IMPERIAL VALLEY — An elderly man who died in a San Diego-area hospital has become the first COVID-19-related fatality for Imperial County as the number of positive cases has risen to 51, according to the latest data from the county Public Health Department released April 2.
condolences go out to the individual’s family and friends during this difficult
time,” county Health Officer Dr. Stephen Munday said in a press release April
2. “Any loss of life is tragic, but this is particularly sobering.”
The announcement was made during a telephonic press
conference between Munday, County Executive Officer Tony Rouhotas Jr. and
members of the local media early in the afternoon April 2.
Munday said during the press conference that no
details would be shared about the patient, including age, sex or city of
residence, only that the patient died in a San Diego-area hospital. Munday
stated in the release that the individual did have “underlying health
conditions,” which he also described as “multiple medical issues” in the press
Rouhotas confirmed during the press briefing that the
individual was a sometime Imperial County resident who also lived in Baja California,
“We’re not sure where he contracted it,” Munday said,
adding the man had been to other areas with known COVID cases besides Imperial
County. The doctor also did not say when exactly the patient died.
As of the evening of April 2, Imperial County had 51
confirmed positive COVID cases, with nine results pending from the state public
health lab in San Diego, and a total of 329 negative test results reported
through a combination of public and private lab testing. Public Health
officials say six patients have recovered from COVID and are out of isolation.
In Mexicali and Baja California, the numbers are also
rising. In Mexicali, Baja’s capital city, two were dead, with 31 confirmed
cases and 43 results pending as of the morning of April 3. For Baja as a whole,
four were dead with 52 confirmed positive cases.
Meanwhile, it is expected the number of positive tests
in Imperial County will begin to rise more rapidly as those tested for the
virus increase and the results of public and private laboratories continue to
Testing in California continues to be problematic, as
the number of pending results in the Golden State represented 99 percent of all
pending tests in the U.S. as of an April 2 audit of data from the state’s 58
county public health departments.
The Testing Problem in California
California had 59,500 tests pending as of April 1,
according to data collected by covidtracking.com, a website created by two
reporters from The Atlantic, who had been monitoring results throughout the
At the time of publication of an April 2 report on the
backlog of testing results in the state, City Journal, an oft-cited publication
of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, found that California had
59,100 tests pending among a total of 59,567 pending tests in all of the
Problems seem to be the number of labs conducting tests
and the availability of testing materials in the state, a problem that exists
locally as well.
California only has 22 state Public Health Department labs,
with the closest location to Imperial County being in San Diego, so Imperial
County Public Health has had to rely on both the San Diego public lab and
Local testing is picking up as more tests become available
to local hospitals, clinics, public and private healthcare providers and
private labs, but so are the numbers of people meeting Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention criteria to be tested, which include those 65 and older,
those in high-risk categories that suffer from existing conditions like
diabetes or heart disease, and those with obvious signs of respiratory illness.
In a move that was not immediately the norm at the
time it was announced, Munday said March 10 that he mandated all Imperial County
private labs report both positive and negative test results to the Public
Health Department so local officials would have a better handle on the number
of potential cases. The first positive COVID test came two days later.
The daily reporting from Imperial County Public Health
shows the positive cases and negative cases are made up of public and private
testing. However, the number of daily pending results is only coming from the
public lab in San Diego.
An example of how many positive results are coming
from private testing vs. public testing was included in an April 1 snapshot
when Public Health revealed that 21 of 43 positive tests came from private labs,
according to Andrea Bowers, a county Public Health public information officer.
How is the County Trying to Increase Testing?
Munday said during a press conference March 28 that
Imperial County Public Health is trying to increase its own testing
capabilities by establishing a lab locally.
“Our lab is working on a process where we can do our
own testing, but we’re competing for materials,” Munday said.
The public health officer said the department has a
testing machine and “a plan in place,” but that “we are working on the
procurement piece,” meaning the testing materials aren’t available.
staff gave an update on the local testing efforts April 1.
“We currently have an
allocation plan established with the manufacturer and are awaiting our
allocation of test kits. Following a brief validation period, we will be able
to conduct testing of samples received from our local hospitals,” Bowers wrote
to this newspaper.
manufacturer is prioritizing allocation for those areas that have been hardest
hit. Once we receive our allocation and are ready to go, we will share
that information,” Bowers added.
Who is Testing Locally?
It’s unclear who all of the entities are testing for
COVID in Imperial County, but we know they are a mix urgent-care centers,
hospitals, private labs, doctors offices, and a mix of different types of
practitioners, from family physicians and general practitioners, to specialists
Also, there seems to be a wide range of different
types of tests being used.
For example, Dr. Tien Vo’s office posted on its social
media site March 30 that it had six confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 found
during its initial testing drive at Vo Medical Center in Calexico, with more
results pending. His office was using swabs that took at least 24 hours to get
Pediatrician Vishwa Kapoor also had been conducting
testing from her El Centro office, although it wasn’t immediately clear what
type of tests.
Generally, it is taking 24 to 48 hours to get back
test results, depending on the lab, county officials have said.
All Valley Urgent Care Center in El Centro posted on
its social media site that at least two positive cases had come from its
clinic, and it was using a 10-minute rapid-response test.
Where are the Positives Coming From?
Munday has declined to go into detail about those who
have tested positive for the virus in Imperial County, saying during his March
28 press conference that the sample set is too small and the privacy of those
who test positive could be compromised.
He has continued to not be specific with ages and
sexes, and has not grouped local results into subgroups publicly like other
For example, we know the elderly are being hit hard in
the U.S., but a surprisingly fast-rising group are people aged 18 to 44,
according to the CDC.
But anecdotally, we can see some of the places the
virus might be coming from in the community as agencies and businesses reveal
they have had either employees or people they serve come down with COVID,
exposing an untold number of others to the virus.
In addition to the confirmed positive cases from local
healthcare providers and both El Centro Regional Medical Center and Pioneers
Memorial Healthcare District in Brawley, there are other locations and
potential identifiers that have been made public.
There have been press releases from Brawley Elementary
School District alerting the community that Witter Elementary School staff had
been exposed. There has been a press release from Central Union High School
District informing that a Southwest High School staff member had been infected.
Calexico Unified School District informed the public
that two district employees had confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in a March
29 press release.
In-N-Out Burger restaurant’s corporate office
confirmed it had an employee in the El Centro restaurant test positive.
In Other Local COVID Developments
Meanwhile, Public Health announced March 31 that
Munday’s health order, which was to remain in place through the 31st
and re-evaluated, had been extended indefinitely.
The order states what essential businesses can remain
open, including gas stations; pharmacies; food services such as grocery stores,
farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, take-out, and delivery
restaurants; banks; laundromats/laundry services; and essential state and local
government functions will also remain open.
The order also reiterated that the following
businesses must remain closed until further notice: dine-in restaurants; bars
and nightclubs; entertainment venues; gyms and fitness studios; public events
and gatherings; convention centers; and hair and nail salons.
Additionally, the Imperial County Office of Education
confirmed April 1 that all local schools would remain closed through the end of
the 2019-2020 school year. The academic year ends in June.
ICOE said distance learning would continue throughout Imperial County, but the physical school locations would not reopen before the end of the term.