Merced County Times Newspaper
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COVID-19 UPDATE: Local residents take precautions as county leaders call for calm


Editor’s Note: This story was updated from the published print version to reflect that the two cases of cornonavirus infection being treated under quarantine in Madera and Fresno do NOT pose a threat of spreading the virus to others in the community at this time. Additional reporting on closures resulting from COVID-19 is available here.

As the presses started to roll Wednesday morning with this edition of the Times, county officials continued to echo three important public notices above many others:

There are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) in Merced County, regional health officials are prepared and responding to the crisis, and local residents should remain calm.

Nevertheless, due to the rapid spread of the virus across the world, nation and state of California, concern has spread throughout the community and it’s hard to predict what headlines will be coming out tomorrow in this evolving situation.

“Probably one of the most important things we can do now is to remain calm and not overreact,” said County CEO Jim Brown during an update at Tuesday’s meeting of the Board of Supervisors. “We are seeing increased activity among travelers and our neighbors to the south. Although there are still unknowns with this disease, the global data shows that over 80 percent of people who have been infected have mild or no symptoms, or are not hospitalized. As with other flus, we are all encouraged to take preventive caution by washing hands frequently, maintain social distancing and stay home when ill.”

In California, there are 144 reported active cases linked to the virus, two deaths and two recoveries. One individual has tested positive in Madera, and another in Fresno — both were under quarantine due to exposure on a cruise ship, and both did not pose a threat of spreading the virus to others in the community at this time. Some 16 individuals considered at-risk in Merced County due to recent travel have been monitored through “successful self isolation.”

Merced County Public Health continues to coordinate with federal, state and local partners to further prepare for any potential future impacts. The department’s Operation Center has been open since Jan. 27 with regular meetings, daily conference calls and coordinating with stakeholder partners.

According to Dr. Ken Bird, the county’s public health officer, 19 counties in the state have issued declarations of local health emergencies, including Sacramento, Santa Cruz and Monterrey. Such declarations open avenues for local governments to obtain mutual aid services and reimbursements to respond to a major health crisis. Most of the counties listed have more than one confirmed case of coronavirus infection, and a few have documented community transmission. Several counties, Bird noted, are considering, or have implemented, actions that include one or more of the following: closure of public transit systems, schools, major store chains and public events.
Bird told leaders Tuesday that as of the moment, local health officials have been able to test “everybody we have needed to test.”

Merced County, as of Tuesday, was not under a health emergency status.

In Atwater, however, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution on Monday night to declare COVID-19 an “emergency situation” and selected local Dr. Edward Vanek as the city’s voluntary medical advisor.

“I’m really looking to establish plans with the city, and it would just be more of a thought process as opposed to moving any money around,” Vanek said.

The doctor emphasized the need to protect the city’s first responders who often find themselves in situations where they are at an increased risk of exposure. He said a single infection involving a police officer could quickly spread throughout an entire department and render it inadequate to handle regular public safety duties.


Shrimp Feed postponed

Meanwhile, community groups are reconsidering upcoming events.

The Rotary Club of Merced Sunrise has announced postponement of its annual Bob Hobbs Memorial Shrimp Feed.

The popular event was to be held at the Merced County Fairgrounds on March 21.

The gathering usually draws in more than 700 people who pack the Pavilion building.

In a statement to the Times, Rotary Club President Pope Lawrence said: “Out of an abundance of caution, given the emerging COVID-19 virus and based upon guidance from public health officials, the club has decided to defer to a future date its annual fundraiser. More information to ticket holders and sponsors will be forthcoming as soon as it is available. Your understanding of our decision is greatly appreciated.”


Public Transit

The Bus and Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) public transit systems have put preventative measures in place to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19).

Effective immediately, enhanced disinfecting procedures will be used daily to clean all frequently contacted surfaces on all buses and coaches.

“The health and safety of our passengers is our first priority,” said Christine Chavez, Transit Manager for YARTS and The Bus. “These proactive measures will help prevent the spread of infection should the virus become present in any of the communities we serve.”

Passengers are encouraged to wash their hands often, cover all coughs and sneezes, stay home when sick, and avoid direct contact with sick individuals. For more information about COVID-19, please visit the Center for Disease Control website:

The Bus is the single public transportation service provider for all of Merced County and is administered by the Transit Joint Powers Authority for Merced County and managed by the Merced County Association of Governments (MCAG).

All bus schedules and hours of operation can be found at or by calling The Bus at (209) 723-3100.


Store supplies

Residents have reported on social media sites that shelves at several local stores are getting emptied as customers continue to be concerned about the coronavirus.

Posted pictures have shown limited or sold-out supplies of water, toilet paper, hand wipes and sanitizersinside stores such as Smart & Final and Costco. However, the Times has not learned of any widespread local shortages of the above mentioned supplies. There is only indication that many residents are stocking up things for extended stays indoors, and some stores are working hard to keep up with the demand.


Stay up-to-date

Merced County officials are issuing daily situational updates about coronavirus spread online at:

  • Public Health Info. Line: 209-381-1180 (English, Spanish, and Hmong).
  • Email COVID-19-specific questions to Merced County Public Health: [email protected]
  • Visit online for most updated national info:



The California Department of Public Health has issued a guidance for schools, and letters have been sent home with students on steps they and their family members can take to protect themselves. “As MercedCounty does not have COVID-19 in the community, schools should be using this time to ensure Emergency Operation Plans are up to date, and to plan for absenteeism,” the letter dated March 2 stated.

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