Merced County Times Newspaper
The Power of Positive Press

Pandemic numbers: Sad, stark relentless

By BEVERLY BARELA & JONATHAN WHITAKER

It was another COVID-19 update on Tuesday for the Merced County Board of Supervisors, and another examination of negative Public Health data.

“In Merced County, we are faring the worst of all the San Joaquin Valley counties by rate — the percentage — and so there are significant concerns with how to bring that number down,” said Health Director Dr. Rebecca Nanyonjo-Kemp during the discussion.

In a month’s time, the number of deaths linked to the virus has increased 279 percent. That means 81 reports since July 27 of local residents who have passed away. The overall death toll reached 110, as of late Tuesday.

And since the last update, the number of confirmed COVID cases have doubled — from 3,510 cases to 7,690.

Unfortunately, all those numbers are likely to increase by the time this newspaper gets into the hands of readers.

One positive trend to report: Over the past week, the average increase in daily cases was less than it was just a short time ago in mid-August.

Countywide, cases spiked on Aug. 11 (366 new cases) and Aug. 13 (337 new cases), but during the week Aug. 18 through Aug. 24, the average increase in cases was 87.4 per day.

On Tuesday, 37 more residents were confirmed to have tested positive for COVID-19, but it was the lowest daily case count since Aug. 2.

“Outreach efforts are being focused on the Hispanic population, along with the community as a whole, to help slow the spread of the virus,” said Amalia Madrigal-Hernandez of Public Health.

She said the region’s Latino population accounts for 72.3 percent of the confirmed positive cases. A variety of factors makes up this percentage, she said, including type of work (Hispanic essential workers may have to choose between working when sick or not getting paid) and living conditions (such as multiple generations in a family housed in the same dwelling, which makes it difficult to practice social distancing).

As of Tuesday, there were 1,588 cases presumed to be active — down from the 1,917 reported active on Monday.

Said Madrigal-Hernandez: “Statewide, there was a 14,861 backlog of positive cases identified in lab reporting data. Over 1,000 cases were Merced County residents. As of Aug. 17, the recent backlog of data has been cleared. Merced’s numbers are inflated but rapidly declining.”

Of the total 7,653 cases since March when the pandemic began, the highest number of cases in a city is Merced with 2,805 cases, and the second highest is the City of Atwater, with 1,150 cases. However, recent data shows per capita percentage spikes in Planada, Winton and Livingston.

The number of Merced County COVID patients currently hospitalized in this region and elsewhere was at 78 on Tuesday, an increase of two since Aug. 20.

State personnel traveled to Merced County for a site visit on Aug. 10 and 11. The Merced County Department of Public Health led a series of meetings with the State’s COVID-19 Response Unified Support Team. Public Health was joined by other county agencies, partnering agencies, and community partners.

Madrigal-Hernandez explained, “The discussions during the site visit focused on healthcare delivery, testing, contact tracing, enforcement, public outreach, education, and other priority areas as we collaboratively work to drive down our COVID-19 numbers. As it has from the onset of this pandemic, the Public Health Department will continue to refine and develop its protocols and procedures in partnership with the State to reduce future impacts of COVID-19.”

Meanwhile, Public Health is working closely with facilities experiencing outbreaks, providing education and resources along with technical assistance as appropriate.

There are 23 active outbreaks in the county, including at: Atwater Federal Prison USPS, California Psychiatric Transitions, Central Valley Nephrology, City of Merced Public Works Department, D Street Shelter, Davidson’s Residential Homes, Dole Atwater, El Portal Cancer Center, Foster Farms – Livingston Complex, Franciscan – SNF, Hilmar Cheese Company, Hy-Lond Health Care Merced – SNF, La Sierra Care Center, Marie Green Center, McLane Pacific, Merced County – Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, Merced County – Human Services Agency, Merced County Department of Public Health, Merced County John Latorraca Jail, Merced Nursing and Rehab – SNF, Migrant Camp, Minturn Nut Co., North Lake Assisted Living, Walmart Supercenter Atwater, and The Hampshire Retirement Community.

The county is aware of certain groups of people who are not compliant with the requirements for social distancing, wearing of masks and other COVID-19 prevention measures and is working hard to address this.

The education component of the program to stop the spread includes collaborating with various partners and local organizations to distribute COVID education, onsite education provided to ag workers, door-to-door distribution of COVID kits at migrant camps, hosting Facebook Live sessions, and partnering with community residents to distribute education and COVID kits.

The Facebook Live sessions are held bi-weekly on Thursdays in English and Spanish.

State Watch List

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Health Director Nanyonjo-Kemp continued to insist that the only way for Merced County to get off the state’s monitoring list and possibly open some traditional elementary school settings, among other sectors of society being hurt by state mandated closures, is for the entire community to rally together, curb spread of the disease, and bring the numbers down.

One important indicator shows Merced County currently has a case rate of 401.5 per 100,000 residents over a 14-day period. The county would have to lower this case rate to 200 per 100,000 for a possible waiver to open elementary schools, and down to 100 per 100,000 to get completely off the state monitoring list. In turn, county officials say they are aiming to bring daily reported confirmed cases down to 40 as a mark that would also signal a pathway for a school waiver.

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