Monterey County’s COVID-19 numbers are rising What’s the problem?

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By Víctor Almazán

Seven days after being tested for COVID-19, Felipe Gurrola was notified that the result was positive. Gurrola, a native of Oaxaca, has lived in East Salinas for 20 years, and it is in East Salinas where the highest number of infections in Monterey County have been recorded, according to data from the health department.
Infections are increasing in Monterey County and primarily affecting Latinos. As of Sunday, 2,540 positive cases have been reported in Monterey County. Most of them have occurred in the Latino community (73 percent), in Salinas (58 percent) and in South County (25 percent). The highest number of infections (740) has been among farm workers. Eighteen people have died, and 1,471 have recovered.
Monterey County has followed, to the letter, state instructions to stop the pandemic, but COVID-19 is on the rise. What is going wrong?

Tylenol and homemade tea to fight the virus

“The same day I went to get tested I got a really bad fever at night,” said Gurrola. “Luckily the cough didn’t hit me, because (the virus) affects the lungs.” Felipe Gurrola is not his real name, but has been changed at his request to protect his identity.

Gurrola went to a clinic on June 16 to have a viral test. He had already felt sick days before and his supervisor told him he had to go to the doctor. He had a fever for several days, and has not left the house since he went to the doctor. On June 23 he got a telephone call from the clinic and a doctor told him the test result was positive. The doctor told him to remain in quarantine for 14 days, and to go to an emergency room if he started having trouble breathing.

Gurrola isolated himself in his room, communicated to his housemates the results of his examination, and told them that they had to be tested. They did it — all four tested negative. He fought night fevers with Tylenol, at the suggestion of a friend hospitalized at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas. Relatives recommended drinking a homemade tea prepared with six ingredients: lime, red onion, garlic, ginger, cinnamon and honey. It was what kept him hydrated. He hardly ate.

“I wasn’t hungry, I lost the taste of food,” he said. Gurrola said he lost more than 22 pounds in two weeks. But there is a missing piece here.

Test and contact tracing

According to the California Health Department, one of the ways the state is fighting the pandemic is by using the contact tracing protocol. On its website, it reports that this method has already been used in the fight against other infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and measles. It is an important resource to stop the advance of the pandemic because it immediately identifies possible new cases of contagion.

Under this method, health workers talk to those who have tested positive. They will ask for information about people who may have exposed, keeping names confidential. Subsequently, they communicate with all these people to inform them that they possibly had contact with an infected person, to offer testing, to provide health services if required, and to discuss next steps like self-isolation. None of that was done in Gurrola’s case.

No one called to ask the names of people with whom he had had contact during the time he was ill. It was his initiative to suggest that his housemates and coworkers get tested. No one called to investigate the possible origin of his infection. Fortunately, none of his colleagues at home or at work were infected.

Dr. Maximiliano Cuevas, executive director of Clínicas de Salud del Valle de Salinas, said in a town hall conference via phone on July 9 that, when a person tests positive for COVID-19, his clinic sends a morbidity

Cuevas said that health clinic patients who are infected should be followed up with contact tracing and, if not, a doctor would be recommended.

María López of the Monterey County Health Department added that the department has 20 to 25 nurses working to trace contacts. “They are calling continuously when the lists come in,” she said.

Cuevas said this activity requires a staff of 22 people for every 100,000 residents. In Monterey County, with a population of about 434,000, there should be 86 people doing contact tracing.

More testing and community responsibility

According to the director of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “you cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And we will not be able to stop this pandemic if we do not know who is infected.” He said the message for all countries is “test, test, test every suspected case.”

President Donald Trump has spoken out against testing to detect COVID-19. “The reason we have more cases (is) because we do more testing than other countries by far,” he said at a press conference in June. But experts say that “testing really provides us the data we need to understand the virus activity better.” If no tests are done the infection does not go away — we just can’t analyze its behavior.

In Monterey County, opportunities to get tested have grown. Clínicas de Salud now offers free testing at all its sites. Cuevas reported they’ve conducted 1,600 tests in 14 days since they started, and 23 percent of those tests have been positive, contrasting with 7.4 percent of the 30,000 tests the county has conducted. Cuevas said they are collaborating with the Grower-Shipper Association, and Clínicas de Salud has begun to carry out tests at work centers, where they have done 280 tests with only one positive result. CVS is offering free tests at its pharmacies for people with symptoms. Appointments are required, and they can be made on the CVS website.

Getting back to work

Gurrola’s case shows that health officials need to test to know who is infected to end the pandemic. As the testing capacity grows in the county, all residents, even if they do not show symptoms, must get tested. Given the county’s inability to trace contacts, the knowledge and responsibility of citizens play an important role.
If the test is positive, patients must follow the recommendations of the county health department. They will need to self-isolate in quarantine for 14 days. They will need to rest, stay hydrated, and keep in touch with a doctor. If you have severe symptoms like breathing difficulties or chest pain, you should go to a hospital.
Gurrola didn’t require hospitalization. After three days without a fever, the doctor told him he could return to work. He showed up for work on July 8, after taking an extra day off. “I still felt weak and the sun hit me hard,” he said. But the next day he said he felt “fine, and glad this is over.”

Testing sites
Ag Commissioner’s Conference Room
1428 Abbott Street., Salinas.

Greenfield Branch of our Monterey County Free Libraries
315 El Camino Real, Greenfield.

These two community testing sites are open Tuesdays to Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Clínicas de Salud del Valle de Salinas
Check on locations and hours.

Make appointment at

A nasal or throat swab will be collected and specimens will be sent to a FDA approved laboratory for COVID-19 PCR testing.

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Víctor Almazán

About Víctor Almazán

Víctor Almazán nació en la Ciudad de México, ha colaborado en periódico de México y California, entre ellos The Salinas Californian, El Sol y la célebre El Andar Magazine. Vive en Salinas y le gustan la películas de vampiros. | Víctor Almazán was born in Mexico City and has contributed to publications in Mexico and California, including The Salinas Californian, El Sol and the renowned El Andar Magazine. He lives in Salinas and likes vampire movies.