In just a matter of days life in Turlock and the rest of the country changed dramatically because of COVID-19.
Schools, government offices, churches, movie theaters, bars, restaurants, shops, and other businesses have either closed or drastically changed their operations in a collective effort to keep COVID-19 cases from spiking to a level that could overwhelm the healthcare system.
People over 65 and those with underlying medical conditions have been advised to shelter at home, but health officials have stressed that it will take a combined effort from everyone to slow the spread of the virus.
“We are asking every single American, no matter what your generation from Z to X and millennials in between to really ensure that you are following these guidelines,” said Dr. Deborah Birx with the U.S. coronavirus task force during a press briefing at the White House. “We hear every night of people who are not in work moving that time into bars and other areas of large gatherings. If we continue with that process, we will fail at containing this virus. Every single generation has a role to play.”
Stanislaus County Health Services Agency reports the county has four positive cases of COVID-19. Another 11 people are awaiting test results, while 20 people in the county have gotten negative test results, as of Monday. With physicians being able to request tests from commercial labs, SCHSA said on Tuesday they would only be reporting positive cases moving forward.
The fourth case is of an adult man, who had recently been in an area with widespread community transmission, according to the health department.
The number of positive cases in San Joaquin County has grown to 13, according to the county's public health department. Merced County does not currently have any positive COVID-19 cases.
Schools, city offices close
The Stanislaus County of Education announced on Sunday that the 25 school districts in the county will close as of Thursday.
Other school districts, like Merced and Sacred Heart School have announced closures.
The City of Turlock declared a state of emergency on Tuesday, which led to the closure of several city departments. The closures start Wednesday and will continue through the end of the month. The City will evaluate the need to continue closures on a 30-day rolling basis. Updates and changes will be posted at City offices and buildings and on the City of Turlock website at www.turlock.ca.us/coronavirus.
City staff will be working during this time and will be available to address or direct public needs. People can call, email, or visit the website to use online services, or send a request through the “Ask” feature on the city’s website.
“In his latest news conference, Governor Newsom is encouraging everyone to self-quarantine especially vulnerable populations or those who may believe they are at risk,” said Mayor Amy Bublak. “He has encouraged sheltering in place, when possible, and limiting the occupancy of retail establishments such as bars, wineries and other businesses to support social distancing in combating the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The Governor has been clear to not issue an edict. We are balancing the social distancing efforts and the ability to continue serving the community. We encourage the people of Turlock to use common sense, remain calm and use the information from the Center for Disease Control and continue to support our local businesses and the economic vitality of Turlock.”
All park rentals, garage sale permits, special events and Adopt-A-Park activities have been canceled through the end of April.
Parks will remain open, however, due to a shortage of available cleaning products and concerns about the potential spread of COVID-19, the City will be closing all playgrounds effective Wednesday.
Turlock Transit and the transit center will continue with normal operations and hours.
Public safety agencies take precautions
The coronavirus is causing new challenges for Turlock’s public safety agencies, which were already taxed with staffing shortages. The public safety facility lobby will be closed and all non-emergency issues will be handled by appointment only. People are asked to make phone or online crime reports as much as possible.
“If there is an in-progress crime involving threats to life or property we are responding,” said Turlock Police Chief Nino Amirfar. “Our staff is equipped with the necessary equipment and training regarding infectious control. If the circumstances allow the officers will be making phone conversations to take reports. Public safety is prepared for these types of emergencies utilizing our abilities to share resources when necessary through mutual aid. It would be nice to have 110 officers and 20 dispatchers right now, as we should for a city this size. But we don’t and we have plans in place to make sure our community is safe with basic patrol services.
“Our Communications Unit is staffed utilizing overtime at this time with officers volunteering to help due to staffing cuts,” Amirfar said. “We are able to maintain current needs but ask the public’s help by again using online reporting. If you do need to call please listen to the dispatcher and answer their questions without argument. They must ask certain questions that must be answered. Please know they are multitasking and while they are talking to you, they are electronically sending your call to the officer. Remember we are all in this together and together we will be ok. Your police department is here for you.”
