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Stanislaus County prepares for possible surge of COVID-19 cases
COVID-19 nurses
On Tuesday, healthcare workers stood out in front of Kaiser Hospital in Modesto after completing their shifts to bring awareness of the shortage of supplies (SABRA STAFFORD/The Journal).

The Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services is putting a plan into place, including the use of a field hospital and quarantining at hotels and motels should the region see a surge of COVID-19 cases in the next couple of weeks.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Stanislaus County has 39 positive cases and zero deaths, according to the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency. There are 1,171 negative test results, though that number is actually higher because private labs and clinics do not have to report negative test results to the county health department.

"At this point it is important to expect that these numbers, the positive numbers, will probably double every four to five days or sooner," said Stanislaus County Board Supervisor Kristin Olsen, speaking on behalf of the Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services. "It is important, critical that we all stay at home as much as possible."

The SCHSA released more information about the county residents who have tested positive, including cities of residence, gender and the rate of hospitalization. Of the 39 cases, 15 are from Modesto, five from Ceres, two from Riverbank and one from Turlock. Ten cases are from unincorporated areas of Stanislaus County and the remaining six cases are from Oakdale, Patterson and Waterford, but the SCHSA data didn't specify how many for each city.

The breakdown by gender in the county was at 21 women and 18 men. For age, two cases are among 0-17 year olds, 14 are in 18-49 years, 15 in 50-64 years and eight among those people 65 years or older.

Eighteen of the people in Stanislaus County who have COVID-19 have been hospitalized.

On March 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order for all residents and ordered non-essential businesses in the state to close in an effort to curb the rate of COVID-19 spread.

COVID-19 graphic March 30

"Expect stay-at-home orders to last another four to five weeks, and possibly another eight to 12 weeks," Olsen said.

"We expect that this will get worse before it gets better," Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse said on his Facebook page. "It could peak this week, next week or next month. Because this is a new virus there is still much that is unknown about it. We’ve been requesting modeling data from the state for weeks and we finally received it."

The Stanislaus County Office of Emergency Services is looking at four components to address any potential surge the region might see. The first part of that plan is finding a facility that could serve as a field hospital. The county is looking at a warehouse and the old Scenic General hospital in Modesto.

"Within that, there's the challenge of finding the equipment needed and the additional staffing," said OES spokesperson sheriff's deputy Raj Singh. "We may have to reach out for volunteers who have medical experience, like people from the closed surgical centers and dentists."

The second and third components are finding hotels and motels that could be used for quarantines. Singh said the county is following Gov. Newsom's order to secure contracts with four to five hotels and motels in the area to use. The county would use one or more locations to quarantine people who have tested positive for the virus, but don't need hospitalization, however, they can't remain at their residence because of the public risk. For example, if someone living at a senior living facility tested positive, that person would pose a risk to the rest of the residents and the staff, so they would be housed in quarantine. Another hotel or motel would be for people who are at high-risk for the virus and live with someone who contracted the virus. For example, a caretaker may test positive for the virus, but their case is mild. However, they care for an individual who is at higher risk for developing a severe case of the virus, so the high-risk individual would be put up at a hotel or motel to reduce their exposure.

The final component of the county's plan is how to help the state's homeless population. Singh said the county does not have the resources to provide shelter for all of the county's homeless individuals, but any that fall into the high-risk or positive categories, could be housed in one of the hotels. He said the county also is looking at providing hand-wash stations around the area and hand sanitizer for homeless individuals.

Local authorities are also working to make sure non-essential businesses are complying with the governor's order. Dirkse said a new public health directive will be released that clarifies what are and are not essential businesses. He specifically said dog groomers and wine tasting bars should not be open and that restaurants doing take out will be directed to only offer curbside pickup to avoid having people congregate in the business. The new directive will go into effect Thursday.

Starting Monday, Stanislaus County sent cease and desist letters to non-essential businesses that have not been complying with the governor's stay-at-home order.

The letter informs business owners that the business is not part of the critical sector and that by continuing to operate it is "hampering our ability to slow transmission or the disease and increasing the risk to the public from COVID-19.

"As the well-being of our communities and the preservation of public health are of the utmost importance, noncompliance will not be tolerated."

