Virus notes: March 30-31, 2020

MERCED (B LJ) -- The Merced County Public  Health Department reports that as of March 30, there are 10 cases of COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) in the county. One patient was infected due to “community spread;” the others were due to traveling elsewhere, the department press release said. But, on March 31 in a telephone town-hall meeting set up by Rep. Jim Costa, the Merced County Director of Public Health waffled on the other nine cases, saying they really didn't know how they contacted the virus. But what angered me as the pandemic swells around us, was this:

UPDATE ON TESTING FIGURES: Until further notice, updated numbers regarding individuals tested for COVID-19 will no longer be included in these updates. The daily figure that has previously been provided only included the total number of people tested within the public health system, but not the commercial lab system, hospitals and clinics (the Public Health  Department is not provided those numbers). Due to a significant increase in commercial lab tests, that daily total would not be an accurate portrayal of how many people have been tested at this time. Following the example of other counties, the Public Health Department is currently working on a new process to more comprehensively capture negative testing results from all lab sources for inclusion on future reports. The Public Health Department already captures, and releases, all positive testing results.

In California, there are 6,302 active cases and 132 deaths.


My problem with this statement is that without a number representing the people in the county who have been tested, the number of confirmed cases isn’t very useful. Why doesn’t the daily public health department figure of the total tested include the commercial labs, etc., as well as the individuals the department itself tests? What public interest is served by withholding this information from the public? Won’t the clinics, private physicians and the hospital share information with the department?

One explanation is that the number of people that have been tested is quite high or at least represents a measurable proportion of the county’s 257,000 residents. This makes those, particularly in vulnerable groups, who have requested testing from their clinics and the public health department and been denied due to lack of each and every symptom in neat combination, reach one conclusion: testing is being rationed according to economic privilege. Unfortunately for the fortunate, however, they can still be infected by  someone walking around untested who doesn’t know he has the virus and who, if he did know, might have taken steps to protect others.


What is going on here? Is this really the time for turf wars, defense of bailiwicks, erecting siloes of information? Is this time for the public health department to completely capitulate to private interests? The people of Merced aren’t sheep to be lied to either by commission or omission. They are doing a pretty good job of obeying the new rules of conduct and will get better with time. The notable exception is youth, apparently oblivious of the pandemic so far.

The public deserves all the information that can help them understand their condition versus this pandemic. Citizens who understand their situation are better able to defend themselves and each other.

On March 31, the department offers no daily update, but the website says it will offer something if you provide the county with your email, etc. In other words, instead of monitoring the pandemic, the department is monitoring people asking questions about it.

This is a mutation of the original virus. 


UC Merced shares safety measures after campus consultant contracts COVID-19


Sara Sandrik

MERCED, Calif. (KFSN) -- UC Merced is usually bustling with activity with more than 8800 students on campus, but now it's extremely quiet.

The semester just resumed Monday following the spring break, and classes are all being taught through remote learning tools.

Interim Chancellor Nathan Brostrom says, "We have about 220 students who are on campus. I'm actually in the dining pavilion, which is still open for takeout food, but every other building is really shut down."

Two students who were self-isolating after showing symptoms consistent with COVID-19 earlier this month have since tested negative.

Officials announced on March 27 that a campus consultant who was last at the university on March 16 tested positive for the virus.

A message to the campus community said that county officials reached out to those with whom the person interacted. No one reported symptoms, but they were still asked to self-quarantine.

Brostrom says, "The health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff are our top priority so we're doing everything as far as social distancing, personal hygiene, but also extra cleaning."

Along with custodial staff, construction crews are also still hard at work. They're finishing the 2020 Project, which is scheduled to be complete in early summer.

Some residents have raised concerns about protecting those workers from the virus, but the university says every effort is being made to ensure social distancing and sanitation practices.

Chancellor Brostrom acknowledges there are many challenges when it comes to coping with COVID-19, but he's proud of how the Bobcats are adapting.
"Any time you're trying anything new it's difficult, and there will be some missteps," Brostrom said. "But I just really appreciate the resilience and dedication of the faculty, students, and staff who are working really hard to make this all possible."

The university has set up a small number of classrooms and labs that instructors can reserve to create the content they're now sending out remotely, and students were able to borrow laptops, if needed.