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This transmission electron microscope image shows SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in the lab. (NIAID/TNS)

Cases of COVID-19 confirmed in Tuolumne County skyrocketed Thursday with a new record of 55 new cases counted in the previous 24 hours, smashing the former record daily number of 24 cases counted Wednesday.

Active cases in Tuolumne County were also climbing, with 133 active cases as of Thursday afternoon, up from 82 active cases on Wednesday.

The new cases on Thursday included Joe Machado, 55, a Sonora resident since 1985, who received notification of his positive test result that morning. 

Machado said he’s angry and frustrated with the way his case has been handled by the corporate testing site at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds in Sonora, he’s less than satisfied with answers he’s been getting from the county Public Health Department, and he blames the county Board of Supervisors for failing to enforce mask mandates and prohibit gatherings.

“I’m mad about the lack of attention on this pandemic displayed by the county Board of Supervisors, and the lack of support for the overworked people at the county health department,” he said Thursday afternoon. “I’m not mad at the county public health department. I’m mad at our elected supervisors, some of whom have openly advocated for aggressively reopening our economy and have essentially campaigned against strict public health measures to contain this virus.”

Machado said he’s been especially concerned about the coronavirus pandemic since March because his father is 81 years old with underlying health concerns and is considered to be in a high-risk category if he contracts COVID-19.

Machado said he went to bed Wednesday, Nov. 4, with cold-like symptoms and decided to go get tested the next morning at the Mother Lode Fairgrounds, where the OptumServe testing site was relocated on Nov. 3 from the Calaveras County Fairgrounds in Angels Camp.

“I walked in about 11 a.m. that day,” he said. “I walked straight to the counter. I was the only person on my side of the counter and the barrier. There were six or more health care people on the other side.”

Machado said a worker at the site did nasal swabs, three rotations each nostril, and the test was done. He said he was told to expect results within three days, regardless of the approaching weekend, so he expected to get his test result by Sunday.

Machado emphasized he was never advised or cautioned to isolate or quarantine while he awaited his test result. Nevertheless, he avoided contact with his father through the weekend out of caution.

OptumServe bills itself as a federal health services business of Optum and UnitedHealth Group, which is traded on the New York Stock Exchange. The company is a pharmacy benefit manager and care services group operating in 150 countries around the world.

Machado said he called a number provided at the OptumServe test site on Sunday, but a recorded response told him his test result was not ready. He did the same on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and got the same response each time.

In the meantime, Machado’s father called him Monday night to say his heater was not working at his place in Jamestown. He went to fix the heater, wearing a mask and keeping distanced at his father’s place. Then, on Wednesday, his father had a physical therapy appointment, so Machado drove him to the therapist in his van, masked up on the trip.

At 8:01 a.m. Thursday, Machado received a text alerting him his test result was ready. He called the number provided by the OptumServe test site, and a recorded message said his test result came back positive. 

The message advised him to contact LHI.Care and indicated the county Public Health Department would be contacting him because of his positive test result. LHI is a subsidiary of OptumServe.

Machado called LHI.Care before 9 a.m. Thursday, and a woman in Wisconsin gave him recommendations on what he should do about his positive test result. She had him listen to a recording of things he should be aware of, including basic hygiene, masking and distancing. The recording also indicated he should expect to hear from the county Public Health Department for reasons that included contact tracing.

At 9:26 a.m., Machado called the department to say he’d tested positive, he was concerned about his father, and he wanted to get his father tested. He also wanted advice on how to proceed because he did not believe he could take his father anywhere for the time being.

Machado also asked when he could be tested again to confirm he has recovered from COVID-19 and said he was told that he’s considered an active case from two days before his symptoms began, which was Nov. 2, through Nov. 15.

“They told me by the 15th, even without a negative test, I could go visit with my dad, that I’d be clear,” he said. “They said they are overwhelmed with cases. They are not doing post-positive testing. They said they couldn’t do another test until a couple weeks from now, and by then, (I’ll) be clear anyway.”

Machado said he was told they would try to arrange for someone to take his father to get tested. Three hours later, however, he had not heard back.

Just before 3 p.m. Thursday, Machado said he was contacted again by someone else from the department to tell him that he had tested positive for the disease.

“My dad will be anxious,” he said. “He’s already anxious about the pandemic. He hasn’t left his place, except in my company to visit health care professionals, since March. I want him tested as soon as possible. It takes seven days to get test results. He could be dead by then.”

Machado said he determined he had been in contact with seven people while he felt symptomatic and had reached at least two of them to recommend they get tested. He believes his late testing result led to him exposing others, but he had to do his own contact tracing due to lack of response from the county.

County Supervisor Anaiah Kirk, who openly opposed pandemic lockdown measures and called for fully reopening the county’s economy three weeks ago in late October, said on Thursday that he believes the county “does have teeth” to enforce the health mandates.

Kirk cited an educational component proposed by the Public Health Department that the board approved on July 7. This component of public health was created to advise business owners of complaints, educate them on the mandates, and give them up to $2,000 to buy personal protective equipment to come into compliance.

“Several business owners have reached out to me advising they have been reported to the state for not coming into full compliance with our local public health directives,” he said. “One business in my district had Cal OSHA visit them.”

Kirk said he stood by his earlier statements during his presentation at the board’s meeting on Oct. 20 about why he believes shutting down the economy is more harmful than the virus itself.  

“I stand firm based on data, not emotion,” he said. “I made two main points during my presentation three weeks ago. The importance of wearing a mask and the ignored damages of long-term shutdowns on our society. Looking back during the first phase of the COVID-19 outbreak, there was no testing, no data, a lot of unknowns about cures and treatments.”

All states in the U.S had excess deaths, but the states that did not have long-term shutdowns had lower excess deaths, Kirk said.

County Supervisor Ryan Campbell had a different perspective and said the recent local surge in cases is a “decisive, but very tragic, vindication of what medical science has been telling us for the past several months.”

“Masks work. Avoiding public gatherings works,” he said. “It is my hope that we will begin to take this seriously.”

As cases have surged over the past couple of weeks, the executive officer for Tuolumne County Superior Court said on Thursday that he planned to make a request to the state Supreme Court to reduce local services and operations due to at least two recent cases among courthouse workers.

In addition, the WATCH Resources, Inc. nonprofit on Cabezut Road that supports adults with intellectual disabilities, has stopped serving clients in person and shifted to remote service only as of Friday last week due to two staff members recently testing positive for coronavirus. They expected to continue offering remote services only through Friday this week, or until further notice from the county health department.

There have been 443 total cases of COVID-19 in the county since early March, with 287 individuals recovered and 133 active cases. Two people who tested positive were hospitalized as of Thursday afternoon. The deaths of eight county residents have also been attributed to the disease.

Statewide, more than 991,600 COVID-19 cases and 18,100 coronavirus-related deaths had been counted as of Wednesday afternoon. Nationally, the pandemic had resulted in more than 10.5 million cases and contributed to the deaths of more than 242,575 Americans.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.

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