Calaveras County has reported nine new COVID-19 cases in the last two weeks, none of which were traced back to individuals from outside of the county, Public Health Officer Dean Kelaita, MD, told the Calaveras County Board of Supervisors in a meeting Tuesday.

All of the new cases were traced to Valley Springs and their causes of infection are not linked, meaning there have been several sources of potential infection, Kelaita said. Transmission has occurred among households, as well as community transmission, he said.

That puts Calaveras County’s total case count at 28, with 16 recoveries and no deaths.

Adjacent valley counties are faring far worse.

San Joaquin County reported nearly 1,250 new confirmed cases and 11 deaths in the past two weeks. Stanislaus County Public Health reported two new COVID-19 deaths Monday – bringing its total to 37. Following outbreaks at assisted living centers, the county has reported 702 new cases in the past two weeks.

Kelaita said staff at Avalon Health Care, a skilled nursing facility in San Andreas, are being tested for the novel coronavirus on a recurring schedule.

Some area residents have expressed concern that visitors could spread COVID-19 in the community, Chair Merita Callaway said.

Many tourism-based businesses, including short-term lodging, were allowed to reopen June 12.

“I represent an area with a huge influx of visitors and the concern from the natives being the visitors are bringing it in,” said Callaway, who represents several Highway 4 Corridor communities in District 3. “My understanding is the cases we’ve had have not been from visitors coming in, but from residents leaving the county or getting it within the community.”

Community members based in Copperopolis and Valley Springs who work or travel to San Joaquin and Stanislaus counties for shopping could be at higher risk of infection, Kelaita said.

“That needs to be something we take very seriously here,” he said.

He said residents should be following the state’s recent mandate to wear face coverings in certain settings to help prevent spread of the disease.

With some exceptions, residents should wear face coverings in public places, particularly when indoors, in any health care setting, using any public transportation, when interacting with the public or co-workers in the workplace and in outdoor public spaces when unable to maintain six feet of social distancing, Kelaita said.

“There’s significant scientific evidence that the use of a basic face-mask covering by the public during a pandemic helps reduce disease transmission,” Kelaita said. “Their primary role is to reduce the release of infectious particles in the air when someone speaks, coughs, sneezes,” including asymptomatic individuals, Kelaita said.

Wearing a mask is not a catch-all solution, and must be done in conjunction with social distancing and hand-washing, or self-isolating when ill, he added.

County offices will tentatively be opening to the public July 15 under strict sanitizing protocols, including the use of “sneeze shields,” County Administrative Officer Al Alt told the board.

Effective June 19, the county took the next steps into the state’s Stage 3 reopening process, allowing expanded personal care services, including nail salons, tattoo parlors and massage therapy, to do business again with modifications.

Department of Health and Human Service Director Kristin Stranger said guidance for youth sports, fairs and livestock auctions will be posted as soon as they are given.

With subtle reference to multiple public health officers across the country resigning over criticism from elected representatives and community members, Chairperson Merita Callaway thanked Kelaita for “being responsive to supervisors and the public during a stressful time.”

“We know it’s a very stressful time for public health officers, and we’re glad you’re not one that’s leaving the sinking ship …” Callaway told Kelaita.

Some local business owners and residents have in recent months voiced opposition to Kelaita’s public health orders to curb the spread of COVID-19 through physical protests, in some cases.

“I’ll continue to help this community through this time ... barring any other threats on my personal safety or other kinds of abuses which I’ve suffered at the hands of this community – of a very small vocal minority of this community, I’ll continue to be here to serve the public,” Kelaita said.

California has reported 178,000 cases and 5,515 COVID-19 deaths since the start of the outbreak.

As testing capacity increases, the number of positive cases are expected to increase with them, Kelaita said.

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Reporter

Davis graduated from UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Environmental Studies. He covers environmental issues, agriculture, fire and local government. Davis spends his free time playing guitar and hiking with his dog, Penny.

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