The top two health experts in Mariposa County say the Covid-19 virus could have major ramifications on business and fear community spread and a surge in cases.
Both also say the wearing of face masks is a way community members can help control the spread of the virus.
“I’ll admit I am pretty nervous,” said Dr. Mimi Carter, chief of staff at John C. Fremont Hospital, during a Tuesday morning interview. “I feel like every moment I can spend with my family is good because I don’t know if I will be quarantined.”
“I think we are” getting closer to community transmission, said Dr. Eric Sergienko, the county health officer who has been in the forefront of battling the pandemic since it first appeared. He also spoke on Tuesday morning.
As it stands, there are currently five active Covid-19 cases in Mariposa County, said Sergienko. He said roughly a dozen people are in quarantine tied to those cases.
Last week, one employee of JCF tested positive for the virus, though officials believe it was contracted outside of the hospital. Also, eight people at JCF were possibly exposed following positive tests of two elderly people.
But, said Carter, “nothing has come back positive, that we are aware of.”
However, Carter warned the testing has to be done regularly and those employees are still in that process. Sometimes, it can take weeks for the virus to be detected.
“We are basically where we were last week,” said Carter. “We are following the recommendations of the public health officer.”
The most recent case in the county is a 62-year-old female who contracted the virus while socializing in Stanislaus County, said Sergienko.
“She went out to have coffee with a friend and the friend turned out to be symptomatic. So even those casual encounters are opportunities for exposure,” said Sergienko. “What we want to make people in Mariposa aware of, is if they go some place with community transmission, even something like that can put you at risk.”
Sergienko said “thankfully for her,” it is a mild case “and should end well.”
But he quickly added, “at some point, it’s not going to (be like that).”
Carter is in total agreement.
“I am starting to think that anytime now, we can have a surge,” said Carter. “I feel like everyone sort of relaxed.”
One reason a surge is possible, both doctors said, is because of larger gatherings, including those of families.
“Family gatherings are still discouraged,” said Sergienko. “We’ve heard of weddings and wedding receptions and were disappointed those have happened. Those create opportunities for a large bubble to happen.”
Though interviewed separately, Carter is in total agreement.
In fact, Carter said she talked with some friends who said a large group of their family members went camping.
She was disturbed.
“Did you socialize? Did you wear masks?” Carter asked.
She didn’t say the answer, but did say her favorite pastime is backpacking.
“That is social isolation at its best,” said Carter.
Even in those cases, at this point, Mariposa County officials have been able to do contact tracing of those infected, but Sergienko said that could change.
“Every case we know where they got it from, we’ve been able to trace their contacts,” said Sergienko.
But, he said, even though contacts have been traced, as there are more cases, it gets more difficult.
“We are in a place where we can mitigate that risk but we should be conscious as individuals not only the risk we are taking on ourselves, but the community at large,” said Sergienko.
Carter is in total agreement, and believes wearing face coverings is one of the keys to controlling the spread of the virus — a disease for which there is no known cure.
“I will admit that I feel disappointed and sad that a certain population in Mariposa County is not adopting face masks,” Carter said bluntly. “The whole point is to protect others. We should feel comfortable and wear a mask to protect the community.”
In fact, Carter quickly points out that some people have to wear masks all of the time — including her.
“I occasionally sip water,” said Carter.
But otherwise, she said everyone at JCF masks up every day, all day.
“It’s uncomfortable,” said Carter. “It’s not dangerous. For a certain small part of the population, it is dangerous, but for most everyone it is safe to wear a mask.”
Part of the discussion — which can be quite political in nature — is how businesses should handle face coverings and what the state is mandating.
Sergienko said the state of California is “ordering” individuals to wear facial coverings when they are not able to social distance.
That, he said, makes “the expectation” that enforcement comes from the government and is not a business responsibility.
“Businesses can exclude people they feel put their business at risk,” said Sergienko. “We’re not asking businesses to enforce, we are asking them if they want to do risk mitigation.”
