Merced County Times Newspaper
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Health experts: County is about two weeks away from better days

Trick-or-treating on table, but it’s ‘not recommended’

Just this week, Merced County met the governor’s metrics for transition to an improved next stage in the fight to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic in the region, but it will take two weeks of the situation either staying the same or improving for the actual move to take place.

California’s four-tier color coded system — from purple to yellow — is based on the number of COVID cases and percentage of positive tests in each county.

For Merced County to advance from purple, the most restrictive tier, to the red tier, the goal is a positivity rate of less than 8 percent and cases per day of less than 7 per 100,000.

When the county has been in red tier for two weeks, schools can reopen for on-campus instruction.

“As of Sept. 29 … This is the first time we are reporting we are at 6.9 cases per 100,000 residents per day which, along with the positivity rate of 3.6 percent, kicks us into the countdown mode to move to red tier,” said Dr. Kristynn Sullivan, the county’s supervising epidemiologist. “We’re not in red tier yet because we have to stay meeting the red criteria for two weeks before we can actually move to red. … We are cautiously optimistic that we will move to red tier in about two weeks. …

“The positivity rate as of Sept. 29 was 3.6 percent, and it has been steadily decreasing since mid-August, so for probably six weeks.

“The significance of that is I think there is less community spread, and people are ill less frequently.  Some of our major outbreaks have been mitigated, and that’s been really helping.

“The red tier businesses will then be able to open following the rules outlined in their business specific sectors. Each business sector has its own guidance and those can be found on”

Schools could reopen as early as four weeks from now if the situation stays the same or number of cases decrease.


The Merced County Sheriff’s Office in Los Banos joined the list of workplace locations experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks countywide.

Dr. Sullivan told the Times, “The Sheriff’s office is a critical infrastructure, so they don’t shut down.  They quarantine people. The Los Banos office is more remote, and less people were affected.”

La Sierra Care Center, a rehabilitation center, and The Hampshire Retirement Community were both cleared on Sept. 24 from active outbreak status.

Foster Farms was officially cleared from outbreak on Sept. 30. It was on the  outbreak list since June 29. It was the largest outbreak in the county since the pandemic started.

With Foster Farms cleared, there are nine outbreaks.

Daily case count

The number of cases on Sept. 24 was 8,846; five days later, it had increased by 115 to 8,961 on Sept. 29.

Dr. Sullivan told the Times, “The lowest recent daily increase in cases was 18 on Sept. 24 and 18 on Sept. 26.  On Sept. 29, we had 22, and on Sept. 28, we had 30. So additional cases have been numbering between 18 and 30 per day.

“We have seen a steady decrease in our active cases. In the last 14 days [before Sept. 29], 352 active cases were confirmed. That represents the people who have been diagnosed in the last 14 days, and typically people are ill for about that long. That’s not a perfect measure, but it is our best approximation.

“We used to do actual actives and actual recoveries but when we stopped doing case management in June, we were unable to do that because we couldn’t call people every day. So this is an approximation.”


As to hospitalizations of Merced County residents due to COVID-19, there were 44 hospitalizations as of Sept. 29, 12 within the county and 32 cared for in facilities outside the county.

Any spike in COVID cases since Labor Day weekend?

Dr. Sullivan said, “It has been three weeks now, and there hasn’t been any spike from Labor Day weekend.  There was a slight uptick in cases statewide, but thankfully those have not been within Merced County. We think we’ve managed to avoid a Labor Day spike, which is really good news.”


Dr. Sullivan told the Times, “We are still waiting on official guidance from the State. Meanwhile, we are wanting to get a message out to the community: Following the CDC guidelines, trick-or-treating is not recommended. It is a higher risk activity because it can lead to people gathering. But we aren’t going to be forbidding it, or making a formal disallowing of it. We are going to encourage people who choose to participate in trick-or-treating to follow safety protocols, such as going only with your family unit, and avoiding congregating with people on doorsteps.

“If you’re handing out candy, do it in a way that doesn’t cause people to gather. “Give candy out on the driveway, or put candy on a table instead of doing hand offs.

“As to whether the virus could be passed on candy wrappers to trick-or-treaters, the science on contact transmission is the thing we know the least about. It is possible transmission can happen on surfaces, so we advocate reducing passing things person-to-person, but we don’t know how often that happens. We recommend frequent hand washing as a way to avoid transmission on surfaces.

“Large gatherings of people on Halloween will not be allowable unless that changes by Halloween, which I don’t anticipate.

“People should be wearing masks for any Halloween activities they participate in. “People should practice respect if other people don’t want to participate this year. There are people who will not want to participate because they have a fear for their health, so we want to convey how important it is to respect people’s wishes based on their individual risk factors. There have been nationwide reports about people being really negative about others’ restrictions, and we want to make it clear people have the right to opt out of activities like trick-or-treating if they don’t feel comfortable.

Schools on waivers

As to any additional schools beyond the first 13 receiving approvals of waivers so they can reopen for K through 6 students, the Merced County Public Health Department has not approved any further waivers yet.

Mobile testing sites

Dr. Sullivan said, “The mobile sites were not intended to be long-term, so they ended. They had a  pretty good turn-out overall.  Over 800 people were tested through that program.”

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