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Merced Sheriff’s New Tune: COVID-19 Is Bad, Wear a Mask

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Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke is singing a different tune about COVID-19 health risks as the number of cases in his county explodes.


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“I don’t want to catch this disease and neither should you. … Please take responsibility for your actions.” — Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke

About two months ago, he cited the Constitution while saying he wouldn’t enforce violations of state shelter-in-place orders.

“I WILL NOT be taking any enforcement action in this county for any of the COVID-19 ‘violations,’ ” the sheriff said in a defiant Facebook post attracting widespread media attention.

“My decision is based on the Constitutional Rights afforded our citizens and I as the Constitutional Law Enforcement Authority in Merced County, I am here to uphold them. The citizens themselves can make informed decisions on how to proceed and protect their lives and livelihood and not the Governor of a state. Remember that the people elected a governor, not an emperor.”

Warnke: COVID-19 Is a ‘Serious’ Disease

But, with hospital beds filling with COVID patients, Warnke asked local health officials to close three county parks for the July 4 weekend. And, he said he would send deputies to the parks to enforce the closures.

In a July 2 Facebook video post, Warnke said that he wanted to make it clear that COVID is a “serious” disease killing Merced County residents.

“As the coroner, I also have the duty to handle and investigate virtually every death in this county,” Warnke said. “Two recent deaths directly related to COVID … one was a 29-year-old man who hemorrhaged to death because of COVID and another was a young man in his early 40s who (had a) sudden onset of symptoms and then died of a stroke immediately pertaining to his COVID disease.”

Watch: Sheriff’s Plea for Residents to Wear Masks

From 367 Cases to 1,623 Cases in Four Weeks

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, Merced County had 1,623 confirmed cases and 11 deaths. About 913 of the cases are active, health officials said. And, the county is now on the state’s coronavirus watch list

In comparison, on June 8, the county had 367 confirmed cases — 109 of them active — and seven deaths.

Warnke: ‘I am Counting on You to Do Your Part’

Warnke went on to say that everyone should wear a mask in public spaces, wash their hands, and practice social distancing.

“That’s the biggest preventive medicine that you can do,” said Warnke, adding that he wears a mask. “This disease is mutating, it’s bad, and I want everyone to take it seriously.

“I don’t want to catch this disease and neither should you. … Please take responsibility for your actions.”

However, Warnke stopped short of saying his deputies would enforce Gov. Newsom’s statewide mask order.

“I’m not an advocate for any law-enforcement personnel to enforce this face mask. I am just not. That’s why I am counting on you to do your part and to do the right thing every time you leave your house.”

Merced County COVID-19 Test Sites

— Golden Valley Health Centers,  645 7th St., Los Banos, 1-866-682-4842, www.gvhc.org

— Golden Valley Health Centers, 857 W. Childs Ave., Merced, 1-866-682-4842, www.gvhc.org

— State Site, 900 Martin Luther King Jr. Dr., Merced, 1-888-634-1123, www.lhi.care/covidtesting

— CVS-Merced, 1970 Yosemite Parkway, https://www.cvs.com/minuteclinic/covid-19-testing?WT.ac=cvs-storelocator-searchpilot-header-covid-7206

— CVS-Atwater, 1651 Bellevue Rd., https://www.cvs.com/minuteclinic/covid-19-testing?WT.ac=cvs-storelocator-searchpilot-header-covid-7206

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email