COVID 19 testing

Staff members from the San Joaquin County Clinic place a tests sample in a bag at a drive-up COVID-19 testing site that opened outside San Joaquin General Hospital on April 8.

The year 2020 will be remembered for the effect that COVID-19 has had on our society.

As of Wednesday the California Department of Public Health reported that there had been more than 2.2 million cases of COVID-19 in the state, including nearly 25,000 people who had died of the respiratory illness. San Joaquin County reported 45,345 total cases and 634 deaths, with 4,322 cases in Tracy.

News of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus disease (SARS-CoV-2) emerged from Wuhan, China, in December 2019. By the first week of March, the first cases and deaths had been reported in California, including a woman who died after she apparently caught the virus on the Grand Princess cruise ship, which remained off of the coast just off of the Golden Gate until passengers could be safely quarantined.

Since March most of the news reported in the Tracy Press has been shaped or affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a month-by-month roundup of how COVID-19 progressed locally, with the months of March to June presented this week and July to December presented next week.

March: COVID-19 prompts action

The first week of March saw the first state actions regarding COVID-19, when California Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a state of emergency on March 4. The declaration gave local governments more authority to gather resources, and allowed more flexibility for health workers to come to the state in response.

As of March 4 there had been 53 confirmed cases and one death in California and no cases reported in San Joaquin County. Health officials noted that elderly and immune-compromised people were most vulnerable to the illness, though some people could have the coronavirus, remain healthy, show no symptoms and still be contagious.

During the second week of March fears of the coronavirus had forced cancellation of local events and San Joaquin County officials declared an emergency after three COVID-19 cases were confirmed in the county. By the end of the week the spring season of high school sports, now into its second week, had been postponed, though teams expected to get back into competition within a few weeks.

By the third week of March people were clearing supermarket shelves to stock up on supplies, leaving local charities short of supplies to assist families in need.

On March 18 the Tracy City Council declared a local emergency and issued a directive that all residents stay at home for the next 3 weeks. Tracy Unified School District canceled classes until April, and Sutter Tracy Community Hospital prepared for a patient surge. Restaurants were coping with the quarantine by offering delivery and takeout.

During the last week of March the county health department had reported 83 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including three deaths.

April: COVID numbers rise

During the month of April most of the news had something to do with COVID-19. Many businesses shut down, and those that remained active had people working mostly from home where they could be isolated from possible infection.

County and state health officials reported COVID-19 infections on the rise, more than doubling each week. As a result the city of Tracy made playgrounds and park equipment off-limits. By the last week of April the San Joaquin County Public Health Department had reported 479 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 20 deaths.

Though coronavirus tests were in short supply at first, the San Joaquin County Clinic in French Camp established free testing for people showing symptoms of COVID-19.

Signs of the effect on the economy include looming budget cuts for the city of Tracy as traditional revenue sources like sales tax are expected to decrease by up to 20%. Job losses are on the rise as well, with forecasters expecting unemployment to pass 20% before summer.

Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined a plan to increase testing, protect vulnerable people, support health care workers and continue social distancing and other measures to halt the spread of the virus, all with the hope of getting people back out in their communities.

People also found ways to help their community cope with the pandemic. Local crafters, including members of Tracy Sunrise Rotary Club and the Amazing Mask Makers Facebook group, used their time in quarantine to sew cloth face masks, which they donated to Sutter Tracy Community Hospital as some extra protective equipment for health care workers.

A duo of industrious young Mountain House siblings, Jordan and Jaqueline Prawira, also got involved. They used their 3-D printer to create frames for face shields and quickly found the face shields in high demand.

We also found people who did what they could to help neighbors, and Bill Kaska was one who did grocery shopping duties for seniors in town.

A Tracy company San-I-Pak, joined the nationwide fight against COVID-19 as the company shipped one of its medical equipment sterilizing units to New York to help one of that city’s hospitals cope with the shortage of personal protective equipment. The Bronx Veterans Affairs Hospital would put the 3,000-pound unit to work recycling surgical masks, isolation gowns, eye protection and booties.

