Surgeon General comes to Kern

‘We really need to get away from the idea of health vs. economy’

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Surgeon General comes to KernOur country’s leader in public health made an appearance in Bakersfield Monday afternoon for a tour, roundtable discussion and press conference addressing the outbreaks and management of COIVD-19 in Kern County.

“The reason I came here was, number one, to help everyone understand what’s going right,” said U.S. Surgeon General Vice Adm. Jerome Adams.

Although Bakersfield has been identified as one of the worst hotspots in the nation for COVID transmission, the death rate and positivity rates — both in our county and in the nation — have been significantly lowered in recent weeks.

“We can turn this around in 2-4 weeks,” said Adams. “We can all get back to a greater sense of normal if everyone does their part.”

Adams addressed Kern County media after visiting some of the agricultural operations, the new testing site, the alternate-care facility for infected patients who cannot self-isolate, and discussing concerns with a group of leaders from numerous industry and government agency interests.

“We really need to get away from the idea of ‘health vs. economy,” said Adams. “The county officials have talked about the need to get businesses open, and I share those concerns. But the fastest way to get businesses open is to drive down community transmission.”

Adams also acknowledged that there have been negative impacts to mental health as a result of closures — including suicide, self-medicating and more.

“The quickest way to alleviate those concerns,” he said, is by observing the “Three Ws” — “Wash your hands, Wear a mask, and Watch your distance.”

He said that even those who feel they are not at risk can exacerbate infection rates without knowing, since up to 50 percent of those who transmit the disease have been identified as asymptomatic.

“You could be the reason our schools, our gyms, our beauty salons are not open, if you don’t wear a mask.”

Adams pointed to Arizona as an example of a region that went from one of the worst to one of the best case studies in the nation. “And they did it without a vaccine. We don’t have to wait for a vaccine to drive down community transmission.”

He said he still believes that the vaccine will be available late this year or early next, but he noted that the impending onset of flu season, on top of COVID, “Could easily overwhelm our hospital system.”

The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get a flu shot, he said. And the best way to avoid spreading the flu is by self-isolating. “It will not only prevent hospitalizations and death, but it could also help with our response to COVID.”

Among Adams’ local entourage were Kern County Supervisors Zack Scrivner (2nd District) and Mike Maggard (3rd District), who both serve on the Committee to Reopen.

“First of all, I want to extend my deepest gratitude to Dr. Adams for visiting,” said Scrivner. In a short period of time, the county was able to assemble representatives from a wide swath of impacted industries.

“We want to continue to suppress the virus so that we can reopen our schools and business sectors,” said Scrivner. “There is a limit to what government can do ... it comes down to personal responsibility.”

He noted that the majority of outbreaks have been traced to private gatherings, not in centers of commerce. “Take those guidelines to heart and do what you can as individuals so that the businesses you love to patronize can reopen safely … it is incumbent on all of us to make that happen.”

Ridgecrest Regional Hospital CEO Jim Suver agreed that many of the positive COVID results in Ridgecrest have been traced to large social gatherings, versus patronizing local businesses.

“I appreciated the Surgeon General’s thought acknowledging that getting though COVID times requires partnership among the stakeholders,” said Suver.

“I also concur that we can get through this if everyone practices individual responsibility.”

Adams said that he was impressed to see a discussion that included not only big-industry leaders, but restauranteurs, stylists and other impacted entrepreneurs.

“My impression of Kern County is that there is a tremendous amount of partnership going on. That is a great asset. I have been all across the country,” he said, “I have not seen this diversity of people show up to a roundtable.”

As a father of four, Adams said that he understood the pressure on families who are not allowed to send their children to schools.

“Reopening is not just about the government saying ‘you can reopen,’” he said. “We need to lower disease transmission so that people have the confidence to re-engage … That’s where the Three Ws come in.”

A Fourth W, he said, is “having the will to do it.”

“I want folks out there to understand that we don’t want to take away your liberty.” He wants to give people the tools that will ultimately increase those freedoms.

“This virus has humbled us all,” said Adams. Originally, California had one of the earliest and most effective responses in the nation. “What we found is that if we’re not vigilant, the virus comes roaring back.

“Keep doing the right thing, and encourage your neighbors and partners that if we do, we will be able to reopen … It really is up to you to work with us. Together, we can overcome this virus in a short amount of time.”

RRH has been supporting these efforts on numerous fronts, from providing continuing education to offering free drive-through testing over the summer to supporting the efforts of local schools and day cares to comply with the testing requirements that allow them to open.

“I am for whatever it takes to get our businesses and schools open,” said Suver.

“It’s got to be a team effort.”

Pictured: U.S. Surgeon General Vice Adm. Jerome Adams

Story First Published: 2020-09-18