Back in March, when the coronavirus halted life as Californians had known it, Chico turned eerily quiet. Streets and sidewalks were noticeably empty as residents largely stayed home, leaving only for essential jobs or to shop for groceries and other necessities.
On March 21, two days after Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the shelter-in-place order, the first statewide shutdown in the nation, Butte County Public Health reported the first local case of COVID-19. As the weeks rolled on and the number of new cases remained low—typically one or two every three or so days—quarantine fatigue began setting in. Tired of being cooped up, and stoked by talk of the lockdown being government tyranny, people began began unraveling.
“Nobody has even died here,” some said.
Butte County had seemingly done such a good job that it was among the first counties cleared for phased-in reopening beginning in early May. Unfortunately, many residents by then were already going about their lives with a false sense of security. This includes the Palermo church that gathered its flock in violation of public gathering restrictions, only to learn that at least one parishioner who attended that day had tested positive for the virus.
In early June, Butte County recorded the first local death. That person was over 65 years old, had pre-existing health conditions and had contracted the disease through community spread. By last week, less than a month later, the number of new cases had nearly tripled and another elderly person was dead. Public Health reported that the “significant increase” in cases—totaling 143 as of Friday (June 28)—appeared to be linked to “close contact with a previously confirmed case and from small gatherings such as BBQs and celebrations with friends and family.”
It’s a reminder that we have a long way to go to get through the pandemic and that everyone has a role to play to help stop it.
The best way to safeguard our loved ones, friends and neighbors—and to ultimately help our economy bounce back—is through continued social-distancing measures and compliance with public health guidelines, including the state’s recent mask mandate. We urge readers to look to the medical experts on this issue and to ignore the rhetoric labeling masks and other precautions as political statements.
Butte County is not an outlier in terms of a recent increase. Statewide, as the economy reopens, the number of new cases is surging. While it’s true that testing capacity has increased, it’s important to note that hospitalizations have reached their highest point since the start of the pandemic.
Worse scenarios are playing out in other states that were also in the process of getting back to business. Among the more than a dozen others reporting record-high hospitalizations are Arizona and Texas, where government officials have halted reopening plans as medical personnel scramble to keep up with the influx.
The surge brings up the specter of what happened on the East Coast early in the pandemic. In March, New York City was in the throes of crisis—so overwhelmed, in fact, that hospitals ran out of space in their morgues and had to bring in refrigerated trucks to hold bodies.
Butte County isn’t anything like the Big Apple, but spikes in small towns elsewhere indicate our region is vulnerable, too. Indeed, this is no time for complacency.
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