With the end of the semester approaching soon, many schools have decided to finish the year with remote teaching. The Boys and Girls Clubs of Tracy have also gone online to reach club members at home. With the closure of schools, the spring high school sports season has also come to a close.

By the end of the month it became evident that high school graduation ceremonies would be put on hold, and schools would have to come up with alternative ways to honor the Class of 2020, with many commencements tentatively rescheduled for August.

Downtown businesses report that even though they can’t have customers in their shops, online interaction has replaced in-person contact and they can still serve customers through pickup and delivery. The same goes for gyms and fitness centers, who can’t have people in their facilities, but can help people set up home gyms and instruct them through online interactions. The Grand Theatre Center for the Arts has also shifted to online instruction for art classes, and would also host virtual concerts with musicians who would perform for an online audience.

On April 22, officials from the Tracy Economic Development Department and Tracy Chamber of Commerce held an online forum to acquaint local businesses with the city, state and federal programs designed to help them get through the shutdown.

May: Restrictions begin to lift

Signs that folks could be emerging from quarantine included county loosening of stay-at-home orders for some businesses and worship groups. As the month progressed the state reported that the number of new daily cases leveled off after reaching a peak in mid-April. As of the third week of May the county had reported 733 known COVID-19 cases over the past two months, including 33 deaths.

Free testing for the coronavirus is also becoming easier to find, with the latest offering a drive-up testing site hosted by Planned Parenthood Mar Monte at the Tracy Sports Complex. By the end of the month the San Joaquin County Clinic had also set up a one-day pop-up testing site at the homeless encampment at El Pescadero Park.

Businesses got a little more good news as the Tracy City Council agreed to direct some of its federal Community Development Block Grant money to support the local economy. About $764,000 would be available in loans of up to $20,000. By the end of the month local businesses were welcoming people back into their shops and restaurants.

Recreational venues started to reopen as well. Tracy Golf and Country Club welcomed golfers back to the local course, and parks began to open up again for many activities. Private fitness businesses, such as Flow Yoga, became active again. The 10th Street yoga studio brought its programs to the outdoor, socially distanced venue of Lincoln Park for classes.

May also saw the return of the Tracy Farmers Market. The Tracy City Center Association reopened the market on 10th Street the first weekend of May with strict social distancing, including management of crowd size as well as face mask mandates.

There are still events being canceled, though, including the traditional Memorial Day gathering at the Tracy War Memorial and the IPFES Festa in June.

Local students finished the school year with remote and online classes, but schools held a series of socially-distanced drive-by celebrations to mark the end of the school year. A couple local schools, including Millennium and Stein high schools, held drive-through graduation ceremonies.

June: COVID-19 cases back on the rise

While May saw a leveling off of COVID-19 cases, the first two weeks of June saw cases begin to rise again. By the second week of June a total of 1,388 cases had been reported in San Joaquin County, with reports of new daily cases reaching new peaks the first week of June.

That number more than doubled by the end of the month, when the county was reporting 2,884 total cases. Reports of new cases have been reaching new highs, up to 162 new cases in one day.

The city wasn’t going back into lockdown mode right away, though. The cautious reopening of city facilities included Joe Wilson Pool at Dr. Powers Park. The city planned to open the pool for recreational swimming at the end of June, but it would have a limited summer schedule, a reservation system and new rules to reduce the threat of COVID-19.

High school sports teams are eager to get back into summer workouts, and have started doing so under strict protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including non-contact conditioning in workout “pods” of small groups.

Among the traditional events to go virtual is AgFest, the traditional showing and auction of livestock raised by students, 4H and FFA exhibitors at the San Joaquin County Fairgrounds. This year the event was reorganized to be held online.

Also going virtual was one of the Tracy Boys and Girls Club’s biggest fundraisers. Former San Francisco 49er linebacker Keena Turner had to cancel his annual golf tournament at Ruby Hill Country Club in Pleasanton, but he and the club were still able to draw plenty of support for their cause.

• Contact Bob Brownne at brownne@tracypress.com, or call 209-830-4227.

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