To date, there are no reported cases of Covid-19 in Mariposa County.
But that doesn’t mean the disease isn’t here, though the numbers so far are positive.
As of Tuesday morning, there had been 24 Covid-19 tests administered in Mariposa County, with 14 negative tests and 10 tests pending.
“At this point they are all county residents (that have been tested). They may have traveled out of the county, but none have traveled outside of the state or country (recently),” said Mariposa County Health Officer Dr. Eric Sergienko.
While having no confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the county is certainly positive news, the reality is the virus could be present in Mariposa County and simply not confirmed yet. Twenty-four tests out of nearly 18,000 county residents is hardly an indication of whether the virus is here or not.
With that said, Sergienko explained one reason he believes it likely isn’t here is that the county hasn’t had — and doesn’t currently have — “ongoing transmission” of the virus.
“If we have it, it’s not causing severe disease,” Sergienko explained. “That’s the logic model you kind of look at. We do know Covid-19 causes severe disease, so in the absence of severe disease, it’s not here.”
He added: “If we had ongoing transmission, we’d see a lot more respiratory illness. … It’s not just the negative tests that help me determine this. It’s the other things we look at as epidemiologists.”
At Tuesday morning’s Mariposa County Board of Supervisors meeting, Sergienko explained even though there are no reported cases in the county, that doesn’t mean there are no cases, as there has been very limited testing, which could remain the case.
Sergienko said at the meeting, though officials are trying to obtain more supplies, the swabs used to administer the test are in short supply, including locally.
“We want to test as many people as possible,” said Sergienko, who added they continue to work with the state and federal governments to get more swabs to administer the tests.
In addition, Sergienko said modeling has been conducted by Johns Hopkins University that includes counties throughout America. He said that modeling indicates the Covid-19 virus should “peak” in Mariposa County “in late April or early May.”
Sergienko was asked by supervisor Marshall Long about how long it might take for a vaccine to be developed.
“Probably a year out, maybe longer, maybe shorter,” said Sergienko.
Given all of that, John C. Fremont Healthcare District Chief Executive Officer Matthew Matthiessen said the hospital has ordered 15 new beds and four geriatric chairs. The beds would be there in case they are needed for an over-run of any potential intensive care patients, should the virus spread throughout the county.
One other subject Sergienko addressed with the Gazette was the supervisors, who had one of their weekly meetings on Tuesday morning.
Health officials and experts have warned that with a mindset of caution due to the Covid-19 outbreak, meetings and gatherings should be limited in size. Obviously, county business still needs to be taken care of even during times of a public health emergency, but the question becomes, is it worth the risk?
“There are exemptions to the Brown Act (the state’s open meeting law). I would encourage them to use that to their best advantage,” he said. “If they can delay those meetings or encourage social distancing in those meetings, that’s what I would encourage them to do. … I’m not a lawyer, but from a public health standpoint, as long as they’re doing things that allow for social distancing, at this point in time I am okay with that.”
Another concern regarding the supervisors board meeting is that with the state’s current “shelter in place” order, county residents are expected to stay in their homes except for certain errands, and wouldn’t be encouraged to attend a public meeting.
But without attending in person, how would their input be taken at the board meeting?
“My understanding is it (the meeting) does not allow for resident citizens to dial in. Then the challenge becomes how to have a participatory government without having people participate,” Sergienko said. “The challenge for county counsel or the lawyers amongst us is how to work within the Brown Act to work in a participatory government.”
Ironically, and fortunately for Mariposa County residents, Sergienko has a background in handling infectious diseases and pandemics. Prior to coming to Mariposa County in 2016, he was an active duty member of the Navy and worked as a liaison between the Navy and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He worked in Washington State for the Epidemic Intelligence Service, which is a branch of the CDC.
“I’ve been addressing issues relating to pandemics since 2004. This is something you plan for all your life and never hope to have happen, and yet, here it is,” Sergienko said.