William Miller, MD
Surge in Local Cases
As we start off the New Year, we are seeing a significant increase in COVID cases throughout Mendocino County and here on the Coast. Part of this is likely what we should expect when we compare with the surge of last year at this time. However, some if it is also due to Omicron, which as you have undoubtably heard by now is about 10 times more easily spread than the Delta variant.
Our hospital has seen an increase in the number of symptomatic people coming to the ER. However, at this time we have not admitted any local residents with COVID in the last week. In land, there has been a more of an increase and we have accepted a couple of patients from our sister facilities in Willits and Ukiah. On January 3rd and 4th of this week, we tested 46 people through our clinic and ER with 12 being positive for a 26% positivity rate. This is about double what we were seeing the previous week, however, is still less than the 8 positives per day we were seeing during the late summer surge. I do expect those number to increase further over the next days to weeks, however.
Mendocino Coast Clinics (MCC) is also reporting an increase in the past few days in their number of positives. Today, on January 4th, they had 11 out of 42 tests turn positive which is also 26%. Lucresha Renteria, Director of MCC, told me, “We have seen a distinct increase in positives in both our symptomatic testing and surveillance testing over last week’s numbers.” She also adds that this is still less than what they saw in August were the peak was 19 positives in one day.
Much attention has recently been raised around the basketball tournament sponsored by the Ft. Bragg Unified School District (FBUSD). This three-day event held last week attracted teams from eight area districts. All the student athletes that participated were tested on the first day with only one testing positive. That student was sent home and later that day the superintendent of that student’s district withdrew their team from the competition. On Monday, January 3rd, FBUSD tested 97 of its student participants with only one being positive. There have also been 11 adults who have tested positive who were at the event. In speaking with Dr. Andy Coren, the Mendocino County Health Officer, it appears that these adults actually became infected at two different social events that coincidentally occurred at about the same time as the tournament, but are not felt to be cases of transmission from the tournament itself.
The Ft. Bragg school district has 1,668 students at five different campuses. This week marks the days back after the winter holiday break. Parents have reported to the district a total of 33 positive tests in students over those last ten days. About a third of these were tests done prior to the tournament and 2/3’s after, however, it is not known how many of those attended the tournament if any. There are likely additional positive cases that have not been reported.
The tournament has created a lot of animated discussion in the community, especially around the relatively high number of adult spectators who were unmasked. This has led to arguments and accusations flying in all directions on social media. The debate continues around what should take precedence, public safety or personal liberty. There was signage at the event making it clear that masks were required.
“We are suspending all further athletic activities for the next week and will reassess when to resume such events after that,” said Beck Walker, FBUSD Superintendent. “Before FBUSD will host any future athletic events, I will personally speak to our coaches and athletic directors to reinforce our masking protocols and our COVID safety protocols. We will add more signage, provide handouts for patrons outlining masking requirements, and we will provide more supervision to enforce masking at our indoor events.”
As far as the masking debate is concerned, I can appreciate both sides of the argument. I would point out, however, that most people accept the social norm of wearing clothes and that going around naked in public is not considered a decent thing to do. It strikes me as odd that when it comes to mask wearing in public, which is not only decent but also carries a huge public safety benefit with it, people choose to draw the line. And speaking of masks, I am planning on revisiting the topic of which types of masks are most protective in an upcoming Miller Report.
Until then, I have asked Bernie Norvell, Mayor of Ft. Bragg, to share with us a few words of encouragement as we start the New Year and face the challenges ahead. “We have an amazing community that time and time again comes together to help each other. These times are no exception,” he said. “I am proud to be a part of who we are. I wish for all of us health and happiness.”