Urgent Care Staff Fight on the Front Lines Against COVID-19

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

May 10, 2020

Medical Assistant, Ruby Ladkin (left), and Physician’s Assistant Dr. John Michalak of Urgent Care in Morro Bay are on the local front lines in the fight against the Wuhan Coronavirus, testing hundreds of local residents for the disease. Photo by Neil Farrell

They man the local front lines in the fight against the Coronavirus Pandemic, with doors open to anyone who wants to be tested for the virus.

Urgent Care of Morro Bay Physician’s Assistant, Dr. John Michalak, said their office has been testing from seven to 10 patients a day for the past month. And while he wasn’t sure off hand of the exact number of nasal swab tests they’ve done, he knows the number of positive tests they’ve had — zero.

“We’ve had two people test positive in the Pismo Office,” he explained. “But there’ve been none here” in Morro Bay.

He cautioned that he doesn’t know how many local people had been tested through the County Health Department, but according to figures released on the County’s COVID-19 website (see: www.ReadySLO.org), Morro Bay has had just six confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the Wuhan Coronavirus. And that figure has held steadfast for nearly a month.

They are not doing the antibody tests at this time, Dr. Michalak said, which can confirm whether a person has antibodies for the virus, a sign that they have already contracted and gotten over it. He hopes they will have that test available soon, as well.

Meanwhile, though initial guidelines from the County Health Officer were for anyone with symptoms to seek a test through their doctor or local medical clinic, like Urgent Care; now, they want to test everyone they can.

“We’re testing anybody and everybody who wants a test,” said Dr. Michalak. “We want to test as many people as possible because we want to get a better look at the data” and thus have a better understanding of how wide spread the virus actually is. “And there are asymptomatic cases, too.”

Asymptomatic patients are infected and possibly contagious but have none of the symptoms of the disease or have very mild symptoms. It’s one of the insidious aspects of this pandemic — that a person could feel fine, and yet still be contagious and a threat to all they come in contact with.

Knowing how many asymptomatic people there have been would affect the data on everything from spread of the virus to the death rate.

It’s that asymptomatic aspect in part that’s led to the shelter-at-home orders from the Governor, also adopted by SLO County and the City of Morro Bay, and resulted in the near complete shutdown of the economy — both statewide and throughout SLO County.

According to SLO County Health Department, “Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Less common symptoms include fatigue, body aches, chills, sore throat, and may include runny nose or diarrhea. Older adults and individuals with underlying medical conditions are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.”

As one can see, the COVID-19 symptoms are pretty close to what one would suffer with from the flu. And Dr. Michalak said they’ve continued to see patients at the Urgent Care suffering with bronchitis, flu and strep throat, all respiratory ailments like COVID-19.

Dr. Michalak said their testing protocols are designed to limit exposure. They accept walk-in patients, he said, but prefer a person call first and let them know when they want to come down to the office.

A patient would drive up and park at the Quintana Road clinic, and the medical staff will come out to their vehicle and swab their nasal cavity. The swabbing can be uncomfortable as it involves sticking a cotton swab far up your nose.

“Most people tolerate it just fine,” said Dr. Michalak. He added that the swabbing might make a person sneeze but it’s over quickly. They send the test swabs off to a lab, either the County Health Department Lab or WestPac Lab, a local private firm, and have been getting the results back in 2-3 days.

As to cost, Dr. Michalak said they charge their normal fee for an office visit, insurance companies are covering the costs, and the government response to the pandemic is also helping cover deductibles.

The County Health Department has declared that there would be no charge for getting tested for COVID-19.

County Health put out a list of places where people can get tested for the virus, they are: Urgent Care of Morro Bay, 783 Quintana Rd., (805) 771-0108; Med Stop Urgent Care 283, Madonna Rd., San Luis Obispo, (805) 549-8880; Family & Industrial Medical Center, 47 Santa Rosa St., SLO, (805) 542-9596; Dignity Health Urgent Care, Pismo Beach, 877 N. Oak Park Blvd., Pismo Beach, (805) 474-8450; Urgent Care, 5920 W. Mall, Atascadero, (805) 461-2131; Medworks Medical Centers, 350 Posada Ln., Templeton, (805) 434-3699; Primary Care Partners, 84 Santa Rosa St., SLO, (805) 591-4727; Dr. Reynaldo Cordero, 350 Posada Ln., Ste. 202, Templeton, (805) 434-3699; Urgent Care of Atascadero, 9700 El Camino Real No. 100, (805) 466-1330; and, Urgent Care, 2 James Way Ste. 214, Pismo Beach, (805) 295-6594.

Readers are advised to call first before going to a clinic to get a test.