Interim Turlock Fire Chief Gary Carlson said the fire department is putting “operational orders in place to limit exposure and hopefully prevent firefighters from getting sick. These will include limiting the public access to the fire stations, except for emergencies, and suspending all non-essential public outreach programs. We will be focusing on emergency response only for the foreseeable future.
“If firefighters do become ill, we will have them stay home as is the normal practice,” Carlson said. “We will backfill positions as necessary to ensure emergency response remains intact.”
The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department has curtailed inmate visitation at the county jail.
“To minimize social contact in our detention facilities, we are suspending all in-person visits at the Reentry and Enhanced Alternatives to Custody Training (REACT) facility,” the department wrote on their Facebook page. “There will be no disruption to video visitation occurring at REACT and the Sheriff’s Detention Center-East facilities. Visitation through the glass will remain in effect at Minimum Housing and Sheriff’s Detention Center-West at this time.”
The Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services is currently at the highest response level, which includes monitoring the ongoing threat 24/7. The agency also is responsible for making sure healthcare operations and providers have the needed supplies and are prepared for increased activity.
As of Monday night, the California Department of Public Health has recorded 472 positive cases and 11 deaths. The state has conducted more than 8,000 tests.
White House recommends groups of 10 or fewer
California Gov. Gavin Newsom previously declared a state of emergency and ordered a statewide cancellation of events and gatherings of 250 or more people. On Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that all events of 50 people or more be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks. The White House has suggested the number be lowered to 10.
Gov. Newsom issued new directives on Sunday in an effort to protect the most vulnerable and increase social distancing.
“We are calling for the home isolation of all of those 65 years and older and those with chronic conditions,” Newsom said. “We are doing so with our eyes wide open at the magnitude of what that means and the need to provide wraparound services to support our seniors in need of medical supplies and need of meals and the like.”
Additionally, the governor implored all bars, nightclubs, wineries, brewpubs, and the like to be closed. Restaurants were told to cut the occupancy in half.
“We believe that this is a non-essential function in our state and we believe that it’s appropriate under the circumstances to move in that direction,” Newsom said.
The wave of cancellations and postponements are all part of an effort to slow the rate of infection. Health officials call it flattening the curve and hopefully will prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with a surge of patients.
Hospitals minimize exposure in waiting rooms, surgery
Emanuel Medical Center said the hospital has constructed designated screening areas and is taking additional measures to protect staff and patients.
“Before patients and visitors enter Emanuel Medical Center in areas such as emergency department or registration, hospital staff are questioning all of their recent travel and detailing symptoms,” the hospital wrote on Facebook. “This helps us minimize any potential exposure. In addition, we are allowing one visitor per patient at this time.
“Emanuel Medical Center is supported by a dedicated team of physicians, nurses, infection prevention experts and clinicians. Our team prepares and trains for these types of situations throughout the year and is ready to respond as this situation unfolds. We have strong infection control policies, procedures and systems in place to screen and treat patients. We are committed to keeping our patients, our staff and our community safe.”
While the weather is rainy, the hospital is using a Turlock Transit bus rather than a tent for screening.
Other area hospitals and healthcare clinics are ramping up testing efforts, but there are real concerns about medical supply shortages. In a teleconference facilitated by Congressman Josh Harder’s office and among elected officials and healthcare officials, Warren Kirk, the Central Valley market CEO for Tenet, said there’s growing concern about the supply of personal protective equipment for healthcare professionals. Kirk said all pending COVID-19 cases are treated as if they were positive and that a lot of PPE’s are being used in the five to seven days before results come back.
Doctors Medical Center in Modesto has treated one of the three men tested positive for COVID-19 and that the patient’s symptoms were mild and that he would likely be sent home soon to self-quarantine.
Several of the areas hospitals and clinics are starting drive-thru testing for their patients.
Sutter Health opted to postpone all elective procedures at local hospitals that can be safely rescheduled.
