By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Local COVID-19 death toll now at 15
coronavirus up close

Stanislaus County Public Health Department has confirmed that an adult male with underlying medical conditions has become the 15th county casualty of COVID-19.

Information about the man’s residency was not disclosed.

The county’s coronavirus death count spiked when an outbreak occurred at the Turlock Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.

The total number of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 in Stanislaus County was at 428 on Monday evening. Most of those who are infected recover without significant health problems.

At last week’s live streamed Ceres City Council meeting, Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini said that COVID-19 has proven “not as deadly as we first thought but three times as easy to get.”

He said the county has plans to begin relaxing restrictions on businesses to allow some to open with social distancing and the wearing of masks.

Stanislaus County is expanding allowable activities under the statewide stay at home order as data shows the rate of COVID-19 infections has remained steady.

The Board of Supervisors announced Tuesday that starting on Friday Stanislaus County will allow curbside retail, dog grooming services and drive-in movies. They also said outdoor activities can include boot camps, yoga and fitness exercises that don't include shared equipment and can provide for more than six feet of social distancing.

"We need to open things up in a safe manner," said Stanislaus County Public Health Officer Dr. Julie Vaishampayan.

The expansion comes as Gov. Gavin Newsom is giving local governments more flexibility on when to re-open the economy.

"That was a good development for us," said Stanislaus County CEO Jody Hayes.

The expansion also might foreshadow a larger re-opening that the Board of Supervisors plans on discussing at the May 12 meeting. The discussion on the larger re-opening is expected to include restaurants, gyms and hair salons and what steps business owners will have to take to ensure their staff and customers are kept as safe as possible. Part of the larger re-opening will include online training for merchants, said Stanislaus County assistant executive officer Keith Boggs.

The future discussion will also look at graduation ceremonies, possibly in the summer. But as of right now, large gatherings are still prohibited.

"Mass gatherings are still too risky,' said Dr. Vaishampayan. "We just don't want people dying because they went to a graduation."

The Board included drive-in movies, even though there are no drive-in movie complexes in the county. They said they included it because they had gotten more than one request for it. Those wishing to host a drive-in movie will have to submit a plan to the county. People will not be allowed to get out of their cars, use a bathroom or purchase snacks.

The partial re-opening is being allowed because the data is showing the region likely had a peak of cases in March and April. Dr. Vaishampayan presented data that showed the onset of symptoms among people who were hospitalized peaked in March and the start of April, as did people going to the emergency rooms at area hospitals with chief complaints of cough, fever or respiratory issues. The rate of positive results for COVID-19 has been steady around 6 percent, with an exception for a spike coming from the outbreak at the Turlock Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

The County also has been able to expand testing, is hiring staff for contact tracing and has made preparations for a possible surge in cases, which are all key components in the state's guideline for re-opening.

Dr. Vaishampayan said increasing the ability to contact trace was vital because it would help prevent outbreak clusters.

"That way the virus isn't spreading unchecked," she said.

Stanislaus County currently has 433 positive cases of COVID-19. Of that number, 143 are presumed active, 275 are presumed recovered and 15 have died. A total of 90 people have been hospitalized, with 45 currently in the hospital. Of those, five are in ICU, according to the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency data.

Stanislaus County has 54 percent hospital bed availability, 50 percent ICU beds available and 80 percent of the ventilators available.

Turlock now has the most cases in the county at 126. Modesto has 116 reported cases, followed by 45 in Ceres and 42 in Patterson. Stanislaus County District 5 has 23 cases and District 3 has 19 cases. Riverbank has 12 cases, Newman 11 and District 2 has 11. District 1 has 7 cases, as does Waterford. Oakdale and Hughson each have six cases and District 4 has two cases.

Individuals 20 years old or younger make up 5 percent of the cases in Stanislaus County. Those between the ages of 21 years to 30 years represent 10 percent of the cases. People between the ages of 31 years to 40 years and those from 41 years to 50 years each make up 21 percent of the cases. Individuals between 51 years to 60 years represent 20 percent of the cases and those from 61 to 70 years are 10 percent of the cases. People from 71 years to 80 years represent 8 percent of the cases and those 81 years to 90 years account for 4 percent of the cases. Those 91 years and older make up 1 percent of the cases.

The cases are split 50/50 among men and women.

Of the county's 15 deaths, nine have been current or former residents of Turlock Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. A total of 99 current residents and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 at the center.

Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) sent a letter to the Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services slamming the agency’s response and demanding quicker action. Harder said the agency has launched a commission to look into the matter but that it won't be meeting until the end of May.

