Government / Politics

Cause of death still unknown for COVID-19 case

Sheriff’s Office warns against price gouging and asks non-essential businesses to adhere to the shelter-in-place order; Health and Human Services director updates on local resources.

San Benito County Sheriff Captain Eric Taylor announced at a special, remote Board of Supervisors meeting on March 20 that the cause of death for the one COVID-19 case in the county has yet to be determined.

“We have an individual that passed, and also tested positive for COVID-19,” Taylor said. “At this point we can’t say if they passed away from COVID-19. A lot of people have outlined medical conditions which may be the cause of death.”

Taylor said the sheriff’s office will continue to report any deaths that test positive for the virus; though it could be a contributing factor, he cautioned that it should not be mistaken as the cause of death.

“We contract with the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner’s Office and they make that determination for the cause of death,” Taylor said. 

As of March 20, five coronavirus cases have been reported in San Benito County, two of which are active. The state has 904 reported cases and 16 deaths. Nationwide, there are 11,238 reported cases and 127 deaths. 

San Benito County Sheriff’s Office has taken additional safety measures, such as providing more personal protective equipment for deputies, limiting in-person jail visitations only to essential attorney meetings, additional screening to those being put in custody, and suspended inmate classes.

In order to practice social distancing—having a six-feet space between individuals—Taylor said Judge Steven Sanders and District Attorney Candice Hooper allowed the Sheriff’s Office more discretion to give out citations rather than take violators of certain codes into custody. 

“We were not able to cite and release, now we are able to cite and release to try to keep the numbers lower in our jail,” Taylor said. 

Since San Benito County’s shelter-in-place order began on March 18, Taylor said the business community has adhered to the order well and that law enforcement has contacted one business not complying with the non-essential services closure.

“If you’re one of the people that’s trying to figure out the ways you can get around this, you’re probably going to attract some attention from law enforcement,” Taylor said. “The whole point of this order is to keep everybody safe and not to try to figure out ways to get around it.”

For those essential businesses that remain open, Taylor cautioned them about price gouging—raising product prices over 10% during an emergency.

“Our district attorney has pledged that her office will prosecute price gouging,” Taylor said. “That’s something that I know our partners in the Hollister Police Department and our deputy sheriffs, not only in our county but in our contract city of San Juan Bautista, are paying attention to.”

As of March 20, Taylor said there have been no new cases of the virus reported to the Sheriff’s Office. And though the lobby is closed, the office is fully staffed and patrolling the community.

At the joint meeting, Health and Humans Services Director Tracey Belton said San Benito County was allocated $192,291 from the California Department of Public Health for phase 1 of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which consists of three phases:

  • Phase 1: surveillance, infection control mitigation, communications, and other preparedness and response activities. 
  • Phase 2: private health insurers testing, appropriation of $500 million in emergency funding for Women, Infants & Children Program, increase funding for medicaid and additional allotment to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
  • Phase 3: expected to include funding for airlines and other distressed sectors of the economy and the creation of a small business loan program. 

To protect the homeless population in the county, the H.O.M.E. Resource Center, the county’s year-round homeless shelter operated by Community Homeless Solutions, is now open 24/7. It previously operated from 4 to 8 p.m. Janitorial services at the center have also increased from once-a-day cleanings to twice a day.

With a capacity to serve 50 individuals—28 men and 22 women—Belton said all clients are screened based on symptoms. Additional services for the homeless include sanitation stations throughout Hollister:

  • Fourth and Bridge Streets
  • City Hall on Fifth Street
  • Apricot Park
  • East and Sally (railroad tracks)
  • Gateway Drive
  • Locust and Park Hill

The county also set up a San Benito Case dashboard for COVID-19-related information and resources.

The county’s new public information officer, former Hollister Police Chief David Westrick, said the public health department will use Nixle—a text alert system—to keep residents informed during the pandemic. He urged county supervisors to use that information as their source when informing their constituents as a way to deliver one consistent message and avoid confusion. 


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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. A San Benito High School alumnus with a bachelor's in journalism from San Jose State and a Liberal Arts Associate's Degree from Gavilan College. Noe also attended San Jose City College and was the managing editor for the City College Times, the school's newspaper. He also was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily.