While data points to California seeing a flattening of the curve for COVID-19 cases, the same cannot be said for Stanislaus County.
As of 5 p.m. Friday, the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency had recorded 206 positive COVID-19 cases and four deaths. There have been 2,974 negative tests and 92 recoveries.
A Turlock man who worked at a Safeway distribution center has been identified as one of the local deaths from COVID-19. Family identified the deceased as Pedro Zuniga. He was described as a family man, devout Catholic and an accomplished home cook.
"A little over a week ago we received the news no human on this earth wants. Pedro Zuniga, a loving husband, father, grandfather and friend became infected with COVID-19," said Adilene Valencia, who established a GoFundMe account for the family. "Last night, on April 13, he lost the battle with the virus and now our family needs your help."
Zuniga worked at a Safeway distribution center in Tracy and it's there that his family said he was exposed to the coronavirus.
Safeway released a statement on Zuniga's passing:
“We were saddened to learn that an associate at our Tracy Distribution Center has passed away due to complications related to COVID-19. Our hearts are heavy, and our thoughts are with that associate’s family. This is difficult for the entire Safeway team. We are letting our associates know that if they are feeling uneasy, they can call our Employee Assistance Program to speak with licensed counselors. We’re working to assist the associate’s family during this difficult time through the Safeway Foundation’s We Care program – a charitable program designed to support our associates during unanticipated financial hardships and emergencies.”
Safeway said they are taking additional steps to protect the workers at distribution centers, including screening employees before their shifts, securing more masks, setting up hand sanitizer stations and enhanced cleaning and disinfection.
Of the 206 positive cases in Stanislaus County, 157 have remained at home and 49 have been hospitalized. Direct person to person contact resulted in 116 cases and community transmission accounted for 70 cases, according to the SCHSA. Fourteen were from travel and five remain under investigation.
Seventy-nine of the cases are in Modesto, followed by 35 in the unincorporated areas of the county. Ceres has 27, followed by 17 in Patterson and 15 in Turlock. Riverbank has nine cases, Newman has eight, Waterford seven and Oakdale five.
There are nine cases in children up to 17 years old; 114 for people 18 to 49 years; 47 cases for people 50 to 64 years old; and 36 cases among people 65 years and older. Males make up 111 cases and females 95.
Stanislaus County is seeing an increase in cases on a daily basis, with this week posting some of the largest jumps.
"We have had a pretty good increase in cases," said Stanislaus County Public Health Director Dr. Julie Vaishampayan. "I had hoped we wouldn't see this."
On April 5, Stanislaus County had 71 positive cases of COVID-19. By April 12, the number had grown to 131. Between Sunday and Monday the cases grew by 15, followed by 17 more on Tuesday. Wednesday brought in 14 new cases, followed by 10 on Thursday and 19 more on Friday.
One of the reasons why Stanislaus County is continuing to see cases increase each day is because the area is not doing well when it comes to social distancing.
Stanislaus County is getting a D grade for social distancing when looking at cell phone data. Unacast determined the grades for all California counties by looking at GPS data and the change in average distance traveled when compared to the pre-stay at home order and now.
Social distancing appears to be one of the best methods of preventing the spread of COVID-19 and flattening the curve. The less it is implemented, the more likely the virus will spread in a community and the longer the stay at home order will continue.
"We are all in this together," said Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse. "We will get through this together. If everyone does not get with the program and follow the guidance that has been given out, this is going to last longer and be worse than anyone wants it to be."
Stanislaus County Sheriff spokesman Sgt. Tom Letras said the department received numerous complaints about large family gatherings on Easter.
"What this means is that for families that may have gathered, someone may have been infected with COVID-19 and infected other family members," Letras said. "It may take a couple of days for them to start showing symptoms and then another day or two for them to go see a doctor and get tested. Even though we have been doing well, we could see a spike in numbers based on the number of people who gathered on Easter weekend."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that as many as 25 percent of people infected with the coronavirus are asymptomatic, but they can be contributing to transmission. Another study by the CDC also found that people are shedding the most virus in the couple days before showing symptoms. In the case of the coronavirus, shedding the virus refers to the water vapor that is released when talking, coughing or sneezing.
Symptoms of COVID-19 include a fever, a dry cough, headaches, fatigue 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.
Officials also said the number of positive COVID-19 cases is probably higher than what the count shows from the SCHSA. Some of the discrepancy can be attributed to the number of tests available in the area and the lack of some testing supplies. The SCHSA is hoping to see the testing increase with a partnership with Verily's Baseline COVID-19 Program.
Starting Monday, residents can screen their symptoms and, if eligible, can make an appointment for testing at the Salida Library online by using the Baseline COVID-19 Program online screener and appointment scheduling system found at www.projectbaseline.com/COVID19.
This program is first focusing on high-risk populations as advised by national guidelines. The screening and testing criteria are based on public health guidelines and may be updated to reflect the latest guidance from public health authorities.
“We have wanted to offer more COVID-19 testing opportunities to people at risk for severe disease within Stanislaus County, but limited testing supplies made this a challenge,” said Dr. Vaishampayan. “Our partnership with Verily will help bring the resources and tools to Stanislaus County to offer COVID-19 testing without over loading the healthcare system.”
Stanislaus County’s community-based COVID-19 testing program is directed by the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency. In collaboration, the Baseline COVID-19 Program provides a connected solution to support individuals from screening through testing and receipt of their test results. Verily developed The Baseline COVID-19 Program working closely with state and local government health authorities and other private health organizations to expand access to COVID-19 screening and testing in areas with a high volume of known cases.
Eligible persons must be 18 years or older, live in Stanislaus County and willing to electronically sign the COVID-19 Public Health Authorization Form and Lab Consent. Based on the COVID-19 screener and testing appointment availability, individuals will learn whether they are eligible for testing through this program and will be provided a testing location appointment.
A surge in transmission and positive tests results can result in a spike in hospitalizations, which runs the risk of overwhelming the local healthcare operations. The peaks work like dominoes, with one aspect falling into another. Typically, symptoms appear within two to 14 days of being infected. Once symptoms start showing, it's usually in the second week of the illness that people experience the worst of the symptoms. Weeks after the peak of transmission is when the peak of hospitalizations are seen. The average rate of hospitalization is around seven days, unless a person has to be put on a ventilator and then the average is about 10 days. The peaks in deaths would hit a couple weeks after the peak in hospitalizations.
Stanislaus County has 1,200 hospital beds, but not all those beds are available. The County does have a plan to use the old Scenic General Hospital in Modesto as a surge care location, which would add another 110 beds. The County is currently working on a staffing plan for the facility and another plan for another surge site if that one reaches capacity.
California had 27,528 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 985 deaths as of Friday afternoon. The California Department of Public Health data shows hospitalization rates were declining this week through much of the state.
“You have successfully bent and arguably flattened the curve in the state of California,” Newsom said. “We continue to need to maintain our vigilance, guided not by political decision-making, guided by data, guided by facts, guided by science, guided by health professionals all throughout the state of California.”
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.
As Stanislaus County Public Health continues to work with the Emergency Operation Center in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic locally, it is critical that individuals and organizations take critical steps in slowing the spread of the virus by following all applicable guidance and recommendations, including:
· Practice social distancing which means stay at least 6 feet away from others.
· Avoid ALL non-essential activities that involve close contact with the general public
· Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol for at least 20 seconds
· Limit close contact with people who are sick. Try to stay at least 6 feet away from someone who is sick
· Routinely clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
· Do not share objects such as utensils, cups, food, and drink
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.