Meanwhile, on April 22, the County and City of Morro Bay both eased up slightly on the shelter-at-home restrictions, allowing some additional businesses to reopen. They were:
• Houses of worship can hold services in their parking lots provided their members stay in their cars.
• Janitorial and housekeeping services can operate, as long as individuals observe the Public Health Department’s recommendations for physical distancing, face coverings, and hygiene.
• Retail stores that sell fabric can operate, using the current Public Health recommendations; this will allow community members to make face coverings.
• Drive-in theaters can operate and must observe Public Health Department guidance.
The initial round of easing up on business closures came on April 20 when the County said non-urgent surgery and outpatient practice, construction, dog grooming and recreational fishing could reopen.
In Morro Bay the City put restrictions on who can and cannot use the public boat launch.
“Morro Bay Harbor Department,” reads a warning notice posted at the launch ramp, “will conduct a trial opening of the public boat launch ramp to San Luis Obispo County residents only in order to provide recreational fishing opportunities. In order for the launch ramp to remain open, we MUST adhere to the State and County Shelter at Home Orders, which specify recreating in your own neighborhood and limiting discretionary travel. Violation of or failure to comply with these orders is a misdemeanor punishable by $1,000 fine, imprisonment, or both.” Misdemeanor convictions normally carry a maximum of 6 months in County Jail.”

The notice declares that California IDs and boat registrations “will be checked to ensure San Luis Obispo County residents only.” The launch ramp will be open daily from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. for recreational boaters and commercial fishers.

As violators — i.e. anyone not from SLO County who tries to launch a boat — could be cited for a misdemeanor crime, the question arises as to why this is not a violation of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment and the right to equal protection under the law (which the Supreme Court has interpreted to also mean equal enforcement of the law)?

Did the City get an opinion from its attorneys before issuing this edict?

“I didn’t see the need to consult the attorney,” City Manager Scott Collins told EBN, “as the shelter-at-home orders for the State and SLO County are clear: People should not be traveling far from their homes for non-essential activities.”

Has he gotten any pushback? “No push back from what I’ve heard,” Collins said, “and other California ports and harbors are doing the same thing. The shelter at home order is pretty clear that now is not the time to travel.”

Though a SLO County resident could launch his or her boat and go fishing, they can’t use the fish cleaning station or the boat wash down station.

However, even though one would be far from the next soul while fishing on the ocean, the CDC guidelines follow you everywhere. “Social Distancing is required and enforced,” reads the City notice. “Face masks must be worn at all times when outside your vehicle.”

And of course the City’s $6 a day parking fee for boat trailers will remain in effect.

As of Wednesday, April 29 the total U.S. cases of COVID-19 topped 1 million with over 58,000 deaths nationwide.

As of April 28, there were 181 confirmed case of COVID-19 in SLO County. Some 135 patients had already recovered; 40 were recovering at home; five had been hospitalized (with zero currently in ICU); and one elderly person from Paso Robles has died.

Morro Bay has had just six confirmed cases, a number that hasn’t moved in nearly a month.

Paso Robles leads SLO County cities with 58 cases; Atascadero is second with 31; Arroyo Grande had 19; SLO and Nipomo had 14 each; and Templeton, San Miguel and Pismo Beach had seven each.

The California Men’s Colony prison had eight cases, and County towns not specifically mentioned — Cayucos, Los Osos, Cambria and San Simeon on the North Coast — are cities with under 5 cases each and total just 10.

And while nationwide, indeed worldwide, it’s been the elderly who have been struck hardest by the virus, in SLO County, it’s the 18 to 49-year olds who represent the most cases with 71. Next are 50-64 with 55 cases and then 65-older with 43. Ages 0-17 had 12 cases.

The County Public Health lab has tested 1,214 people and found just 62 positive results. And private labs — WestPac Labs, Quest Diagnostics, Pacific Diagnostic Laboratories, and LabCorp — had tested a total of 1,608 with 119 positive results (1,489 negatives).

It should be noted that the private labs began reporting their testing results to the County on April 13, nearly a month into the shelter-at-home orders that began March 19 at 5 p.m.

As for the school year, the San Luis Coastal Unified School District announced it would not reopen schools this school year, but continue with learning from home via computer for the remainder of the year.

So that means seniors at Morro Bay High School will not have a prom nor a graduation ceremony to mark the end of adolescence and first step into adulthood.

And student athletes will not get to compete in the spring sports like softball, baseball, swimming and diving, tennis, golf or track & field.

SLO County continues to maintain a special website with COVID-19 information, see: ReadySLO.org or call their Public Health Information hotline, at: (805) 788-2903.

A phone assistance center is at (805) 543-2444 and available seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for questions related to COVID-19. To report a business violating the shelter-at-home order, call (805) 788-2222.

The City of Morro Bay also has a website with COVID-19 information, see: www.morrobayca.gov/covid19 and there’s also a COVID-19 hotline manned by City staffers and volunteers, call (805) 772-6278.

Readers are advised to seek out one or both of these websites and sign up for email updates, as the situation with the Coronavirus changes almost daily.

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