He did say the executive order is enforceable, but it is so “as an individual mandate.”
He said “the expectation” is the “individual will be responsible.”
It is clear, though, the order is punishable as a misdemeanor crime. What is unclear, however, is whether individuals who may contract the virus in a business will have the right to sue that business. That is still being debated in the legal community though many say lawsuits will be coming.
Sergienko said the California State Sheriff’s Association has said, via a press release, “given the severity of this infraction,” they will not be enforcing the code.
For Carter, she believes people simply need to follow the science — and protect their fellow citizens.
“We all see the uptick,” said Carter. “We all know businesses are going to close again; we just don’t know the degree. If we could wear masks, we could keep businesses open and have schools in the fall.”
The doctor said wearing masks can correlate to helping local businesses while not doing so can actually hurt them and their employees.
Carter also addressed “freedom,” a subject that has been bandied about by many people when it comes to wearing face coverings. Many say it is their choice not to wear a mask based on individual rights.
Carter says there is more to the story.
“You are not going to have a choice to keep your business open,” said Carter. “Now is the time to engage in social protection to keep our economy open.”
Sergienko said he spoke with officials from the Mariposa County Chamber of Commerce who “estimated” about 75 percent of businesses are “encouraging or requiring facial coverings to come into the businesses.”
Sergienko, too, said they are fielding complaints on a regular basis about businesses which are not enforcing wearing face coverings.
“We’re hearing a lot about that 25 percent from individuals,” said Sergienko.
Though Sergienko said it is not likely local businesses will be shut down because of masks, there could be other scenarios — which are a real possibility.
The scenarios could be closing businesses in specific sectors if health guidance is not followed.
For example, Sergienko said if restaurant workers are required — under health department orders — to wear masks and they are not, it could constitute a reason to close that business. The same could be true for other businesses, like fitness centers and more.
“We would rather have people voluntarily comply; I think that is a reasonable ask,” said Sergienko.
Should a surge in cases happen locally, Sergienko said it could impact how contract tracing happens and if it can continue at its current level. That could happen if the disease reaches community transmission in the county, he said.
If that should happen, Sergienko said “broader measures” could be applied, including reverting back to lock down orders and putting more strict rules on travel and how businesses operate.
Carter said she is concerned because of the rising number of cases in California combined with the fact Yosemite National Park recently reopened, meaning travelers are now frequenting the area regularly.
“Things are not good in California,” said Carter.
In fact, Carter said she has friendships with various executives in major healthcare centers around the state and each year, they do a group trip to the outdoors.
“Maybe we are not going to see each other this year,” said Carter. “We don’t know what it’s going to look like.”
She is also concerned with the rapidly growing rate of the disease in the Central Valley — which borders the foothills that, for the most part, have so far not seen a big surge in Covid-19.
“My daughter has a medical appointment in Fresno in July and I may have to cancel it as it stands right now,” said Carter, noting the numbers are surging in Fresno County, where the governor recently ordered bars to be closed.
Carter said she has “not left the county since this has all started.”
She’s hearing reports of Los Angeles possibly running out of ICU beds in the near future and believes it is up to the public to change the course of the disease.
“We really need to engage in wearing masks, washing hands and social distancing,” said Carter.
That is a message she believes in wholeheartedly.
“I went into medicine to take care of others,” said Carter. “It is my opportunity to protect people who go out in public. We should take it like that and it should not be about losing our freedoms.”
JCF clinics still open
Carter said the clinics at JCF are still open and serving patients.
She did say they continue to focus on telemedicine, especially for things like lab results, follow-up visits and consultations.
“We are very busy at the clinic,” said Carter.
She said they are doing wellness checks, calling them “very important.”
That, she said, is especially true now because of the uncertainty about Covid-19.
“We don’t know what the fall is going to look like,” said Carter.
She said people should be doing mammograms, wellness exams “and all of those things” which go to good overall health.
To schedule an exam, contact the JCF clinic at (209) 966-2154.