Goodbye and Thank You!
Last updated 8/4/2021 at 9:01am
The Borrego Springs COVID-19 Task Force came together because people were concerned about the spread of the deadly pandemic in Borrego Springs with its large portion of residents at high risk of hospitalization and death, especially given its remoteness from hospitals and public health services.
The key lesson was that when residents and community organizations work together, they are more effective in protecting their town from the virus, than communities where residents don’t come together.
The Task Force met once a week from March 20, 2020 through June 30, 2021. In addition, the Task Force met weekly, then later bi-weekly until early 2021 with a group of community leaders representing the Borrego Village Association (BVA) and the Borrego Valley Stewardship Council (BVSC). The webpage and various other forms of public outreach were funded by the Borrego Valley Endowment Fund (BVEF). There were three Town Hall meetings, hosted via Zoom during the first six months of the pandemic. Between 75 and 100 residents participated in each Townhall.
After 16 months, the Task Force decided it was time to cease operations. According to Bruce Kelley, a professional epidemiologist, and Task Force chair, “We would only reactivate if the Delta or another variant causes a surge in cases in Borrego Springs. And, if we feel, there are things we can do that will make a difference.
“Because our residents took COVID-19 seriously and followed expert guidance, we stand an excellent chance of avoiding a significant resurgence of the pandemic due to the Delta variant, which is now starting to surge in areas where there are a significant number of unvaccinated people like in Las Vegas, Missouri, Oklahoma and Florida. In fact, top infectious disease specialists say the spread of the delta variant across unvaccinated pockets of the country is causing flare-ups and leading to an increase in hospitalizations as cases climb. Nationwide, cases are once again on the rise as the highly transmissible variant takes hold as the dominant strain in the U.S. The seven-day average of newly confirmed COVID cases has climbed to about 23,300 a day, almost double the average from a week ago, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
“Borrego is, and, we think, will be in a pretty good place throughout the summer. Few seasonal residents and tourists are coming with the potential to bring the virus from geographies with higher caseloads. Some residents will leave for part of the summer. And relatively few of those who remain will spend extended periods of time in enclosed spaces with people they aren’t related to.
“Given that a large percentage of our eligible population is vaccinated, the odds of an infected person being in town and running into unvaccinated people is reduced. That’s probably why we have not been seeing new cases recently.
“We will find out in the fall how confident we can be about recovering from the pandemic. When seasonal residents and tourists return from other areas, the odds of infected people being in town will increase and the number of unvaccinated people in town will likely increase. More contagious variants such as the Delta variant or new variants may be present. On the other hand, more of our currently unvaccinated residents may get vaccinated before fall.
“We will have to see how these factors play out. Obviously, our recommendation would be for everyone in or coming to Borrego Springs to be vaccinated. The County recently reported that since January more than 99 percent of people who became infected and almost 100 percent of those hospitalized or who died, have not been unvaccinated,” Kelley concluded.
Probably the single biggest impact the Task Force had in combating the pandemic was as a catalyst in bringing mass vaccination events to Borrego Springs. San Diego County Supervisor Jim Desmond responded to urgent requests conveyed by community leaders, and directed County agencies (Health & Human Services Administration & County Department of Public Health) to work with CALFIRE to initiate vaccination events in Borrego Springs. The Borrego Springs Library hosted the vaccination events.
In taking the lead to assist and provide information and education on COVID, along with immediate and short turn around vaccinations notices and signups for shots to the community and other organizations, the Task Force’s work was critical to Borrego’s suppression of the virus. Early on, other organizations also played a role. Businesses required people to wear masks, and social distance; businesses put up signs and would not serve people not wearing masks; businesses and restaurants enforced the lockdown, and then the tier system.
These include, San Diego County’s health organizations, Borrego Health, Borrego Springs Unified School District, State Parks, BVA, BVSC, the Chamber of Commerce, the Borrego Sun and 15 other community organizations, like the Borrego Soroptimist, which provided free masks in business locations, and is still making them available.
“We used the credibility and relationships developed during the pandemic to get the attention of County officials and then made the case that Borrego Springs should get priority due to its remoteness, its large high-risk population and large portion of low-income residents. Supervisor Desmond asked CALFIRE to schedule the first big vaccination event in Borrego Springs January 30 and 31, 2021, where 442 people were vaccinated by local fire departments.
The Task Force provided volunteers at each vaccination event to help the fire departments manage the lines and created a waiting list that was notified of new vaccination dates.
“They appreciated that assistance, plus the boxes of fudge (from the Fudge Factory) we sent home with each paramedic. CALFIRE said they really appreciate our assistance and thought our library was a great place to hold their events. We think those were factors in their willingness to come for nine, first dose and nine, second dose vaccination events at our library and high school.”
Kelley also believes that the biggest factor in the community’s ability to control the virus was that residents of Borrego Springs listened to and followed the guidance of how to protect themselves and each other from COVID-19. “Folks skeptical of the threat of the virus or of the proposed control measures also deserve credit. After voicing their opinions early in the pandemic, they mostly refrained from the public criticism, which could have undermined public confidence in the solutions.”
Since the County began tracking cases (that were reported to the County as testing positive), 131 cases have been posted in the 92004-zip code. Additionally, 2,542 residents have had at least one vaccination shot as of July 6. Using population numbers from SANDAG, Kelley estimated that 63 percent of residents age 12 and older have had a vaccination shot.
“While the County doesn’t report the number of tests, hospitalizations or deaths for small populations, like the Borrego Springs zip code, anecdotally, we understand that three residents have died due to the virus. We don’t know how many residents have been hospitalized, nor do we have a count of the number of residents tested. We understand that the Borrego Medical Clinic has done a fair amount of testing. All mass testing and vaccination events by the local fire departments had big turnouts.
“The last new case was posted June 9, so we consider Borrego Springs to be (at least officially) COVID-free. Anecdotally, some residents have told us or reported via Facebook that they believe they had the virus, but did not confirm it with testing. It is very likely that there have been “unconfirmed” cases in Borrego Springs throughout the last 15 months.”
“When caseload is low, as it is now, testing and contact tracing is an effective way of stopping spread if people with symptoms or who have been exposed to symptomatic, or infected people avail themselves of testing, which might be wise with the Delta Virus growing more active in San Diego County.”
“The Delta strain is spreading rapidly throughout the world. The County most recently reported that 80 percent of new cases were sequenced as the Delta strain. If it’s in Borrego or when it comes to Borrego, we will find out quickly as it is reported to be 50% more contagious than the alpha strain, which it’s rapidly replacing,” he added.
Research about the Delta strain is recent. It has been increasing exponentially due to characteristics that allow it to invade the cells more effectively and to partly evade the natural immune response. That is why COVID caseloads are increasing again, especially, in areas with large unvaccinated populations. Two doses of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine have been shown to be highly effective in preventing infection from the Delta strain and remain virtually 100 percent effective in preventing hospitalization and death.
According to Kelley, the bottom line for Borrego Springs: “Get fully vaccinated and you will have little to fear from the Delta strain.”