Virus notes: April 4-5, 2020

The Merced County Public Health Department reports that as of Friday, April 3, there were 19 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Merced County, three patients have recovered, and there are as yet no deaths from the virus in the county. The figures are broken down according to several categories that must make sense to Dr. Scarf in the White House, in constant search for granularity, but make no difference to members of the Merced County public, particularly those in high risk groups.

UPDATE 4:45 p.m. -- The county Public Health Department announced the first death from COVID-19, a man under 65 with underlying health conditions. There are now 29 cases of COVID-19 in the county.

As of April 4, there are 384,826 confirmed cases nationwide, and 7.616 deaths. In California, there are 13,438 cases and 319 deaths.

Locally, it is irritating that the public health department rations testing according to socioeconomic privilege. The department demands a prescription from a doctor, typically a primary care physician, in a county in a region with an acute shortage of physicians of all specialties, and access to any of them  is also rationed by privilege. In the case of local clinics that serve lower income patients, the rationing is done through physician assistants and other intermediaries between the multitude of patients assigned to each primary care physician, who ask in the phone a crude set of “screening questions” about patient symptoms, the diagnostic value of which is in more doubt as every day of the pandemic passes.

But they will refer you to the emergency ward where, if you do not already have COVID-19, you can pick up a case of it for free.

They will also refer you to the public health department where a soothing voice will listen to your symptoms, answer your questions, and tell you you’re are all right.

None of this applies to people without insurance, about 10 percent of the county population, and the many people who can't or won't get a doctor and prefer to go to the emergency room for medical care. What is being done about the homeless? Has the rain driven them into densely packed shelters?

Below is an article, originally published in the Fresno Bee, about the doctor shortage in Fresno, largest city in the San Joaquin Valley. We noticed that despite much attention paid to medical training in Fresno, UCSF medical school and hospital are mentioned frequently, UC Merced’s aspirational medical school not at all.

Stay well, neighbors, we’re flying blind through the beginning of the storm.




4-25-20 (orig. Fresno Bee)

Fresno area is sicker and has a doctor shortage. So the coronavirus poses a huge threat, experts warn

By Manuela Tobias