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SAN BERNARDINO: THE SITUATION

San Bernardino started off fine when the global COVID pandemic began. As of March 5, 2020, there were 53 total cases in California but not a single one in San Bernardino County. Governor Gavin Newsom declared a State of Emergency in order to help prepare for the larger spread of the coronavirus. However, the health risk from the virus to the general public stayed low at the time since there were no reported cases in the county. On March 11, San Bernardino County declared a local health emergency in order to make sure that the county was prepared for the inevitable appearance of COVID-19 in the county. This was announced by the San Bernardino County Public Health Officer and the Board of Supervisors. Since the counties surrounding the area, including Riverside, Los Angeles, and Orange County had some reported cases, San Bernardino needed to prepare. “The purpose of this declaration is not to alarm people but to increase the focus on preparedness for both the public and county government departments and agencies,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman. “The health risk to the general public in San Bernardino County remains low at this time.”

In San Bernardino County, the coronavirus pandemic started on March 15. That’s when they got their first reported case. The infected person had been traveling from London the week before and she was 53 years old. Her symptoms had begun on March 12, 3 days before the coronavirus was confirmed in her. “We knew it was only a matter of time before we recorded our first case,” said Acting County Health Officer Dr. Erin Gustafson. “This does not change our level of readiness and alert because the county is in a state of emergency, we are prepared from a public health standpoint, and our residents, cities, businesses and other key communities have been informed about safe practices.” Board of Supervisors Chairman Curt Hagman announced the immediate cancellation of gatherings of more than 250 people within the county in an effort to protect the public from possible virus spread. This order included limiting gatherings at concerts, conferences, and sporting events. “The County realizes that this order will result in inconveniences to many people and businesses. However, the County’s primary concern is the health and wellbeing of its residents and visitors,” Hagman said. This order did not apply to activities like school classes, work, or essential services, though.

PUBLIC COMMUNICATION

A public hotline was created on March 16 for anyone who had questions about the novel coronavirus. It was only for information and not for medical calls; if people were feeling sick, they should call their healthcare provider instead. On March 18, all gatherings of any number of people were ordered to be cancelled, not just for gatherings upwards of 250 people. This order did not apply to essential activities like work, public transportation, air travel, grocery stores, or shopping. The order also cautioned people over the age of 65 and anyone with underlying health conditions because they are at an increased risk for health complications should they be exposed to the virus. They were encouraged to self-quarantine. By the next week, the number of cases had risen to 9, which was still very small compared to the 292 cases in Los Angeles County reported by that date, March 20. However, just 5 days later, on March 25, cases had risen to 38. This was quadruple the amount from just 5 days earlier. 5 days later once again, San Bernardino’s cases rose to 111, over double from the week before. There was also a total of 3 deaths. The first outbreak was at a Yucaipa nursing facility. Twelve of the elderly residents contracted the virus. During this time, the county closed its additional offices and only took over-the-phone appointments. Services such as Child Support Services, Agriculture, Risk Management, and Veterans Affairs were available only by phone and online in an effort to slow public traffic and spread. Also, many public attractions were closed such as Big Bear Alpine Zoo at Moonridge, county branch libraries, regional parks, and museums and historical sites. Movie theaters, health clubs, gyms, and bars were also ordered to close. This guidance also stated that “Restaurants should be closed for in-restaurant seated dining and should be open only to drive-through or other pick-up/delivery options.” This meant that restaurants could stay open as long as they had a takeout or drive-through option. The number of cases and deaths doubled at the beginning of April, with 254 confirmed cases and 6 total deaths. The County’s Acting Health Officer formally prohibited short-term rentals like hotels, motels, and short-term residential rental units. These operations were ordered to be ceased until the “Stay at Home” order was lifted. Since San Bernardino County is home to mountain and desert communities, local residents were concerned about tourists bringing the coronavirus to these areas. Health officials also recommended that people use face masks when they leave the house. Guidelines were provided to residents of what these face coverings could include. A nursing facilities task force was created on April 6 in order to mandate patient safety measures.

HOTSPOTS APPEARING

San Bernardino County has 171 state-licensed nursing facilities and Governor Gavin Newsom identified the county as one of the four nursing home “hotspots” in California. The County Nursing Facilities Task Force includes County Public Health and other County agencies, the California Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control, Inland Empire Health Plan, and other emergency management and hospital stakeholders. By April 7, religious services were ordered to only have electronic services.  The public was also formally ordered to wear a face covering when leaving the house. During May and June, cases began rising and falling, with some businesses permitted to reopen under strict guidelines. In July, San Bernardino County also released a guide on when and how businesses can reopen safely. Businesses permitted to reopen under these guidelines included banks, campgrounds, convenience stores, childcare facilities, restaurants with outdoor seating, libraries, public pools, and outdoor religious services. As of mid-July, San Bernardino County had 23,566 confirmed COVID-19 cases with 328 deaths.

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