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City and county institutions are taking early precautions to mitigate the impact of the novel coronavirus, should it spread as expected into the Mother Lode. 

Tuolumne County Interim Health Officer Dr. Eric Sergienko declared a local emergency on Friday and issued an order in compliance with a declaration from Governor Gavin Newsom to cancel or postpone gatherings above 250 people.

“We're not in a health emergency right now,” Sergienko said. “We’re doing all the preparatory stuff that's needed to face that, but we're not in that state of emergency yet. This puts us in a situation to be more prepared and be ready to respond.”

Sergienko said the Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors will vote to ratify the emergency declaration on Tuesday.

The order comes after a torrent of local events were canceled or postponed on Thursday. 

As of Friday afternoon, no Tuolumne County residents have tested positive for coronavirus, or COVID-19, Sergienko said.

Three tests are pending and results are expected either over the weekend or by Monday.

Sergienkos said the three people were quarantined, but said he could not share where. He said at least two of the tests were sent out for testing on Friday and believed the other was sent out Thursday.

Two of the specimens are being tested in the San Joaquin County Public Health Laboratory. City Administrator Mary Rose Rutikanga said Sonora Mayor Jim Garaventa declared a local state of emergency on Friday, which will make the city eligible for grants if any become available. 

“It's important to declare a local state of emergency to prepare for and respond to and mitigate and recover from the increasing spread of coronavirus,” Rutikanga said. 

She said volunteers have been asked not to report to city offices, but City Hall remained open and fully functioning. 

For the next 30 days, Sonora Fire Museum and Senior Lounge and the Opera Hall (for public use) would be closed. 

Tuolumne County Administrator Tracie Riggs told the Union Democrat Friday that county officers were not planning to close any of their buildings or services.

“At this point it’s business as usual for us. We’re not sending any people home. That could change obviously and we’ll work closely with Dr. Sergienko on that,” she said. 

Tuolumne County Sheriff Bill Pooley said Sheriff’s Office employees and inmates had begun a precautionary decontamination of the jail on Wednesday, wiping down high-traffic surfaces.

“We don’t want the infection to get into the jail,” Pooley said. 

Pooley said there were no known positive cases of coronavirus with either inmates or custody deputies. He said to his knowledge that no one in the jail had complained of symptoms related to the coronavirus.

The Sheriff’s Office has suspended inmate programs for a week and began a process of pre-screening new inmates before they are admitted. Pooley said if new inmates complained of symptoms, they would be evaluated by a jail doctor before admission. He said the precautionary measures were specific and unique to the current outbreak.

Like other public officials, Pooley acknowledged it was only a matter of time before the coronavirus began infecting residents of the county and acknowledged it could infect deputies or inmates. 

“We’re going to deal with it like anything else,” Pooley said. 

Pooley said the same processes would be used in the Sheriff’s Office as with any other person who contracted coronavirus: they would self-quarantine and an investigation would be undertaken to determine who may have been exposed and when. 

In a press release sent out Thursday, the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office announced the Office of Emergency Services activated the Emergency Operations Center to support the county health office. The EOC will coordinate responses from local and state agencies during the response.

Greg Stark with the Calaveras County Sheriff’s Office said no deputy or inmate has tested positive for coronavirus and none have requested testing .

“Methods are in place to provide additional medical screening and testing if needed,” he said in an email.  

The increased preparation comes in the wake of two Copperopolis residents testing positive for coronavirus this week.

Calaveras County Public Health Officer Dr. Dean Kelaita could not be reached for comment.

Copperopolis Elementary School was expected to reopen Monday after being closed for many days during a decontamination operation.  

A spokesperson for Mark Twain Medical Center in San Andreas did not return requests for comment.

An email from Dr. Ramesh Nathan, an infectious disease specialist with the Adventist Health system based in Thousand Oaks, said the hospital is maintaining contact with federal, state and local agencies to ensure patient care. 

“Our hospital manages infectious disease on a regular basis and maintains isolation rooms. Ongoing training and drills are underway on the proper donning and doffing of personal protective equipment, as well as on the protocols for the identification, testing and treatment of a patient with COVID-19-like symptoms,” the email said.

The statement also noted there was enough supplies on hand to care for COVID-19 patients. 

Sergienko said the supplies likely included respirators, goggles, gloves and gowns to protect healthcare workers.

Sergienko said mild cases of coronavirus were treated the way a person treats a common cold, with fluids, rest and medication like acetaminophen. The most extreme cases can be treated with Remdesivir, an experimental drug found to be beneficial on SARS and MERS cases that was previously tested on animals. 

The health order is in place until the end of March. It additionally calls for social distancing of six feet in events of less than 250 people and limits gatherings to a maximum of 10 people for those above the age of sixty, with heart or lung disease, or diabetes. 

Sergienko said if the outbreak worsens, the at-risk population should expect to “shelter in place” with a 14-day supply of shelf stable food, 30 to 60 days of prescription medication and with a point of contact.

According to the World Health Organization on March 13, there are 132,758 positive cases worldwide and 4,955 deaths.

In the United States, there are 1,629 cases and 41 deaths. 

As of Friday morning, there are 247 positive cases and five deaths in California, including one non-California resident, according to the California Department of Public Health. Passengers from the Grand Princess cruise ship docked in Oakland are not included — 65 cases are travel related, 52 were from person to person exchange, 56 were community acquired and 50 are under investigation. Approximately 11,400 people are self-monitoring. 

Utilities giant Pacific Gas and Electric announced Friday morning it was implementing a moratorium on service disconnections for nonpayment. It will remain in effect until further notice.

Mother Lode Fairgrounds manager Ken Alstott said in an email he was working with event promoters to limit the size of gatherings at the Sonora fairgrounds. 

“Some events have decided to continue but at smaller scale while others have postponed or moved their event to a later date in the year,” he said in the email. 

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