Business owners failing to comply with the order could face a misdemeanor criminal charge and/or regulatory consequences, like the loss of a license.

Business owners were given until Thursday to show and state they are complying with the order. The businesses that are specifically being looked at for compliance are bars, pubs, taverns, dine-in restaurants, hair salons, barber shops, nail salons, gyms and personal trainer facilities.

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

As of Monday, California had reported 6,932 total cases with 150 fatalities. Of the confirmed cases, 1,617 have been hospitalized and 657 are in intensive care units in the state. Of the suspected COVID-19 cases, 3,439 are hospitalized and 602 are in ICU, according to the California Department of Public Health.

As of March 30, approximately 86,100 tests had been conducted in California. At least 28,704 results have been received and another 57,400 are pending. These numbers include data California has received from commercial, private and academic labs, including Quest, LabCorp, Kaiser, University of California and Stanford, and the 22 state and county health labs currently testing.

Merced County has reported 10 COVID-19 cases and zero deaths. San Joaquin County has 141 confirmed cases and seven deaths.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond said Tuesday that distance learning will be continuing likely through the end of the school year.

“Due to the current safety concerns and needs for ongoing social distancing, it currently appears that our students will not be able to return to school campuses before the end of the school year," Thurmond said. "In order to allow schools to plan accordingly, and to ensure that learning still occurs until the end of the school year, we are suggesting that schools plan and prepare to have their curriculum carried out through a distance learning model. This is in no way to suggest that school is over for the year, but rather we should put all efforts into strengthening our delivery of education through distance learning.

“With that said, we are doing everything we can to support our schools and their distance learning opportunities for our students. We have been providing webinars, with one coming up this week to specifically focus on serving our students with disabilities in a distance learning model. We have guidance coming out this week to address the concerns of our seniors, and even our juniors, in regards to grading and graduation requirements. We also put out a survey to all districts in the state to determine their technology gaps and are now working to ensure that all students have access to devices and internet if they need it for their distance learning requirements.

“We are in unprecedented times, and it’s hard to tell what the future holds as we are all doing our best to flatten the curve. From what we know right now, our schools will be closed longer than we originally thought, and it will be best if our schools are prepared for that extension, by having their distance learning models prepared to go until the end of the school year.”

Across the nation there are more than 185,000 coronavirus cases and at least 3,800 deaths. The United States saw 821 deaths on Tuesday.

The White House warned that there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the United States from COVID-19 and that is with the current social distancing orders.

"This is a number that we need to anticipate, but we don't necessarily have to accept it as being inevitable," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert.

Officials described a death toll that in a best-case scenario would likely be greater than the more than 53,000 American lives lost during World War I. And the model's high end neared the realm of possibility that Americans lost to the virus could approach the 291,000 Americans killed on the battlefield during World II.

"There's no magic bullet," said Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force. "There's no magic vaccine or therapy. It's just behaviors. Each of our behaviors, translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic."

Fauci called the numbers "sobering" and urged Americans to "step on the accelerator" with their collective mitigation efforts.

"We are continuing to see things go up," Fauci said. "We cannot be discouraged by that because the mitigation is actually working and will work."

The response to COVID-19 has been hampered by a shortage of medical supplies, including masks, personal protective equipment and ventilators. Stanislaus County has not been spared from these shortages. On Tuesday, healthcare workers stood out in front of Kaiser Hospital in Modesto after completing their shifts to bring awareness of the shortage of supplies. One healthcare worker said employees were each given one surgical mask that they have to use for the whole day and that the N95 masks are only given out when workers are doing a high-risk procedure on a COVID-19 patient, like intubation.

"We want to take care of patients without putting our lives at risk," said one healthcare worker at the hospital. "We feel like we have been thrown to the wolves."

Stanislaus County's Health and Human Services have set up a call center for community members with COVID-19 questions. The call center number is 2-1-1. Linda Mumma, a spokesperson for the agency, said calls began coming in as soon as the center was operational and have ranged from what are the symptoms of COVID-19 to what services are available to help people during the stay at home order.

Law enforcement is warning people to be wary of scams that are starting as the stimulus checks begin to arrive. Singh said no one should give out their personal information to anyone calling or emailing about processing the stimulus check. The IRS is using information from taxes filed this year and last year.

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.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.