Merced County Times Newspaper
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Merced County recovery takes two steps back as virus spreads, closures ordered

One local resident speaks 'God's truth' to government power

We’re seeing an explosion in the amount of cases.

Dr. Rebecca Nanyonjo-Kemp,
Merced County Public Health Director

 

With the “explosion” of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Merced County in recent days, a great number of local business owners and church-goers must feel like they are riding on a spinning yo-yo with the State of California holding the string.

It’s just been a little over a month since local restaurants, bars, gyms, hair salons, museums, youth sports venues and places of worship were either celebrating the “Stage 2.5” reopening process, or looking forward to a “Stage 3” bonanza that appeared to be just out of reach of their fingertips.

But that was before the region started setting new, consecutive COVID-19 case count records, day after day. On Monday, Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a sweeping shutdown of businesses and churches that were permitted to open only weeks ago.

The rate of COVID-19 tests coming back positive in Merced County over the last week was 16.7 percent, health officials reported Tuesday morning. That’s more than double the state’s 8 percent “test positivity” threshold.

Later that same day, Public Health reported the passing of a local resident — the 13th death related to the pandemic. The resident was described as a “male between the ages of 50 and 64. It is unknown at this time whether the individual had underlying health conditions.

More than half of all the confirmed COVID-19 infections in the region have been reported within the last month. As of Tuesday, July 14, there were 2,183 total cases that have been counted since the pandemic began. This total number included 101 new cases since the previous day. Of the total, 1,146 cases were considered “active” (based on an estimate of confirmed infections within the last 14 days). The number of hospitalizations was reportedly at 32.

According to Public Health data, from June 9 to July 13, total infections increased by 460 percent and active cases by 956 percent. Active hospitalizations increased by 517 percent, and deaths increased by 71 percent.

“We’re seeing an explosion in the amount of cases,” said County Public Health Director Dr. Rebecca Nanyonjo-Kemp on Tuesday during the Merced County Board of Supervisors meeting.

It was the most recent comprehensive report to county leaders since their last meeting on June 9. And it was filled with stark COVID-19 data — much of which Nanyonjo-Kemp suggested could have been avoided if the previous reopening process would have been delayed up to three weeks.

The health director, along with Dr. Kristynn Sullivan, the county’s supervising epidemiologist, announced, among other things:

• COVID-19 test result turnaround time has worsened significantly — with results taking seven to eight days on average, and 13-14 days in some cases.

• 76 percent of the total COVID-19 case count was linked to the region’s Hispanic population.

• The only state-mandated threshold Merced County has consistently met is ventilator capacity with 89 percent of the stock available.

• The spike in cases has forced local officials to abandon the active monitoring of each individual case.

• Public Health asked for more staff support, and they go it, with the board on Tuesday unanimously voting to create an extra help contact tracer-investigator position in order to hire multiple people to help with the case backlog.

• A new COVID-19 testing site is slated to begin operating Monday at the Los Banos Fairgrounds.

• Nanyonjo-Kemp revealed a state strike team — including CHP, Alcohol Beverage Control, and the Department of Consumer Affairs — is enforcing business closures. The team consists of officials from the California Highway Patrol, and others.

• The health officials urged compliance from local businesses, and urged residents to wear masks and take safety precautions in order to not “prolong the misery.”

One thing missing from Tuesday’s board meeting — something that was present in previous meetings with COVID-19 updates — was any comment from leaders that was critical of state orders to close local businesses and churches.

During the meeting, not one supervisor mentioned a word of protest to this week’s latest round of closures.

Likewise, there was hardly any comments from the public. In fact, there was only one lone man who stood up to speak his mind, and defend his faith and religious beliefs.

‘The unconstitutional and unbelievable statement by Governor Gavin Newsom yesterday was very disappointing, and I hope the county can assure that no one in this county would be arrested, nor detained, for worshipping in a house of God. … If we have to, we’ll call our church services this weekend “protests.” We are going to protest against our governor, against the State of California.’

Raymond Cox,
Merced County resident

Raymond Cox, a 27-year resident of the area, had never addressed the Board of Supervisors before. His voice was filled with emotion and nervousness as he spoke.

“The unconstitutional and unbelievable statement by Governor Gavin Newsom yesterday was very disappointing, and I hope the county can assure that no one in this county would be arrested, nor detained, for worshipping in a house of God,” he said.

“Our governor has said we must close churches down again. Walmart is open. Target is open. All these buildings are open. But my church is suppose to make me sick.

“I come into my church and they take my temperature. We have social distancing. We are asking people to wear a mask. We don’t have children in church now so families are not coming. We are not suppose to have children mixing with each other because they are worried about COVID-19.

“Yes I know people who have got COVID-19. I know it’s there. I know it’s a real thing. But I also know that it is a real thing that when we can’t teach our children right from wrong, when we can’t stand up, when our governor makes illegal, unconstitutional and un-biblical decrees … than we need to stand up.

“If we have to, we’ll call our church services this weekend ‘protests.’ We are going to protest against our governor, against the State of California. We have every year, where a member of the Democratic Party and the State of California introduces, asking, for churches to be censured, for pastors to not be able to say things from the pulpit that are biblical truth. And it’s got to stop.

“In Canada, you cannot read parts of the Bible. Parts of Europe you can be arrested for saying certain things even if you are a minister. When does it stop?

“Our country is the last country that has freedom of speech. That allows for religious freedom. We can’t take that for granted. I hope that you can assure us as a board. Let the sheriff assure every person that if they go to church this Saturday or Sunday. That they are not going to be detained. That they are not going to be arrested and our rights are not going to be taken away.”

Dr. Kristynn Sullivan, the county’s supervising epidemiologist, speaks to the Board of Supervisors about the region’s status on the state’s COVID-19 watch list during a board meeting Tuesday.
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