Suicides were up significantly in Fresno County last month — a consequence, a top health official says, of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seventeen suicides were recorded in June. That’s the most suicides for a single month in the last two-and-half years, data shows.

“We saw a significant increase of completed suicides in Fresno County,” behavioral health director Dawan Utecht said during a media briefing Friday. “(It is) certainly something that we’re watching as the pandemic continues.”

“We’ve even had people tell us they would rather get COVID than be stuck at home; and so that is what we have to contend with right now.”Fresno County Behavioral Health Director Dawan Utecht

Utecht called the spike a “significant concern.”

‘Rather Get COVID Than Be Stuck at Home’

The number of suicides in June more than doubled May’s total. Suicides were down for the first five months in 2020 compared to the same time period over the last two years.

“We’ve even had people tell us they would rather get COVID than be stuck at home; and so that is what we have to contend with right now,” Utecht said.

The National Suicide Hotline can be reached at 1-800-273-8255. Additional resources can be found at Fresno Cares.

Fewer People Seeking Substance Abuse Treatment

Utecht also said there has been a decline in people seeking drug recovery services.

“Mental health issues and substance use disorder issues, certainly can go hand-in-hand. The decline in people seeking recovery services is also a concern,” Utecht said.

Large Increase in COVID Cases in County

The past week has seen one of largest one-week increases of positive COVID-19 cases by raw number. According to the public health department’s data dashboard, there were 1,783 new cases since Sunday.

I don’t know if there was any thing specific that caused it,” interim Health Officer Dr. Rais Vohra said.

He believes it was the general loosening of restrictions that took place that have since been tightened.

“There was a kind of a reopening which which I think led to increased social activity, increased interactions, just a lot more opportunities for people to the mix across different households; and I think all of that really contributed to this infection just raging through the population,” Vohra said.

More COVID Restrictions Coming?

The increased infections justify the latest state and county orders closing bars and indoor restaurants, Vohra siad.

“It made sense to say let’s go ahead and try to minimize the amount of mixing that people do indoors; and that’s really what we’ve done with this last set of health officer orders,” Vohra said.

Vohra said it will take another few weeks to see if the more restrictive orders are working.

“This pandemic really makes you wait. It really teaches you patience,” Vohra said.

Meanwhile, the Fresno City Council will consider a proposal to mandate masks in all indoor businesses at Thursday’s meeting. A violation could result in a fine.

Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria said Fresnans need to pay attention to the increase of cases.

“We’re being hopeful, but given our current situation and state directives, we have to slow down. If we don’t slow down, it will impact the rest of the economy,” Soria said. “It’s a fine balancing act. If people continue to follow orders, that helps flatten the curve.”

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