A Kern County Public Health Services official was peppered with questions Thursday about assertions made by two local doctors the day before that COVID-19 was no worse than influenza and stay-at-home orders should be lifted immediately.
The two doctors, Dan Erickson and Artin Massihi, who own Accelerated Urgent Care in Bakersfield, pointed to data from their own COVID-19 testing within their practice as well as state and national figures to argue that the current pandemic is not as bad as initially thought, and that death rates are actually quite low. They further stated that the national shutdown due to coronavirus was doing more harm than good. They pointed to surging unemployment, a potential spike in domestic abuse, alcoholism and suicide, and decreased business and staffing at hospitals — and at their own clinic — as reasons to open things back up.
On Thursday, Public Health Services spokeswoman Michelle Corson was pressed by local media to address the doctors’ claims, considering they run counter to the shelter-in-place mandate put forth by local, state and federal officials over the past month.
Was it responsible commentary from two physicians who run and operate a local urgent care group? Was the health department concerned about the message put forth, since it contradicts the stay-at-home tone that has been prevalent throughout the pandemic? Was their address, in fact, a public health and safety concern? And, when considering those factors, was Public Health’s response to the doctors’ claims Wednesday a strong enough rebuttal?
Corson, in turn, stuck to what Kern Public Health’s message has been throughout: They’ve been given orders from the state government to implement the procedures in place, they support those procedures, and until further notice, that will be the message.
“There are top medical minds in our state, in our county, in our nation that are providing this guidance to us,” Corson said. “We concur that these are actions that we should be taking right now, and we are steadfast in our recommendation to our community to continue this. This is the health of our community that is at stake.
“People are entitled to their opinion, they are entitled to speak about this topic as they wish. What our stance is, the messaging that we have been delivering remains the same. I can just strongly state that we are pleased with our community and how they responded and this is not the time to be confused. The message is loud and clear.”
On Thursday, the health department reported 16 new local COVID-19 cases, bringing the total number of positive county tests since March 13 to 708. Of those, 327 of those patients have recovered from coronavirus, while there have been four deaths announced. According to the health department, 26 patients are being treated at local hospitals while 342 are isolating and recovering at home.
“This is difficult. We know this is difficult for our businesses. This is a trying time for us all,” Corson said.
“Encouraging our community to stay steadfast is incredibly important right now.”