COVID Surge Suggests End To Safeguards Was Premature

With what appears to be the sudden advance of the coronavirus throughout a significant portion of California’s population, in particular extending to a subset of the state’s counties including San Bernardino County, there is growing pressure to put the state, or much of it, back into lockdown.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis, Governor Gavin Newsom in March instituted a host of precautionary measures that remained in place throughout April and May. With the outset of June, the State of California and the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health began to progressively dismantle the regime intended to slow the coronavirus from spreading. Stay-at-home orders, closures of restaurants and service businesses entailing direct or close human contact, requirements that individuals wear masks in public, and both park and school closures were dispensed with.
Simultaneously, the number of coronavirus cases began to climb, both statewide and in San Bernardino County. Over the next three weeks, the spread of the disease began to pick up momentum.
On June 19, San Benardino County had logged 8,714 known cases of the condition. Over the next seven days, as of June 26, that total had grown by 2,576 to 11,290 cases of coronavirus, of which 248 had resulted in death. In the seven days since, there have been 2,386‬ new cases, pushing the total of county cases to 13,676, including 269 deaths. So, over the last two weeks there has been an average of 2,481 new cases per week or 354.43 per day, which translates to 14.77 per hour.
This is alarming, given that in the two weeks after the precautionary measures were put in place in March, there were an average of 32 new documented cases per week. That is, as of March 13, just one day after Governor Gavin Newsom made his first and most tame mandate relating to banning public gatherings of 250 or more people, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in San Bernardino County. On March 27, eight days after Newsom issued his March 19 lockdown mandate, the county had logged 64 known cases of the malady, and three deaths.
While the greater degree of testing being carried out now as opposed to in March no doubt accounts somewhat for the larger numbers of detected cases, it appears the disease is spreading much more rapidly now then it was in the early stages of the crisis. This has led to the growing belief that the suspension of the precautions last month was premature.
In an effort to determine the validity of that perception, the Sentinel this week sought to engage with San Bernardino County’s public health officer, Dr. Erin Gustafson. On Wednesday, the Sentinel posted a letter to Dr. Gustafson in care of the county’s public spokesman, David Wert. Again on Thursday, the Sentinel sent the same letter to Dr. Gustafson, this time through the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health’s spokeswoman, Lana Culp. The Sentinel did not hear back from Dr. Culp by press time. The Sentinel’s letter reads:
Dr. Gustafson…
Basically, the rate at which the coronavirus is spreading in San Bernardino County at present, based solely on the raw testing results, seems to be far more pronounced than it was in March, April and May.
Is this perception accurate?
Based on everything you know, in San Bernardino County is the virus spreading at a faster rate now, in late June and early July, than in May or April and March?
The county and the medical community are testing county residents at present at a more accelerated pace than in months past.
Does this fully account for the seeming acceleration of the spreading of the virus? Generally, has the percentage of those found infected among those tested increased as time has passed? Or has the percentage of those found infected among those tested stayed relatively the same? Or has the percentage of those found infected among those tested diminished over time?
To the best of your knowledge, does contracting COVID-19 and then recovering from it render one immune to the disease thereafter?
Does recovering from COVID-19 end one’s status as a carrier of the disease?
Given the greater numbers of county residents known to be afflicted with the coronavirus at this point than when the precautionary restrictions were in place, is it advisable to have dispensed with those precautions? Stated another way: If the circumstance in March, April and May, when a relatively minuscule percentage of the population was affirmatively known to be afflicted with COVID-19, was such that it was prudent to have the host of restrictions that the governor decreed and which you, as the county health officer, imposed locally, how is it that now, with far higher numbers of the county’s population confirmed as being currently infected, the restrictions are not warranted?
At this point, do you feel it advisable to reinstitute the precautions that were in place in March, April and May?
Is the population at serious risk by being as open as it is now?
How much risk do you, as public health officer, deem tolerable?
If, in your view, reinstituting those precautions is not advisable, can you explain why that is and what different situation exists now that renders taking those precautions unnecessary?
Is there a vaccine on the cusp of being widely available? Does that explain why the precautions previously in place are no longer deemed necessary?
Is there some other consideration that explains why the precautions are no longer needed?
As the county health officer, are you hamstrung by those higher up the chain of command in the county from instituting the full range of measures that you would apply if you had a free hand?
Are you free to impose any restrictions relating to public health that you deem fit?
Must you run your recommendations by the higher-ups in the county in order to convert them into an order?
If you were absolutely free to dictate public health policy in San Bernardino County, would you put the restrictions back in place? Would there be any other restrictions that were not instituted that you would, if you were at liberty to do so, impose?
Were the restrictions, in your view, ended prematurely?
The restrictions were in place, by my tally, just about 11 weeks before, in gradual stages, they began to be lifted. There was reluctance to comply with many of the restrictions by a given segment of the population all along. Protest against the restrictions began in earnest, if I am recollecting properly, at the end of April or early May. Was public unrest a factor in winding the restrictions down?
The economy was drastically impacted by the societal shutdown. Was this the major factor in dispensing with the precautions?
Do economic factors outweigh health concerns?
Have you run any projections as to what the cost of ending the restrictions prematurely is going to be in terms of fatalities?
That is, if the restrictions were still in place and remained in place either until the virus runs its course or a reliable vaccine comes along, what is your projection of how many fewer people in San Bernardino would die than is going to be the case now that most of everything is opened up?
Is everything that can be done to safeguard the public health in San Bernardino County being done?
I recognize, Dr. Gustafson, that you have far more pressing things to deal with than to answer my questions, and I appreciate you devoting time to answer them.
…Mark Gutglueck (951) 567 1936
Lana Culp was able to field a few of the questions. “We’re doing a lot more testing,” she said.
With regard to the disease spreading more rapidly at present than previously, Culp said, “It seems to be, but we can’t say it is spreading to more people,” because of the unevenness of the testing patterns over the past three-and-a-half months.
Culp said that there was significant social interaction in June even beyond what is normal, given the number of demonstrations and protests in reaction to the George Floyd killing.
She said she would seek more definitive answers from Dr. Gustafson.
In the meantime, Governor Newsom appears to have taken the upsurge in coronavirus cases in several areas around the state seriously. On June 18 he mandated that Californians wear masks in public settings. Then on Wednesday July 1, Newsom mandated a new round of lockdown measures, ordering indoor operations for several business sectors, including restaurants, wineries, drinking establishments, movie theaters, family entertainment venues, zoos, museums and cardrooms in 19 counties, including San Bernardino County, to remain closed until further notice.

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