“People in nursing homes in the Valley are sick and dying right now - we can’t wait a month for the feds to put together some show-panel. We need an actual plan and the resources to keep our loved ones safe right now.” said Rep. Harder. “This is another example of a federal agency slow-walking the response to this crisis – and now innocent older Americans are suffering.” 

On Monday, Stanislaus County launched two new testing sites — one in Keyes and one in Patterson — operated by OptumServe.

“These testing sites will help Stanislaus County dramatically increase testing opportunities for individuals who have had limited access to COVID-19 tests up until now,” said Dr. Vaishampayan. “We’re thrilled to partner with the state and OptumServe to help ensure our communities are healthy, while also helping meet California’s testing goals.”

To determine where to locate new testing sites, the state looked at both rural and urban areas where Californians would have to travel between 30 and 60 minutes to reach an existing testing site or hospital. That information was then evaluated based on underserved populations, to address known disparities, and median income, so residents have access to testing regardless of socioeconomic status.

OptumServe has extensive expertise in rapidly deploying and setting up health care services and has worked closely with the military under the leadership of former Army Surgeon General and retired Lieutenant General Patty Horoho, RN.

“OptumServe is honored to assist California in expanding COVID-19 testing for residents,” said Patty Horoho, CEO of OptumServe. “We are bringing our full commitment and capabilities to serve Californians, including extensive experience conducting large community health events.”

Testing also continues at the Salida site through Verily's Baseline COVID-19 Program.

Testing will be by appointment only. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, you may be eligible for a COVID-19 test. Visit sign up for COVID-19 test. 

As the state continues implementation of the four-stage framework to allow Californians to gradually reopen some lower-risk businesses and public spaces while continuing to preserve public health, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday announced that based on the state’s progress in meeting metrics tied to indicators, the state can begin to move into Stage 2 of modifying the stay at home order this Friday, May 8, with guidelines released Thursday, May 7. The Governor released a Report Card showing how the state has made progress in fighting COVID-19 in a number of categories such as stabilized hospitalization and ICU numbers and acquiring PPE.

“Millions of Californians answered the call to stay home and thanks to them, we are in a position to begin moving into our next stage of modifying our stay at home order,” said Newsom. “But make no mistake – this virus isn’t gone. It’s still dangerous and poses a significant public health risk. As we move into the next stage of reopening, we will do so with updated guidance to help qualifying businesses make modifications needed to lower the risk of COVID-19 exposure to customers and workers. Californians should prepare now for that second stage of reopening.”

Later this week the state will release public health guidance for certain Stage 2 sectors including some retail, manufacturing, and logistics businesses, which will outline modifications that lower the risk of transmission. Businesses and employers in those sectors will be able to reopen as soon as Friday – if they can meet the guidelines provided by the state. Not all Stage 2 businesses will be able to open Friday with modifications. Some examples of businesses that can open with modifications include bookstores, clothing stores, florists and sporting goods stores.

Other Stage 2 sectors, such as offices and dine-in restaurants, will be part of a later Stage 2 opening. The announcement for Friday does not include offices, seated dining at restaurants, shopping malls or schools. As the governor noted last week, the state is working with school districts and the California education community to determine how best and safely to reopen. That continues to be the case – this May 8 announcement does not move up this timeline.

While the state will be moving from Stage 1 to Stage 2, counties can choose to continue more restrictive measures in place based on their local conditions, and the state expects some counties to keep their more robust stay at home orders in place beyond May 8.

It is critical that individuals and organizations take action in slowing the spread of the virus by following all applicable guidance and recommendations as it is issued.

To stop the spread of COVID-19 and protect yourself and others, follow these recommendations:

• Practice social distancing by staying at least 6 feet away from others;

• Only leave the house for essential medical supplies or groceries. Try to go when either early or later in the day when places are less likely to be crowded;

• Wear a face covering when out in public;

• If you are over the age of 65, have a friend pick up groceries for you;

• If you must visit your doctor, call ahead and see if they have telehealth options that allow you to interact with your doctor from home.

• Avoid ALL non-essential activities that involve close contact with the general public

• Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol for at least 20 seconds

• Limit close contact with people who are sick. Try to stay at least 6 feet away from someone who is sick

• Routinely clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces

• Do not share objects such as utensils, cups, food, and drink Stanislaus County Public Health continues to work closely with all our partners in the Emergency Operations Center to address the COVID-19 pandemic through guidance provided by U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the California Department of Public Health, and other partners.

For the most up to date information, please visit: CDC: CDPH: Stanislaus County:

Editor Jeff Benziger contributed to this article.