PUBLIC HEALTH UPDATE San Benito County Public Health Officer David Ghilarducci speaks at the online board of supervisors meeting June 9. (screenshot)

San Benito County Interim Public Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci June 9 announced that more sectors of the county will reopen by the end of the week, despite data showing that new Covid-19 cases are rising. 

Ghilarducci said during Tuesday’s County Board of Supervisors special meeting that he approved sectors listed in Stage 3 to open no sooner than June 12. 

San Benito County qualified as a variance county, which means places such as gyms, hotels for tourism, campgrounds and family entertainment centers including movie theaters can reopen under certain guidelines. 

A statewide guidance was released for day camps, schools and school based programs and updated childcare programs and providers.

Ghilarducci said the state monitors the metrics and looks closely at the rate of increased cases. He said they can revoke the variance if issues still arise.

“Fortunately we’re in a good spot right now,” he said. 

As of June 9, there have been 109 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in San Benito County, and two deaths. A total of 3,096 residents have been tested for the illness, according to the county’s online Covid-19 data dashboard.

Ghilarducci said there was a small rise of Covid-19 cases in San Benito County and throughout the state, which was most likely related to Memorial Day weekend, which brought larger holiday crowds together in public and private gatherings. 

Ghilarducci also mentioned that lifting the shelter-in-place orders could have also caused a spike in the number of cases.

“We don’t yet know the effect of the many nationwide protests but that may lead to an increase in the next one to two weeks,” he said. 

Tracey Belton, director of the county health and human services agency, said the new Covid-19 dashboard will be updated daily. The will provide information on both testing sites including OptumServe Testing data at the Veterans Memorial Building. The new dashboard is also updating where the new cases are coming from.

As of May 5, there have been 2,227 people tested at the Veterans Memorial Building and 25 of those resulted positive, while 1,195 cases are still pending.

Ghilarducci said they were able to contain the spread of Covid-19 and had it under control by mid-April. 

“We’re taking care of hotspots and keeping it under control,” he said. 

Ghilarducci said his biggest concern is the beginning of June shows signs of cases spiking up similar to their numbers in March.

Ghilarducci gave an update on the local face covering order, which remains in place with modifications. The order applies to all activities currently open per the state reopening plan but with exceptions during eating or drinking, certain exercises such as swimming and if people are able to maintain a 6-foot distance.

“About 30 percent of people with Covid are asymptomatic and never have symptoms, or they are presymptomatic,” he said. “We don’t have any vaccine or medication to prevent this or (we are) very limited in terms of treating it.”

Ghilarducci said there’s limited hospital capacity. He said the only real preventive tools left are facial coverings and contact tracing.  

“We have to be careful that we keep these controls in place at this point,” he said. “They reduce the risk of spread, they reduce pain and suffering.”

Board Supervisor Peter Hernandez, who took off his mask and spoke against having the face covering order, asked what was the difference between asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic.

Ghilarducci said that pre-symptomatic is the transmission of the virus by people who don’t look or feel sick but will eventually get symptoms later.

Asymptomatic is the transmission of the virus by people who do not have symptoms and will never get symptoms from their infection. But those infected carriers could still get others very sick.

Ghilarducci said Covid-19 has been unlike any previous coronavirus outbreaks such as MERS and SARS because those showed symptoms more frequently. 

Other questions brought up during the meeting include the use of masks for the future of reopening schools and clarification for reopening beauty salons. 

Board supervisor Mark Medina asked Ghilarducci what were the metrics in the future to gauge when they can drop the face covering order. 

Ghilarducci said the masks are not a perfect solution but it’s one of the few tools available.

“Maybe at some point we develop herd immunity or maybe at some point we have a vaccine or maybe there’s an effective medication we can take to help prevent the spread, then that’s when the mask order may go away,” he said.

Several counties in California don’t have face covering orders, including Alpine, Madera, Mariposa and Nevada County. 

Ghilarducci said Ventura and San Bernardino counties also don’t have a face covering order but the health officer said he wants people to wear high grade respirator masks instead of those made with cloth.

Board supervisor Anthony Botelho said he wants local businesses to reopen and residents to get back to work. But he also mentioned he supported the face covering recommendations despite reports that they are only 75 percent effective.

“I’m going to continue to support your recommendations and appreciate your expertise on this,” said Bothelho to Ghilarducci. 

Ghilarducci said San Benito County’s rate of infections, which is the number of infections per capita, is a little bit higher than other counties in the state. However he said they still meet all the variance county criteria that they need in order to reopen.      

“We don’t have as much of a cushion as maybe other places do,” he said. “I’d say we’re around yellow to orange.”

Ghilarducci said the mandated face covering order is in place to help businesses protect their essential workers because once the workforce becomes ill they have to shut down, which can be a financial hardship in the long run. 

Ghilarducci mentioned people are still afraid and think they’re vulnerable to the virus. He said having the face covering order helps reassure customers who are weary of visiting local businesses. 

“Our success so far is great but it’s also fragile,” Ghilarducci said. “The worst thing that can happen to us, both from a public perspective but also from an economic perspective, is if we lose the progress that we made.”

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