While the number of COVID-19 cases hasn’t significantly accelerated in San Benito County compared to neighboring communities, local health officials will soon have a new tool to contain the illness’ spread: Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital has gained the approval and capacity to test patients on site at the Hollister facility.
And on March 31, the county’s health officer implemented a new stay-home directive that now orders residents to shelter at their place of residence through May 3. The order adds new regulations to the previous one, including the requirement that “essential” places of business must implement and post a “social distancing protocol” for the workplace.
The March 31 order also mandates the closure of playgrounds and other recreation areas, while still encouraging residents to go out for sunshine and exercise as long as they maintain at least six feet distance between themselves and others.
Hazel Hawkins spokeswoman Frankie Gallagher said federal authorities just last week authorized local health professionals to use “specific analyzers for COVID-19 testing.” The hospital already has the equipment to perform the testing.
“We are now looking for a supplier to get the test kits,” Gallagher said. She added, “Running tests in-house versus having to send them out enables us to get results more quickly, which, in turn, allows us to notify a positive patient much more quickly, hopefully limiting their exposure to others.”
As of March 31, a total of 253 patients in San Benito County have been tested for the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, according to the county health department’s COVID-19 online data dashboard. There have been 21 confirmed COVID-19 cases and one death related to the virus. Ken Machado, who died at his Paicines home March 16, tested positive for the illness after his death.
Of the total confirmed cases, 15 are active and five have recovered, according to county officials. Of those tested, 208 samples have come back negative for the virus, and 24 are pending.
Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital, the only hospital in San Benito County, has not been able to test patients on site for COVID-19 since the virus emerged in the U.S. If a patient meets the criteria for COVID-19 testing, hospital staff or a doctor take a saliva sample and send it to a laboratory off-site for testing and analysis. Hazel Hawkins sends its specimens to three different labs: Monterey County Public Health Lab, Quest Diagnostics and Stanford, according to Gallagher.
The lab then sends the results back to the hospital or doctor—a process that can take several days from sample to results.
Hazel Hawkins and other private medical practices throughout California test patients for COVID-19 chiefly in accordance with testing guidelines put forth by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These guidelines limit testing recommendations mostly to patients who require urgent care for symptoms common to the COVID-19 illness.
Hazel Hawkins earlier this month set up a COVID-19 triage tent outside the emergency room, where patients with novel coronavirus symptoms are assessed and evaluated for testing and further care.
When a patient tests positive for COVID-19, health professionals conduct a “background investigation” to determine where that person might have traveled and who they have come into contact with in previous weeks, San Benito County Public Information Officer David Westrick explained.
The previous shelter-at-home order in San Benito County would have expired April 7. On March 31, seven Bay Area jurisdictions, including Santa Clara County, extended their local stay-home orders to May 3, just hours before San Benito County extended theirs.
The San Benito County Office of Education last week recommended that all schools in the county remain closed at least through May 1. The extended closure is likely to be required by the new stay-at-home order.
Firefighters back to work
Three Hollister Firefighters returned to work from home quarantine March 30, about two weeks after they were exposed to COVID-19 during a March 16 medical call, according to county staff. The firefighters’ quarantine and medical surveillance began on March 17, and they were cleared to work March 29.
“As of 8:00 this morning the three firefighters placed on medical surveillance due to confirmed COVID-19 exposure have been released to full duty,” Hollister Fire Chief Bob Martin Del Campo said. “The Hollister Fire Department has made this determination by test result conducted, no signs or symptoms, and the duration of self-medical surveillance adhered to. Firefighters donned the appropriate Personal Protective Equipment prescribed by the CDC.”
Services remain available
Westrick and county officials have been releasing information about the COVID-19 pandemic and its local impact at a rapid-fire pace in recent weeks. On March 30, Westrick released the first weekly version of a “Community Newsletter” on COVID-19. The newsletter contains the latest numbers of cases, deaths, patients tested and recoveries. The statistics are broken down by age groups, with nine of the local cases in the 18-49 group and six in the 50-64 ages.
The county has also released a community resource guide, assuring residents that social services, food banks, homeless services and senior services are still in operation. The resource guide also provides information on how to claim unemployment insurance benefits, public assistance, disability and paid family leave for those who have been unable to work during the stay-home orders.
Residents who want to help their neighbors who are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and shelter-at-home orders are being asked to confine their donations to monetary giving to the Community Foundation of San Benito County and the American Red Cross.
To donate to the Community Foundation: With credit or debit card, visit givesanbenito.org or mail a check to Community Foundation, 829 San Benito Street, Suite 200, Hollister, CA 95023. Add Memo “COVID-19 Relief Fund”
To donate to the American Red Cross: Online by credit card at www.redcross.org/donate/donation.html or by phone at (800) 435-7669, or by mail to American Red Cross, PO Box 37839, Boone, IA 50037-0839