spread.

Nov. 10: Caseload - 321

Siskiyou County is bumped into the moderate, or orange, reopening tier. The county is experiencing a spike in coronavirus cases and last week had 13 new confirmed cases per 100,000 residents, with an 8% positivity rate.

“We are noticing that more people are stating that they are sick and are going to work, and then get a positive test,” Director of Public Health Shelly Davis tells the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors. She went on to note that this can create “clusters,” with multiple people from multiple areas needing to quarantine and get tested.

“It is alarming,” Davis says. “At this point, we want to remind everyone that this is very serious and should remember guidelines.”

Nov. 16: Caseload - 403

Siskiyou County is plunged into the most restrictive reopening tier, triggering more COVID-19 restrictions.

The county skipped the red tier altogether and went directly to the purple, or “widespread” tier, as recommended by the state’s COVID-19 Blueprint for a Safer Economy. 

The county is experiencing 14.6 new COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents and a 7.2% positivity rate, according to the blueprint’s calculations. Statewide, California is experiencing 16.5 new COVID cases per day and a positivity rate of 5%.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom says he is considering invoking a statewide curfew, but will review scientific studies of impact from other countries, state and cities to understand effectiveness prior to making a final decision.

Nov. 19: Caseload - 466

In light of an unprecedented, rapid rise in COVID-19 cases across California, Newsom and the California Department of Public Health announced a limited Stay at Home Order requiring generally that non-essential work, movement and gatherings stop between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. in counties in the purple tier. 

Nov. 30: Caseload - 722

Siskiyou County Public Health announces a third COVID-19-related death as well as nearly 100 new cases since Thanksgiving.

COVID-19 Testing

Dec. 1: Caseload - 737

Siskiyou County Public Health tells supervisors they are “overwhelmed” and unable to keep up with the demands of contact tracing. 

“We cannot possibly contact everyone, so we are implementing new strategies,” public health director Davis says: Those who have tested positive do their own contact tracing. They’re asked to alert those who they’ve come into contact with. They will still receive a call from public health, but it will be the standard short conversation to gain required information. Davis said churches, schools, and other entities and departments have been responsible for their own contact tracing.

Dec. 7: Caseload: 828

The county’s COVID-19 positivity rate of 18.5% is nearly triple California’s 6.4%, according to the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy. The county’s new case rate is 46.2 per 100,000 residents; the statewide average is 30.2.

Siskiyou County has both the third highest COVID-19 positivity rate in the state and the third highest adjusted new case rate. More than 350 cases have been reported in the past two weeks, but the Northern California region has so far avoided a stay-at-home order that would be triggered if the ICU capacity drops below 15%. The state is reporting the region has 25% capacity remaining.

Dec. 14: Caseload - 950

There will be no high school sports competitions until at least Jan. 25, 2021, according to guidance released the California Department of Public Health.

Dec. 18: Caseload - 1,019

Health officials from several counties issue a letter deeming the North State to be "in a state of emergency" as COVID-19 cases surge across the region. The Rural Association of Northern California Health Officers said that "COVID-19 cases are rising, hospitalizations are reaching record highs and new deaths are reported daily."

Fairchild Medical Center's COVID-19 vaccine coordinator Ann-Marie Moser, RN, gives orothopedic surgeon Dr. Dan Bullock the very first COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine to be administered at FMC.

Dec. 21: Caseload - 1.059

The first 385 doses of a coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer arrive in Siskiyou County, following a yearlong effort to develop a tool to prevent COVID-19. The vaccine  requires two shots spaced a few weeks apart to be effective.

Health care workers at Fairchild Medical Center in Yreka and Mercy Mt. Shasta were the first Siskiyou County residents to receive the vaccine.

Dec. 29: Caseload - 1,132 Deaths - 11

Siskiyou County remains in the state's purple tier, still indicating widespread transmission. Four COVID-19 patients are hospitalized, according to county health officials, while the region’s ICU vacancy rate is 31.5%. That's well above the 15% vacancy threshold that would trigger additional business restrictions under the state's stay-at-home order. 

As of Wednesday afternoon, 11 people have died of COVID-19: 90% of the deaths were men, according to the county’s COVID-19 information dashboard. Most of the deaths were in people 65 and older. No one younger than 50 has died of the coronavirus.

Skye Kinkade is the editor of the Mt. Shasta Area Newspapers and the Siskiyou Daily News. She is a fourth generation Siskiyou County resident and has lived in Mount Shasta and Weed her entire life.