The county health officer says if people don’t comply with Covid-19-related regulations, the county could be forced to go back to more restrictions.
He also said new rules about wearing face coverings should be followed by all county residents, without exception.
Dr. Eric Sergienko also said Tuesday there have been three more cases in Mariposa County, all involving community transmission.
“It has been a busy last 24 hours for us here in the county,” said Sergienko.
Two of the cases are a married couple, both of whom are symptomatic. The female is age 79 and is currently hospitalized while the 80-year-old male is in home isolation, said Sergienko.
He also said the two were tested at John C. Fremont Hospital, where they interacted with eight employees, all of whom are being evaluated for exposure.
Dr. Mimi Carter, chief of staff at JCF, said on Tuesday morning “everybody here is employing appropriate PPE (personal protective equipment),” something she has stressed since the pandemic outbreak.
“Absolutely, all are wearing gear,” said Carter.
Carter also noted it “takes a bit of time” before any information is known. She said the time from “exposure to being tested” to “have enough viral load to determine if they had the illness” also has to be considered.
The incubation period of the virus has to be taken into consideration, said Carter.
Carter said the one patient who is hospitalized is not at JCF but at a regional facility.
Sergienko said the cases were almost certainly from community transmission in Merced, where he said the couple was shopping.
He also said the couple had 28 contacts, all of whom reside in other counties.
“That points out one of the guidances in place,” said Sergienko. “That is stay at home if you are sick and stay away from people if you are sick.”
Sergienko also said on Tuesday a third person from Mariposa County tested positive for the virus.
That person tested positive in Fresno, he said, and is currently hospitalized in that city. He said it appears the woman, age 73, acquired the disease at a hospital in Fresno. Contract tracing has shown no local contacts, he said.
Sergienko stressed that at this point, there is not community spread in Mariposa County.
However, he added there is community spread in each of the surrounding counties in the Sierra foothills.
“We are probably on the verge of entering community transmission here,” said Sergienko.
To date, there have been 21 positive cases identified in Mariposa County.
“We were hoping we would have a little bit of a seasonal break,” said Sergienko.
He did stress the county has not hit a new threshold which would mean rolling back some of the regulations that have allowed various businesses to open.
“Based on what we know, we have not hit any indicators,” said Sergienko.
The face covering issue
One of the biggest changes for all California residents came last week when Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered residents to wear face coverings in most public settings.
Sergienko said that safety measure is up to residents, who he said should follow the state guidelines.
“We know the message has been confusing,” said Sergienko.
But Sergienko again referred back to the scientific studies, which now indicate wearing face coverings can prevent the spread of the virus.
“By covering your face, you reduce the percent of spreading,” said Sergienko.
He said surgical masks and N-95 masks protect the users.
“We know that from multiple studies,” he said.
Cloth masks, said Sergienko, are less effective, but still can help stop the spread of the disease. But, added Sergienko, they can be effective, especially if people practice good hygiene.
“It goes hand in hand with good hygiene,” said Sergienko.
Sergienko said the “science has changed” since the outbreak of the virus.
“You learn new stuff,” said Sergienko. “It is protecting other people. That’s what we are all about.”
He also addressed the issue of whether the face mask issue is a law in California.
“It is an extension of the executive order,” said Sergienko. “That makes it a lawful order.”
He said not wearing a face covering where it is required is a misdemeanor under California code.
But Sergienko said the California State Sheriff’s Association said they are not likely to enforce the law.
“We do want voluntary compliance,” said Sergienko. “We are about taking care of our community and that’s what we need to do; especially now.”
Mariposa County Sheriff Doug Binnewies said he has monitored social media and talked to many people individually about the face covering situation.
“This guidance has come down from the state of California and our local businesses are navigating it the best they can,” said Binnewies.
Binnewies said there have been threats by some to boycott local businesses as well as “mask shaming” incidents.
“Do what you think is right, but please remain respective and supportive of our fellow community members,” said Binnewies. “We’re all navigating this together.”
“Every county around us has community transmission,” said Sergienko. “Facial covering is a way to reduce it.”
Mariposa County Board of Supervisors Chairman Kevin Cann said in a recent meeting of county officials from around the state, some were clamoring for more control to deal with the Covid-19 issue.
“What is the regression process?” asked Cann.
“The state watches us all the time,” said Sergienko. “Every county is on the data monitoring list.”
He said if counties slip, they are given a 14-day window to “get the numbers back in line. If you don’t get back in line, they will ask you to implement any number of mitigation strategies you had taken off.”
Sergienko said if it is determined there is community transmission, then officials “have to make a hard decision about where we gather.”
Should that happen locally, Sergienko said health officials would have to “take a hard look” at “places like restaurants and bars.”
Sergienko said should it come to that, “the most likely way for me to slow down is to go back to take out only or if we are able to identify a nexus of transmission.”
After that, he said officials “would have to consider lodging and our tourism industry. Those are the kinds of things we would walk back first.”
He did say “we are not there yet,” but then asked, “Will we get there?”
Answering his own question, Sergienko said: “I would hope not until we get into the fall. We are seeing a lot of activity right now.”
Supervisor Marshall Long asked Sergienko about a recent study from China which indicated antibodies might not be lasting in the human body, which means a herd immunity might not develop.
“It is an unknown but it is a concern,” said Sergienko, who added the science is indicating it is “unlikely to build a herd immunity.”
Because of that, Sergienko said any vaccine might be similar to a flu vaccine where it has to be given annually.
Supervisor Rosemarie Smallcombe asked about community transmission and how frequently people are being tested, especially those who have contact with people from outside the area.
“One of my mantras is the more testing the better,” said Sergienko.
Sergienko said the county is hitting the state threshold of 127 tests per day, but he said “it would be nice” to test a full 1/10th of the county population. That’s around 1,800 residents.
That would give officials more information about the disease, he said, especially if it is being spread by asymptomatic people.
He was also asked about the 24 hour waiting time for lodging rooms or houses.
“It seems a reasonable ask in allowing the virus to die off,” said Sergienko.
He did say other counties in the region are following various strategies, including Mono, where the rule is in place for lodging facilities in Mammoth Lakes but not in the rural parts of the county.
In Madera County, he said officials are “dealing with other problems” and the lodging rule “is not a burning issue.”