Merced County Times Newspaper
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County remains in red; County health officials concerned about case spike

The County of Merced remains in red tier this week.  It did not have to return to the most restrictive tier, purple tier, laying to rest the concerns of the Merced County Public Health Department expressed last week that the county might slip back into purple on October 27 because of the direction its COVID data was taking.

The October 6 move to the less restrictive red tier was significant in that red tier businesses were allowed to bring some customers back inside, with restrictions.

To make its determination on tier assignment, the positivity rate and the number of new cases per 100,000 residents per day were the key factors the State was watching.

Dr. Kristynn Sullivan, Merced County’s Supervising Epidemiologist, told the Times, “We are going to remain in red tier for at least two weeks.  Our posting for today [October 27] was red, and even if we’re in purple next Tuesday, it wouldn’t be until the next Tuesday that we would move back to purple.

“The number of cases per 100,000 per day is from two weeks ago because the State data lags behind our real time data, and the data is how they assign us to tier.  Although it’s a bit delayed, the data is actually pretty positive – – 4.9 cases per 100,000.  It has to be under 7 per 100,000 per day.  That’s why we’re able to stay in red right now, but we’re seeing right now that our cases are going up.

“The cases have been going up pretty steadily.  We had 41 today [October 27], and 40 yesterday [October 26], and we want to be under 20 for staying in red tier.  So we’re a little bit concerned.

Merced City School District reopening for pre-Kindergarten through Grade 2

“The State updates its metrics every Tuesday, and we call it Tier Tuesday.  Merced City School District will probably squeak by on reopening as to grade pre-K through grade 2 because those grades are opening on November 9, and the spikes in cases we’re seeing right now won’t show up in the tier assignment for two weeks, which is November 10.

Possible reason for the recent spike

“We don’t have a clear picture of why yet because it’s brand new, and we still have to do our case investigation to see where people were infected.

“There was a pattern we’ve noticed.  Most of our cases are coming out of the drive-up testing at the Urgent Care at Castle Family Health Center based in Atwater, and that could indicate a geographical grouping.  We are concerned that we’re seeing double the number of cases.  But we won’t know more until we do the investigations.

“We’ve seen some spikes in Winton also, and Castle serves Atwater and Winton, although it also sees people from throughout the county.

“This is late-breaking news, since we were really stable and it’s just October 26 and 27 that we had these really high spikes in cases from Castle.  But when we see potential geographical hot spots, we do work with the leadership of those spaces to get out messaging to wear masks, do social distancing and hand washing.

“There was only one additional outbreak this week.  It was reported on October 26 at Dole in Atwater.

COVID metrics

“The positivity rate is 2.8%.  Negative tests come in slower than positive tests and it doesn’t match, and that is another data point that is a bit delayed.  The positivity rate typically reflects what was happening in the community about two weeks ago.

“Our total number of cases is  9,572.  We currently have 22 active hospitalizations and 155 fatalities, so we’re not seeing those numbers increase yet.  So we’re hoping this is a little blip because if it was showing the same pattern as in the past, the case numbers would increase, then the hospitalizations would go up, and then the fatalities would go up.”


The county was testing below the State median last week, and was getting penalized for not testing enough.  To help the County remain in the red tier, residents were asked to get tested for COVID-19 since increasing the testing rates helps lower the overall case rate, and avoids reverting back to the purple tier.

Dr. Sullivan commented, “We did see quite a substantial uptick in our testing, close to double at the Merced County Fairgrounds last week, and we wish to sustain that.  Currently, the State is not giving the county the testing penalty because the test positivity rate is so low.


“The Sheriff’s Office in Los Banos, Liberty Packing in Los Banos, Anberry Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Atwater, and See’s Candy were each struck from the active outbreak list.   Dole in Atwater came on the list; they previously had an outbreak and cleared it, and now have a second outbreak that they’re actively working to clear.”

Trick-or-treating and Halloween season

“The State came out with a guidance on Halloween trick-or-treating.  Nothing is forbidden, but the recommendation is to do activities like candy hunts within your household or scary movie nights or costume parades within your social bubble, and those kinds of things.  Widespread trick-or-treating gives a lot of opportunity for mixing with those you don’t usually mix with, and it would make contact tracing very difficult.

“People get worried when they see it’s pending that they move back to purple, and so we just want to emphasize social distancing, masking, getting tested, hand hygiene, and staying home when sick.

“As we move into the holiday season, that is going to be really important.  There are a lot of cases linked to family gatherings.  What we see is one of the younger family members has COVID, and then one of the older family members gets COVID and dies.  People get together with their extended family and they think that’s low risk, but actually it is high risk.  No more than 12 people should gather together, and no more than three households.”

Flu shots

The Public Health Department has emphasized the importance of residents getting their flu shots to avoid a twindemic – – flu and COVID cases which might flood hospitals and other resources.

Dr. Sullivan told the Times, “We don’t have a number of total flu shots given, but we’ve done three flu clinics and we’ve given about 1,000 flu shots through those clinics.”

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