Prolific County COVID-19 Spread Just As Test Supplies Are Dwindling

Four months after San Bernardino County, like the rest of California, was subjected to intensive precautions in the face of the incipient coronavirus crisis then gripping the nation and the world and now more than a month after those precautions have been suspended, the virus appears to be raging out of control throughout the 20,105 square mile jurisdiction.
Complicating the matter is that the primary tools for dealing with the circumstance, the testing materials needed to determine if individuals are afflicted with the condition, have fallen into short supply. This is hampering the medical community from accurately charting the spread of the potentially fatal disease.
A week ago, as of July 3 at 5 p.m., the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus diagnosed in the county from the outset of the pandemic stood at 13,676. Today, as of 5 p.m., that number had had reached 18,275. The 4,599 new cases represents the largest one-week leap in confirmed cases in San Bernardino County yet. That included the largest one-day increase of 1,024 tallied on July 4. The following day, Sunday, there were 222 more reported cases. The one silver lining at that point was that on neither Saturday, July 4th, nor Sunday July 5th, were there any deaths attributed to the malady. The number of deaths in which COVID-19 was shown as a cause or the major contributory factor since March 13 as of July 3 was 269. That number did not rise over the next two days, but this week, things worsened in the mortality field.
On Tuesday, county public health officials reported that there were 750 new cases over Monday and four deaths. San Bernardino County the next day, Wednesday. July 8, reported 654 new coronavirus cases and 21 additional deaths.
Accompanying that dreary news was the equally bleak report that San Bernardino County heath officials, including its Department of Public Health and the county hospital in Colton, known as Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, were reneging on the hundreds of COVID-19 test bookings they had made for county residents this week. Those cancellations came about, it was disclosed, because the local medical community is suffering from a shortage of testing supplies, as stores of the items that had been purchased and were on back order and were supposed to be delivered this week have not arrived because of supply bottlenecks.
County officials said the needed items and materials, including a reagent used in the processing of sputum samples, might be available next week.
In the meantime, the number of reported new cases may drop over the next few days, but that will reflect only that testing has decreased, not a reduction in the number of new cases.
As there is a lag of up to four to five days between the time samples are taken and the test results become available, the numbers based upon tests processed for Thursday and today, Friday, still showed an alarming escalation of the condition throughout the county.
On Thursday, there were 828 new coronavirus cases and 11 additional deaths reported in San Bernardino County over the previous day. Today, the department of public health reported another 851 new cases. There were, however, no deaths in the previous 24 hours.
The total number of county residents afflicted with the disease since the first recognized outbreak of COVID-19 in San Bernardino County in March is 18,275, with 304 fatalities. Public health officials project that among the population which has in that timeframe tested positive, 9,466 people have recovered.
A question in all of this is the wisdom of both county officials and state officials having rescinded the precautionary mandates that were put in place in March, including ending public gatherings, closing bars, restaurants, tattoo parlors, barber shops, beauty salons, nail boutiques, massage parlors and any professional venues that brought people into proximity with one another or required actual physical contact, along with requirements that individuals don masks in public. With the rescission of those safeguards, the incidence of the coronavirus in the population has spiked.
Word is that Dr. Erin Gustafson, San Bernardino County’s health officer who was responsible for many of those orders having been issued in March and April, was opposed to their revocation.
Yet mounted on the department’s website is a post which states, “Effective 12:00 p.m. on Friday, May 8, 2020, all previous COVID-19-related orders from the health officer, including the health officer order issues on April 23, 2020 titled Omnibus Health Officer Order, except for the orders issued on March 10, 2020 titled ‘Addition of COVID-19 to the Reportable Conditions and Disease List’ and May 8, 2020 titled ‘Requirements for All Individuals Entering Certain Licensed Facilities and Other Agencies Who Are Not A Patient, Resident or New Resident’ are rescinded.”
There is evidence to suggest that the cancellation of these orders was not something Gustafson was amenable to and that she is now being muzzled by her political masters, the board of supervisors, who are reportedly concerned about the economic devastation the closures had resulted in.
For two weeks running, county officials have blocked access to Gustafson, and have prevented her in that same timeframe from responding to pointed questions including whether in her view the restrictions were ended prematurely, whether she was free to impose any restrictions relating to public health that she deemed fit, whether she had to run her recommendations by the higher-ups in the county in order to convert them into an order, and whether, as the county health officer, she has been hamstrung by those further up the chain of command in the county from instituting the full range of measures that she would otherwise apply if she had a free hand.
-Mark Gutglueck

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