Top local health official shares about county’s response to virus
Dr. Kristynn Sullivan, Merced County’s supervising epidemiologist, provided an update on the county’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic during a recent interview with the Times.
“The reason we were concerned about the virus is because it’s so contagious, and it’s easy for it to spread rapidly,” Dr. Sullivan said. “The county addressed it through social distancing and closing businesses, and they did this so it wouldn’t spread, and so it wouldn’t overwhelm our health care system.
“We have not changed our contact tracing procedures yet, but we intend to do so soon because we are demobilizing the resources, and so a lot of our resources are going back to doing their other jobs. So we won’t have the same number of individuals doing this. We’re looking into having part-time contract tracers to alleviate some of what we’re losing as far as staff.
“Right now, we make daily phone calls to people under quarantine, and that will probably be one of the first things we have to cut. We won’t cut case management completely, but it will become less intensive. So our contact tracing will continue to be ongoing and will involve basically the same steps — reaching out to positive individuals and asking who they’ve been in contact with back to 48 hours prior to when they started developing symptoms. We then reach out to anyone they’ve been in close contact with and advise them to quarantine and if they develop symptoms, to get tested. We will also reach out to, for example, the doctor’s office if they said they went to the doctor, and we will reach out to their company and find out anyone the business believes may have been in close contact with that individual.
“The sheriff continues to partner with us in serving quarantine and isolation orders for our positive cases. If the Sheriff’s Department finds that a case was not fully honest about all the individuals living in their household, the sheriff will inform us of that.
“We clear cases once they’ve been symptom free without the use of medication for 72 hours, and we clear quarantines after 14 days from their last exposure to a positive case. This is tricky when the infected person lives in the same household with others because the original case has to be cleared before the 14 days of quarantine begins for the people living in the household with them. This is because if you’re living in the household with an infected person, you’re constantly being exposed.
“About 13 percent of our cases have been hospitalized and of those, some have been hospitalized for over a month, and seven have died. he youngest individual hospitalized was 25 and the oldest was 92, so it’s a pretty wide range of people. “Older people, meaning 50s and up, have a harder time with the disease. Typically, the disease tends to be more severe in people over the age of 60.
“We have seen that the virus can affect other body systems like the kidneys and heart and nationally they’ve found it’s been leading to an increase in strokes, so it seems to attack more systems than just the lungs and respiratory systems. The cases we have who are still on a long road to recovery don’t know how this will play out, long term.
“There are many people who think they had the virus in January or February, but it could have been flu because that was flu season, or it could have been some other nasty bug. Most of the people who believe they had the virus then did not have it. For someone who thinks they may have had the virus, doctors in Merced County can give them a test to show whether they have been exposed in the past.”
What is happening currently in Merced County?
“A Skilled Nursing Facility is one of the higher risk settings because those patients are more vulnerable to severe outcomes with COVID-19. With a Skilled Nursing Facility, the state classifies one case as an outbreak, instead of the usual three. “Recently, we had our first case at a Skilled Nursing Facility, Anberry in Merced. We tested all the residents and staff at Anberry, and we’re pending one result. All the rest of the tests have come back negative. The original case was asymptomatic, so that could have been part of the reason, and also that case was not in the facility for very long.
“We’re seeing more cases in the county linked to workplaces as we reopen businesses, so it’s going to be important for people to practice social distancing and hand washing and be careful about touching their faces.
“We’re at 334 cases as of today [June 6]. As things reopen, I think we will see more cases. We have seen more cases per day on average in the last two weeks than we had been seeing. Even though we’re getting more cases, most of them are mild.”