“This decision was made in an effort to help preserve capacity to address critical needs as they arise,” said a Sutter Health spokesperson. “We are also leveraging the strength of our integrated network to increase our capacity by continuing to educate Sutter patients about the variety of options available to them. Sutter patients who feel ill should consider a video visit to see if they meet the criteria for testing. If their symptoms are mild or moderate, they do not need testing. We ask they please stay home to prevent further exposure and take care of themselves.”
The VA Center in Palo Alto said they have been ramping up efforts to service veterans and have already treated one positive COVID-19 patient. The clinics are not seeing any non-urgent patients at this time.
Homeless shelters remain open; churches go online
The Turlock Gospel Mission remains open and has undertaken enhanced protocols to keep staff and guests safe. The new measures include more frequent cleaning of public areas, limiting the number of people in the common areas, and moving beds to give people space for social distancing.
TGM has suspended all volunteer led activities, including meal services provided by churches.
“The Turlock Gospel Mission is open and committed to remaining open to do all we can to serve those in need in Turlock regardless of housing status,” said TGM Executive Director Christian Curby. “If our neighbors need food or shelter, we are going to be here and open until it is not possible due to governmental order or inability to staff the Mission at safe levels. As we continue to produce meals and operate without volunteers, we will need additional financial support from the community. Please prayerfully consider partnering with us now or making an additional donation if you already do to help us get through this crisis.”
Other religious organizations have made the decision to suspend services for a time.
The Diocese of Stockton, which covers the Turlock area, suspended all public daily and Sunday masses. Additionally, all parish and diocesan schools and religious education programs have been canceled. Parishes are encouraged to leave their churches open for parishioners and others who wish to pray and seek spiritual guidance.
Other churches have opted to embrace technology by offering online services only. This includes Monte Vista Chapel, New Life Christian Church, Crossroads Church, and First United Methodists Church. The Turlock Islamic Center has closed temporarily. The Sikh Temple could not be reached by phone.
Legislators work to mitigate financial impacts
Congressman Harder previously introduced a bill that provide tax credits to businesses that pay sick leave to employees who miss work because of COVID-19. Recently the U.S. House of Representatives passed a $850 bill package to help mitigate some of the impacts from COVID-19. Among the bill’s provisions are measures to expedite testing and speed up the production of PPEs.
“We need to be getting that supply chain up and moving as quickly as possible,” Harder said.
The bill also calls for paid sick leave, financial support for small businesses and large industries, like airlines, increased funding for Medicaid programs, expanding food stamp benefits, increased unemployment insurance benefits, and possibly checks sent directly to the public, similar to what happened during the Great Recession.
Researchers still working on vaccine, treatments
Health officials across the country are also stressing that COVID-19 is not the same as influenza, though they share similar symptoms.
Deaths from influenza are usually caused by a secondary source, like bacterial pneumonia or heart attacks from the body’s weakened state. In COVID-19, physicians are seeing people, particularly the elderly and those with medical conditions, develop acute respiratory distress syndrome. The syndrome can cause the lungs to fill with liquids, which makes breathing difficult. Patients with this syndrome need ventilators to breath, which is prompting the concern that there could be a shortage of ventilators.
Additionally, COVID-19 at this point does not have a vaccine or antiviral drugs for treatment like influenza.
COVID-19 is called a novel virus because it is one that has not been seen before, and as such people do not have a natural immunity to it. For example, when H1N1 hit the population it was particularly virulent for people under the age of 35. Researchers found this was because older people had experienced a slightly similar strain in their lives and developed a partial immunity.
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:
- Washing hands with soap and water for a minimum of 20 seconds.
- Avoiding touching eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
- Cover a cough or sneeze with your sleeve, or disposable tissue. Wash your hands afterward.
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
- Staying away from work, school or other people if you become sick with respiratory symptoms like fever and cough.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever, a dry cough, and body aches. 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.
If you’re feeling ill, but your symptoms are mild, Stanislaus County Public Health Director Dr. Julie Vaishampayan suggests skipping the test.
“Not everyone needs to be tested,” Vaishampayan said. “If your symptoms are mild and you are not a person at risk, just stay home and take care of yourself.”