Coronavirus infections are popping up across Stanislaus County as local health officials await a state decision on a claim asking to keep sectors of the economy open.
The county Health Services Agency reported 140 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, one less than the previous day, mirroring transmission data that is threatening a new round of lock-downs in counties across California.
The case data Thursday and Friday was more than three times higher than what’s needed to keep Stanislaus in the red tier of the state’s color-coded blueprint for slowing the pandemic. The county recorded daily cases in the 80s and 90s on other days last week.
Since Oct. 12, local restaurants have been able to serve customers indoors under the red tier. And the relaxed restrictions opened doors for fitness centers, museums and church services, albeit with limits on capacity.
With the spike in cases throughout the county and state, it’s not hard to see that coming to an end this week.
California’s top health officials said Friday they were applying the brakes to get a surge of coronavirus outbreaks under control, while infections were widespread in many other states. Gov. Gavin Newsom joined other West Coast governors in strongly urging against out-of-state travel.
Kamlesh Kaur, a health educator for Stanislaus County, said the current cases are across-the-board and not related to any particular business sector.
“We are seeing a lot of household-based cases and (cases) arising from gatherings of any size,” Kaur said in an email.
The COVID-19 respiratory disease was affecting people of all ages, Kaur said, adding the county is seeing a trend of positive cases in the 18 to 24 age group.
The state assigns counties to the most restrictive purple tier if new cases average above 7 per 100,000 population, or about 40 per day in Stanislaus, for two consecutive weeks. The county has met the state’s test positivity criteria but has to meet both criteria to remain in the red.
Stanislaus was faced with reverting to the purple tier last Tuesday but exercised an option to have the state consider an adjudication claim.
According to a draft copy of the claim, the county is touting success in making testing more accessible to vulnerable populations. The test positivity rate in low-income neighborhoods that were hard hit by coronavirus last summer is now below the county’s overall rate, the claim says.
Filed about two weeks after the Halloween weekend, the claim also says COVID-19 transmission is mostly occurring with family gatherings and celebrations. The county argues that a rollback to purple tier will penalize businesses such as restaurants and fitness centers, which are not causing the increase in cases.
The claim also cites a data discrepancy. Multiple laboratories running tests for nursing homes and assisted living centers are not reporting test results to a state system, a problem that’s resulted in adjustments to the county’s case rate for lower-than-average test volume.
Stanislaus made the same argument in a previous adjudication claim and the state agreed the county should have qualified for the red tier a week earlier.
Kaur said Friday the county hopes for a state Department of Public Health decision on the claim before Tuesday’s weekly update on tier status, “but we will find out by noon Tuesday for sure.”
County officials said last week a demotion to purple would take effect Wednesday (Nov. 18) and would be implemented in three days. Restaurants and fitness centers would be restricted to outdoor service as colder weather grips the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Church services would be outdoors or online.
Hair salons are allowed to operate indoors in purple-tier counties as long as they follow guidelines.
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Turlock nursing home has a new outbreak
Some details of the increase in new cases emerged Friday. The Modesto Bee learned there are new cases at Turlock Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where a coronavirus outbreak in April infected patients and staff and ultimately led to 21 deaths.
Melanie Bravo, a regional director for Covenant Care, the facility owner, confirmed the center on Tuolumne Road is dealing with new cases. She said 22 residents and 11 staff members have recently tested positive for COVID-19.
The Turlock center is testing all patients and staff on a weekly basis. Bravo said patients who tested positive were transferred to a designated COVID recovery unit at the nursing center. The recovery unit is isolated from the rest of the facility and served by designated equipment and staff, Bravo said.
The nursing home has been in communication with county public health, she added.
“As we have learned from research conducted by Johns Hospkins University and witnessed firsthand, the coronavirus presents a greater risk to nursing homes serving communities like the Central Valley where the virus is prevalent,” Bravo wrote in response to questions from The Bee.
The county Health Services Agency did not confirm the new cases at what was the site of deadly outbreak in April, but continued a policy of not identifying businesses or health facilities where cases occur.
Kaur said county public health has separate teams that respond to outbreaks in different sectors such as businesses and workplaces, health care facilities, assisted living and schools.
“Our case investigation and contact tracing team will respond to each individual case as needed and the outbreak team will work with each facility to ensure that proper protocols are being followed to contain or stop the spread,” Kaur’s email said.
Cases emerge at Modesto center
Richard Pratt of Santa Rosa said his 97-year-old mother, a resident at Orangeburg Manor in Modesto, was sent to Memorial Medical Center for treatment of symptoms and was diagnosed with COVID-19. She was examined and released but wasn’t allowed to return to Orangeburg Manor.
Pratt said his mother was transferred to a nursing home in Stockton. He said staff notified him about four cases of COVID-19 at Orangeburg Manor, an assisted living and memory care center.
“They thought the virus was isolated to one wing, but my mother was in a wing on the other side of the facility,” Pratt said.
Marie Arbios, administrator for the parent company of Orangeburg Manor, said with coronavirus cases spiking throughout California, the Modesto center is diligent with screening and infection control. Her statement confirmed that several residents of Orangeburg Manor have COVID-19.
Arbios said the center has a mitigation plan and is working closely with health officials on measures to stop any additional transmission of the virus.
“Our focus now is to make sure that all of our staff and residents have the appropriate testing, screening and support they need as they recover from the virus,” her statement said.