As Virus Cases Escalate, County Sustains Deadliest Week Of Ongoing Health Crisis

This week so far has proven the most deadly yet in the now nine-week running coronavirus crisis in San Bernardino County, with the San Bernardino County Public Health Department’s official figures showing that 39 people succumbed to the condition between 5 p.m. May 8 and 5 p.m. this evening, May 15.
During the same seven-day period, the number of known coronavirus cases countywide took its most phenomenal leap thus far, with 682 more people within the county’s 20,105 square-mile confines testing COVID-19 positive.
The overall toll for the county now stands at 3,311 confirmed cases of the virus and 150 deaths.
Officials cautioned, however, against misinterpreting the data to conclude that the pandemic is worsening locally based on the now available statistics, as those numbers could be a reflection of the upsurge in testing that has grown out of the availability of testing capability and its application. Two weeks ago, seven weeks into the crisis in earnest, there had been 20,598 tests administered to the county’s roughly 2.2 million population, equal to less than one percent. As of Wednesday this week, 33,287 county residents had been tested, roughly 1.513 percent of the population. In this way, in a span of 12 days, the county’s medical and public health professionals carried out half as many tests as it had in the course of the seven weeks prior to that, significantly increasing the statistical data it had achieved during the initial phase of the stepped-up response to the pandemic.
While an improvement, having achieved a testing level of 1.513 percent of the entire county population yet represents a woefully inadequate definition of the problem the medical community in San Bernardino County faces in grappling with the circumstance.
One consideration in this regard is the efficacy of knowing with certainty what percentage of the population and precisely who within that population is an active carrier of the disease, capable of spreading it to others, and who is not. While there is no current certainty within the scientific community as to whether those who have contracted the coronavirus and recovered from it develop a lasting immunity that thereafter obviates their status as a carrier of the disease, the modeling with other better known and defined viruses suggests that is the case. Thus, a comprehensive testing regime which would allow a determination as to the portion of the population that had been exposed to the disease and had recovered might conceivably allow those determined to no longer be carriers to resume normal activity, based on the assumption they could do so without putting themselves or others at risk. As it currently stands, there is persistent mystery with regard to the current coronavirus status of upwards of 98 percent of the county population. As a consequence, there is no reliable measure of who among the county’s population has been infected and is now safely recovered, such that 49 out of every 50 San Bernardino County residents are yet obliged to maintain social distancing and are in a large degree unable to reinitiate their normal activity and participation in the region’s economy, which is in a steady decline, one which financial prognosticators say is destining the county for a certain recession.
At both the national and state levels there has been widespread indication that the general population has grown impatient with the social and economic lockdown. This was reflected in Governor Gavin Newsom’s statement on May 4 that a gradual reopening of businesses could begin as early as this week. Newsom, however, specified that those reopenings would be measured and confined essentially to retail businesses in which a modicum of social distancing and other precautions could be maintained. This week, there was widespread violation of both the spirit and specified restrictions in the “measured” reopening throughout San Bernardino County. The most obvious departure from the governor’s intent was that the reopenings were not limited to retail businesses but included multiple personal service establishments such as barbershops and nail salons where social distancing is an impossibility.
Inaccuracy and unreliability of the county’s infection rate data, appears to stem not just from its incompleteness and the gaps in its coverage but, at least in some cases, from the deliberate withholding of information, which effectively skewered the data. It appears that officials hid results in the data survey for what was, perhaps, a venal purpose.
As the infection data was streaming in previously, 23 of San Bernardino County’s incorporated municipalities and no fewer than 18 of its unincorporated communities reported cases in their jurisdictions.  A month into the crisis, it was noted that Needles, San Bernardino County’s smallest city population-wise and its most remote given its location at the extreme eastern end of the county and state in the Mojave Desert adjacent to the Colorado River and the border with Arizona, was positively conspicuous by its absence of reported cases. This was mentioned in the Sentinel and elsewhere in the media.
Needle’s apparent avoidance of having been afflicted with the pandemic persisted, day after day and then week after week, as the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health displayed testing result data to show there were no verified cases of COVID-19 in Needles. This has persisted until this week, when there was wider media coverage of the city’s fortune, accompanied by a level of self congratulation and self-adulation on the part of Needles officials that offered incidental positive publicity for the river community.
In actuality, however, the Sentinel has learned, there were two residents of Needles who contracted the coronavirus in April, and whose cases should have been charted by authorities.
That case involved two men in their 30s whose work required that they regularly travel between Needles and Barstow, and who share a residence in Needles. One of those tested positive at a facility in Barstow. Subsequently, his roommate showed signs of the condition. Ultimately, the pair concluded that neither of their conditions were serious enough to require hospitalization.
They self-isolated and quarantined themselves, with their current status unknown.
-Mark Gutglueck

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