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30 days after first COVID-19 case, Kern County is a changed place

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BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — To many of us, it may seem much, much longer, but it’s been 30 days — exactly one month — since Kern County Public Health officials reported the first positive test for the coronavirus.

Since then, an epic flow of grim and sometimes hopeful news from across the nation, the state and the county have captivated a largely quarantined population.

It started on Saint Patrick’s Day, March 17 — a traditional time of celebration that tends to feature beer and close quarters. Today, that kind of socializing must seem like a relic of the distant past.

That same day, March 17, the Kern County Public Health Department announced the first positive test for COVID-19 — in a visitor from outside the county. Californians had been watching this virus make its way across the continent from New York, where by now the outbreak was a full blown emergency.

And then it was here.

Within 10 days the number of positive tests was 40, and Kern had its first death, 52-year-old Susie Garcia of Delano.

And from there, the number of cases took off.

On March 19, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a stay-at-home order applying to all but essential workers.

“If we are to be criticized at this moment,” Newsom said that day, “let us be criticized for taking this moment seriously.”

And the way we live began to change. The new mantra: sanitize, sanitize, sanitize. Observe social distancing guidelines and, please, if at all possible, stay home.

On March 18, schools throughout the county closed — at first for just a few weeks but eventually, it was announced, for the remainder of the school year.

Home schooling became the new norm as districts throughout the county sought ways to get lessons into the hands of 190,000 students spread across an area the size of New Jersey. And, while school officials were at it, they went into action to feed students too.

By March 22, most and eventually all churches went to live streamed worship services.

Gyms, restaurants and bars emptied.

Just seven days after that first case, Kern had 198 positive cases and its second death, a patient who remains unidentified.

Seven days after that, 370 positives and a third death, an 82-year-old U.S. Army veteran from Bakersfield.

Layoffs, which had already decimated the U.S. Northeast, hit the West Coast hard, with California recording one million claims for unemployment in just two head spinning weeks ending March 25.

In Bakersfield, as in much of the country, restaurants resorted to take out and delivery — and curbside service became common. Shopping services like Instacart saw their business double, then triple — same for delivery services, from Amazon down to small local companies.

Just two weeks before, authorities had been telling Americans face masks were unnecessary for the general population, perhaps even harmful, but in a stunning pivot, also on April 3, they suddenly declared masks were a good idea — even, in some locales, mandatory. And almost overnight, face masks, including home-made masks, became the fashion statement of the year.

Today, exactly one month after the announcement of that first case, Kern has nearly 600 positives, more than double what it had just 10 days ago.

And authorities cannot yet say with certainty that the curve has hit a plateau.

How much higher can it go? If Kern County does not adequately shelter in place or observe social distancing guidelines, who knows? Especially since authorities believe Kern County could be as much as two weeks behind the curve of the state’s major population centers.

But we are seeing heroism of a kind we have not seen before. Not just doctors, nurses and other medical professionals, but also farmworkers, truck drivers, delivery workers, grocery clerks and other essential workers and others we might not have thought of as essential — until now.

And we are seeing generosity of a kind we have not seen before. Volunteerism — mask-making, food delivery, entertainment.

So much of our life is online now, even more than before, as we turn to things like Zoom and Face Time to both conduct business and to socialize in creative and often delightful ways.

It seems certain we will emerge from this pandemic a changed society. Perhaps in unfortunate ways but also in positive ways. But first we much emerge. And, one month after COVID-19 virus first touched us here in Kern County, that day is still nowhere in sight.

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