Virus surge extends to third month; more vaccines on way
Eligible residents will be notified through employers or health care providers
IMPORTANT UPDATE: The Times and various Merced-area residents have been asking in recent days how people will be notified that they can start to receive critical COVID-19 vaccines. An answer came today, Wednesday, Jan. 13, but it was too late for the story in our print edition … We include the following update here:
The Merced County Department of Public Health continues to receive doses of COVID-19 vaccine, which are being administered to eligible groups (see attached chart below the article). PLEASE NOTE: Those currently eligible for the vaccine are being directly notified through their employers or care providers. As future groups become eligible, communication protocols will be implemented to inform members of the public as to who is currently eligible and when they will be eligible to receive a vaccination.
The COVID-19 surge shows no signs of letting up in its third month, and 294 new cases were reported among Merced County residents as of Jan. 12.
The total number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic numbered 22,649.
The county continues to be subject to the Dec. 3 stay-at-home order and a supplemental order of Dec. 6 which went into effect because the San Joaquin Valley Region, which includes Merced County, had an ICU capacity of less than 15 percent.
As per the order, all individuals living in the region are instructed to stay home except as necessary to conduct activities associated with the operation, maintenance, or usage of critical infrastructure. All gatherings with members of other households are prohibited.
Typically, Mercy Merced has 20 ICU beds, and Memorial Hospital Los Banos has four. Out of these 24 ICU beds, there were three available in Merced County on Jan. 10.
Currently, about 60 percent of hospital ICU beds are being taken up by COVID patients.
The number of fatalities has been steadily going up. COVID-19 deaths in Merced County increased by 25 between Jan. 1 and 12, bringing the total to 285.
A daily case count of seven or less per 100,000 residents is required before the county can change to a less restrictive tier.
The number of cases per day per 100,000 residents was 69.5 on Jan. 12.
The positivity rate was 16.1 percent. That rate must be 8 percent or less for more local businesses to open.
The vaccine rollout which could stem the tide of the virus has been slow.
Amalia Madrigal-Hernandez, MPH, division manager of the Prevention, Policy and Planning Division for the Merced County Public Health Department, told the Times, “The counties are depending on state and federal entities for vaccine allocation.”
The Public Health Department is hoping that vaccine distribution will soon move faster because the latest $900 billion COVID-19 stimulus package included several billion dollars to help states get the vaccines to the general public.
Dr. Kristynn Sullivan, Merced County’s supervising epidemiologist, told the Times, “We need people to take the vaccine when they’re eligible for it.
“How much effect the vaccine has depends on how many people take it. Vaccines help build herd immunity, and that depends on a certain percentage of the population taking the vaccine.
“We want to see 70 percent of the population having immunity by taking the vaccination to have an effect on the disease.”
Currently, the Public Health Department is working strategically with its partners to roll out the vaccine, working through Phase 1a.
Phase 1a facilities which have received or are receiving the vaccine include acute care, psychiatric and correctional facility hospitals; skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities; residential long-term care facilities; dialysis centers; intermediate care facilities for people needing continuous nursing supervision; and primary care clinics. Phase 1a workers who have received or are receiving the vaccine include paramedics, EMT’s, Public Health field staff, and community health workers.
Madrigal-Hernandez told the Times, “Tier 1A people are notified that it’s their turn to get the vaccine when information is shared through their providers, employer, and social media platforms. Public Heath Department staff continues to coordinate vaccination of Phase 1.”
Merced County received an allocation of both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.
So far, the Public Health Department has not been notified of any individuals having serious or significant side effects.
Per the CDC, common side effects are fatigue, headache, chills, fever, and joint and muscle pain, but not everyone experiences these.
Madrigal-Hernandez told the Times, “As of Jan. 12, there were 47 active outbreaks. Outbreaks are defined as three or more unrelated, laboratory-confirmed cases linked to a workplace facility within a two-week period. One positive case constitutes an outbreak at a skilled nursing facility.
“The outbreaks were as follows: A.V. Thomas Produce, Anberry Rehabilitation Center – Atwater, Atwater Federal Prison USPS, C and D Guest Homes #3, California Psychiatric Transitions, City of Merced Government Offices, Dole in Atwater, Dos Palos High School, Dutch Bros. Coffee- Los Banos, Elim Elementary School, First Transit, Inc. Location 55757, Foster Farms-Livingston Complex, Franciscan, Grace Homes, Highway 59 Landfill, Hilmar High School, Hilmar Middle School, Home Depot Los Banos, Human Services Agency-Castle, Human Services Agency-Wardrobe Office, Hy-lond Healthcare Merced, John B Sanfilippo & Son, Kagome Inc, La Sierra Care Center, Laird Manufacturing Service Center, LLC Retirement Home-Merced, Los Banos High School, Los Banos Nursing and Rehab, Madhu Kris MD, Inc., MCOE Special Education-Winfield, McSwain Elementary School West Campus, Me-N-Ed’s – Los Banos, Merced Adult School, Merced Behavioral Health Center, Merced Faculty Associates-Parkside, Merced Heart Associates, Merced High School, Merced Nursing and Rehab, Merquin Elementary School, Pacifica Senior Living Merced, Probation Adult Office, Raley’s-Merced, Rancho San Miguel- Livingston, Terrie’s TLC Senior Home, Torres Adult Residential Facility 2, Valley Animal Hospital of Merced, Yosemite Wholesale Inc.
“The outbreaks eliminated from the list between Jan. 5 and 12 were as follows: Anberry Transitional Care Merced, Atwater Federal Prison USPS, Atwater High School, Central Star Crisis Stabilization Unit, Creative Alternatives: Merced Ranch, Creative Alternatives-Harmony, Davidson Residential Home, El Capitan High School, Frank Sparks Elementary School, God’s Love Outreach Ministries- Adult Residential Facility, Golden Valley High School, Juvenile Hall, Livingston High School, Marie Green Psychiatric Facility, Merced County John Latorraca Jail, Merced County Main Jail, Merced School Employees Federal Credit Union-Main Branch, New Bethany, R.M. Miano Elementary School, Razzari Ford Sales Department, Scholle IPN, Teasdale Latin Foods, Transition to Hope Home, Trident Center, Winfield Elementary-Winton
“The outbreaks that arrived on the list between Jan. 5 and 12 were as follows:
A.V. Thomas Produce, C and D Guest Homes #3, Dutch Bros. Coffee – Los Banos, First Transit, Inc. Location 55457, God’s Love Outreach Ministries- Adult Residential Facility, Laird Manufacturing Services Center, Los Banos High School, Rancho San Miguel – Livingston, Terrie’s TLC Senior Home, and Valley Animal Hospital of Merced.”
New virus strain
Madrigal-Hernandez told the Times, “No cases of the new virus strain have been confirmed in Merced County, but it is likely here already. The protocols remain the same in response to this strain, and the same prevention criteria (masking, social distancing, hand washing) apply. Though this strain appears to be more infectious (meaning you are more likely to get it if you are a close contact to someone with this strain), it does not appear to be more deadly.”