The hospital at Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District in Brawley is among the local providers logging data on flu cases that is sent to the Imperial County Department of Public Health. | Corissa Ibarra photo
IMPERIAL COUNTY — With the COVID-19 influenza virus making a seemingly inexorable march across the globe toward what some health experts have said will become a pandemic, localities such as those in Imperial County are faced with vital preparation tasks.
While no local cases had
yet been reported as of March 4, the Imperial County Public Health Department
has released an advisory of preventive measures individuals can take to reduce
the chances of infection. These include :
• Washing hands
often with soap and water
• Avoid touching
eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands
• Stay home when
you are sick
• Avoid close
contact with people who are sick
• Cover your cough
• Clean and
disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces
As part of that advisory,
Stephen Munday, the county public health officer and a physician, warned
residents to also be cautious about acting on information received about
“As this situation
progresses, most will encounter a lot of information related to COVID-19 on
social media, television and other sources,” Munday stated. “… please consider the source of the
information you’re receiving. Sources such as the CDC (federal Centers for
Disease Control), California Department of Public Health, and Imperial County
Public Health Department are continuing to monitor the situation, are regularly
updating their information, and can be relied on to provide timely and accurate
whose operations involve significant public contact, such as hospitals, schools
and municipalities, are also exploring preventative measures.
“Public Health officials
continue to work closely with state and federal agencies to assess for COVID-19
in our community,” Munday added.
The agency’s “strong
partnership” with Baja California Health officials allows the county to stay
informed regarding the status of COVID-19 in Mexicali as well, he added.
Local Preparations Discussed
This newspaper contacted
several local organizations for comment on their responses to date to the
COVID-19 threat. Among the responses:
El Centro Regional Medical Center, Adolphe Edward, chief executive officer
“ Imperial County does not have Covid
testing capability which is not un-usual. Samples are sent to San Diego and
results are back within 48 hrs. Commercial readily available testing should be
on the scene by summer. We do involve our ECRMC infection control if we feel
someone needs testing and that is what the healthcare systems do. They will
then contact ICPHD (county Public Health), who will contact Dr. Steve Munday if
there are any questions.
As was the case this Friday (Feb. 28) with
the suspected Covid patient in Mexicali, we will not be able to block or
control US citizens with Covid coming across the border. The case in question
resulted negative for Covid (and positive for Flu) just as she was crossing the
border. And that is as much as we know today.”
City of Calexico, David Dale, city manager
Dale said he had nothing
to add because he did not want to mix messages coming out of the county.
“We’re in standby mode;
wait and see what happens. Whatever we do, we want to coordinate with the
county,” Dale explained.
Calexico Unified School District, Alejandra Limon, public information officer
“We are actively working
with the (county) Health Department and any active information from the
CDC with regards to any steps we need to
take at this moment.
Calexico Unified will
follow CDC guidance, as well as the guidance from public health departments at
the State and County levels to keep our student and staff populations safe and
healthy. We will follow all directives from these agencies to reduce exposure
in school. It is the public health department that decides on quarantines,
school closures, and exclusion policy, not the school district.”
School officials sent out
communications with staff on Feb. 27, posted information to its website and
social media on Feb. 28 and sent texts out to parents March 2 regarding
The county has about
2,400 regular and extra-help employees. Because job duties and programs
vary significantly from department to department, it is impossible to estimate
the level of public interaction or possible exposure to COVID-19 each employee
has on any given day, officials stated.
Although there are
differences with county staff providing direct services, such as those
identified Public Health staff conducting disease investigations, all county
staff are advised to follow the same recommend best practices to prevent
illnesses as provided to the public.
Imperial County Jail
To control exposure to
inmates currently housed at the Imperial County Jail, the Sheriff’s Office,
working through its medical provider, has added specific COVID-19-related
questions to the screening process as new inmates are administered into the
system. In addition, each inmate has regularly scheduled medical
examinations to assess their physical and mental wellbeing. Protective
equipment, including gloves and masks, are provided and worn by officers and
Sheriff staff as needed.
Imperial Valley College, Elizabeth Espinoza, interim communications officer
“Imperial Valley College is currently working in conjunction
with the Imperial County Public Health Department on developing a plan
regarding our campus community, should COVID-19, known as Coronavirus, come to
the Imperial Valley. In an effort to increase awareness and prevention on our
campus, we are closely monitoring developments involving the outbreak. The
college is communicating to its campus community the CDC health guidelines on
practicing good hygiene throughout the campus.”
Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District, Frank G. Salazar, director of communications
Pioneers doing anything or implementing any emergency measures to protect staff
against the spread of COVID-19 or doing anything COVID-related for the public,
either in Brawley or Calexico (due to health clinics)?
“In light of the recent outbreaks occurring around the
nation and abroad, Pioneers Memorial Healthcare District is following the
recommended personal protective equipment (PPE) guidelines for employees (about
800 total) in direct contract with patients presenting and meeting the CDC
screening signs and symptoms. We expect additional communications the rest of
the week as the California HHS (Health and Human Services) Secretary
coordinates with the CDC on the latest recommendations to the community,
patients, and care givers. Our team is working closely with local public health
officials to coordinate and develop measures to protect our employees, patients
are the COVID-19 related preparations looking like for the emergency room
regarding the public, or at any of the health centers?
“Efforts are focused on appropriate screening and
treatment of patients, visitor restrictions designed to protect employees,
patients and visitors and surge capacity plans. PMHD also hosted a briefing
with County Public Health officials, our medical staff and physicians on our
many people do PMHD staffers come in contact with on a daily basis?
“Census numbers fluctuate as with any hospital
setting, and we’re asking for everyone to do their best here and at home by
protecting themselves by washing hands with soap and water, avoid touching
eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. Also, we ask that you avoid close
contact with people who are sick and to stay away from work and school if you
become sick with respiratory symptoms like fever and cough.”
Several contact attempts resulted in no immediate response from U.S. Customs and Border Protection, which oversees the Calexico east and west ports of entry border crossings.
Richard Montenegro Brown and William Roller contributed to this story.