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Community reminded to stay at home as COVID-19 cases grow
social distancing poster

The United States has become the epicenter of the global coronavirus pandemic with the most cases reported in the world.

The U.S. had 100,013 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 1,545 deaths as of Friday afternoon, according to John Hopkins University.

Almost half of the country's cases are in New York, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo described as the "canary in the coal mine" for the rest of the nation. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified other growing hot spots, including New Orleans, Chicago, Detroit and Los Angeles.

California reported 3,801 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Friday and 78 deaths. Of those cases, 1,083 are community-acquired and 2,718 were from person to person transmission, travel, repatriation or are under investigation. The state has 48 cases in healthcare workers.

The age breakdowns of those with COVID-19 in California are; 0-17 - 45 cases; 18-49 - 1,906 cases; 50-64 - 967 cases; 65+ - 847 cases; and 36 cases where the age is unknown.

As of 2 p.m. Thursday, California has conducted 88,400 tests, of which, 65,000 are pending results.

Stanislaus County reported 23 confirmed cases as of Friday afternoon. There have been no deaths reported in the county. Merced County has four confirmed cases and zero deaths and San Joaquin County has 90 cases and three deaths.

Stanislaus County Public Health Director Dr. Julie Vaishampayan said Wednesday night that the county is probably looking at six weeks before the stay at home order could be eased, though she stressed that it was not a hardline and depends on if the spread slows.

“The hope is that the more we stay home, don’t mix and don’t spread disease, then the shorter the time line will be,” Dr. Vaishampayan said.

School districts around the county, including Turlock Unified School District and Denair Unified School District announced that the opening of schools was pushed back to early May.

Stanislaus County, like the rest of the world, is grappling with a shortage of tests for the virus. Dr. Vaishampayan said California counties are prioritizing tests for those already in the hospital and those living in congregate settings, like an assisted living facility.

“In a perfect world we would like to test everybody that wants to be tested, needs to be tested, but no there are not enough tests to go around right now,” Dr. Vaishampayan said. “There is a shortage of many things in the supply chain needed for testing.

“We are testing people where we need to know to make a difference in spread.”

There is drive through testing in Stanislaus County, but it is only for people referred by their doctor and is by appointment only. The Stanislaus County Health Services Agency is not doing testing.

There are also global shortages of needed medical supplies like ventilators and personal protective equipment for healthcare workers. Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department spokesman Sgt. Tom Letras, speaking on behalf of the Stanislaus Office of Emergency Services, said the region has 92 ventilators.

"We recognize and understand that 92 ventilators may not be enough in the event of a surge, so we are continually working with the state and other medical facilities in order to try and get more ventilators to make sure we have enough in the event we might need them," Letras said.

Stanislaus County received a shipment of personal protective equipment on Thursday and distributed them out to area medical facilities, according to Letras.

"We still don't have everything we would like to have, but we are continually working on building our stock and getting it out to our medical facilities," he continued.

On March 19, California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a stay at home order for the entire state, with exceptions for essential businesses like grocery stores and pharmacies. The message pushed by health officials is for people to social distance at least six feet from each other when out in public.

"We know and understand we have more than 23 people who have COVID-19 here in Stanislaus County," Letras said. "We also know we already have community spread. The reason we mention this is because anytime you go out in public, you could reasonably assume there's a possibility you could be exposed to COVID-19.

"Now we understand you can't just stay in your house 24 hours, seven days a week," Letras said. "You may need to get out and get groceries. You may need to get prescriptions. What we are telling you is to leave as little as possible. Stay home. Stay safe. If you have to go out, use precautions."

Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse said on Tuesday the sheriff’s department has seen a sharp decrease in the number of people out and about in the community, but that stricter adherence is still needed. He said the department has received numerous comments and complaints about people gathering together, especially at parks.

“It’s okay to take your dog for a walk,” Dirkse said. “It’s okay to be with someone from your household. What’s not okay is to go play basketball in a group. That is not social distancing. Parents, we are also going to ask you to please talk to your kids about this. Many of the comments that we have are specifically related to youth and the fact that they seem to be the ones ignoring some of these social distancing guidelines.”

Dirkse said there are also some non-essential businesses that remain open and are asking for the public’s help in bringing them into compliance.

“We have been in the middle of an education role and we are moving into an active enforcement role with those businesses and there’s multiple steps to take with this,” Dirkse said. “The first is direct contact, might just be a phone call to that business owner. We are going to follow up with some more severe measures. So, what we would ask that you do is share that information with your friends, families and with any of the communities that you are in. Let those businesses know that they need to comply with this order to prevent the spread of this disease.”

The sheriff’s department said they got around 50 reports of open non-essential businesses just in one day after posting on Facebook information to report these businesses. Dirkse said the department is forwarding the information to the appropriate state, city and county authorities and that these businesses could face regulatory consequences for not following the order.

“For example, a bar that remains open might lose its state liquor license if it does not close,” Dirkse wrote on his Facebook page.

People who see a business that’s open that they believe should be closed, can email

The City of Turlock is receiving reports of people occupying city parks and not adhering to social distancing guidelines.

"If you are operating a bar/pub/tavern, dine-in restaurant, hair/barber/nail salon, or gym/personal training facility against the Governor’s order, the City of Turlock wants you to comply and temporarily close. Please comply and work with us to help stop the spread of COVID-19," the city stated in a news release.

Starting Monday, and continuing until further notice, Turlock Transit will expand its reservation-based Dial-a-Ride service to start two hours earlier Monday through Saturday. This extension, offered exclusively for senior citizens 65 years or older, will allow them to schedule door-to-door trips between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m., as well as provide the opportunity to take advantage of senior only shopping hours for essential goods at local businesses.

One-way trips or roundtrips that begin during these extended hours will be provided at no cost to the passenger. Seniors would remain eligible to use the service after 9 a.m. as well, though it would no longer be exclusive to seniors at that point. Reservations will be available on a first-come, first-serve basis. Seating will be limited to ensure the appropriate social distancing separation between individuals at all times. Reservations can be made for essential trips as soon as the next day and as late as 14 days out. Eligible passengers can make a reservation by calling Turlock Transit at (209) 668-5600.

Symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever, a dry cough, and body aches. Severe cases of COVID-19 might experience difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest, confusion or inability to arouse, and bluish lips or face. If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and may have had contact with a person with COVID-19, or recently traveled to countries with apparent community spread, call your healthcare provider or local public health department first before seeking medical care so that appropriate precautions can be taken.

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). This occurs through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Older adults and people who have severe underlying chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications from COVID-19 illness.

Health officials recommend people:

- Wash hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds.

- Avoid touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.

- Cover a cough or sneeze with your sleeve, or disposable tissue. Wash your hands afterward.

- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.

- Stay away from work, school or other people if you become sick with respiratory symptoms like fever and cough.

People can receive updates about COVID-19 in Stanislaus County by texting STANCOVID19 (all caps) to 888777 to receive updates from the Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services.