County health official attributes new COVID-19 positives to ‘people gathering more’

Of the 1,245 tests conducted at Vets Memorial Building, four have come back positive.

While San Benito County moves through Stage Two of the state’s Resilience Roadmap, residents continue to test positive for COVID-19. At the May 26 meeting of the Board of Supervisors, Health and Human Services Agency Director Tracey Belton said people gathering was part of the reason the county has seen an increase in infections, possibly related to the Mother’s Day celebrations and activities.

“I don’t think it’s due to an increase in testing because it didn’t come out of our OptumServe site so I think community transmission, person-to-person transmission,” Belton said. “If you see that, that means it’s probably within the same family structure. I don’t know if it was specifically due to a Mother’s Day event, but that’s why we are still encouraging people to not gather and create social distancing and wear their face coverings.” 

Because people are testing positive for COVID-19 at Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital, she said it meant they were experiencing symptoms, which led them to test at the hospital and not the Veterans Memorial Building testing site run by OptumServe. 

“Yes, I do believe that it is from people gathering more,” replied Belton to Supervisor Peter Hernandez, who asked whether additional testing or people gathering was the reason for the recent increase in COVID-19 patients.

Thirty people have tested positive for COVID-19 since the federally funded test site at the Veterans Memorial Building opened on May 5. As of May 27 there are 83 people who have been infected with the virus, 65 who recovered, 16 active patients and two deaths. 

Of the 1,245 tests conducted at the site, four came back positive, while 357 test results were still pending as of May 26, according to Belton. San Benito County has conducted a total of 2,435 tests since March. The county’s first two COVID-19 patients were reported on Feb. 2. 

Hernandez also asked if the increase in positive test results was due to a single family gathering. Belton said she did not have that information.

Supervisor Jim Gillio asked the health department to track the infection rate and, if possible, post it on the county’s COVID-19 dashboard because it’s expected that as the county increases testing, so will the number of positive test results. 

“I think that will be important for the community to see and understand, and also for us as well,” Gillio said. 

Supervisor Mark Medina suggested looking at the percentage of positive tests, which he said takes into account the increased testing and is a better indicator than looking at the total number of positive tests. 

“As of April 30 it was 5.4%,” Medina said. “As of May 22 it was 3.4%.”

Public Health Officer David Ghilarducci agreed with Medina’s interpretation and said that as the positive test percentage decreases, it’s a sign that the county is going in the right direction. He also said that the county’s face mask order and shelter-in-place order helped reduce the spread of COVID-19. He also noted that the numbers can vary between rural and urban counties. 

“There are rural counties in the country that have had tremendous rates of spread that didn’t have the controls that we’ve had so far,” Ghilarducci said. “So I do attribute it to the prompt action by my predecessors and the work that’s been done locally as far as preventing the spread.”

During public comment, arguments for and against the statewide stay-at-home order and the local face mask order were heard. Nine people spoke against the orders, citing violations to the Constitution and saying COVID-19 was not as dangerous as the government and media portrayed it. They also claimed that the health orders were politically motivated. Three people spoke in favor of the county’s actions and thanked the health officials for their work.


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Noe Magaña

Noe Magaña is BenitoLink Co-Editor and Content Manager. He joined BenitoLink as reporter intern and was soon brought on staff as a BenitoLink reporter. He also experiments with videography and photography. He is 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 was a reporter and later a copy editor for San Jose State's Spartan Daily. He is a USC Center for Health Journalism 2020 California Fellow.