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I-Team Exclusive: Riverside County’s first confirmed Monkeypox patient speaks out

A Palm Springs man is speaking out, alleging the county's Public Health Department mishandled his case.

I-Team investigator Peter Daut sat down with Evan Goldfarb, who not only wants to warn people about the severity of monkeypox, but also wants answers from the county.

The 56-year-old is finally feeling better after becoming the county's first confirmed monkeypox patient. "This was five times worse than covid, and the least pleasant illness I have ever had in my life," Goldfarb said.

Goldfarb traveled to Spain in early June, where he came in close contact with someone. Towards the end the trip, he began to realize something was wrong. ""I began to have these sweats that would break out at any time, and it would be just a full body sweat," he said. "I also had a really sore throat that I developed when I was gone." 

Soon after returning home to Palm Springs, Goldfarb said his symptoms became worse: "I had lesions, which was a nightmare. I began to have severe swelling in my lymph nodes. So I knew something was wrong, I just didn't know what." 

Goldfarb said he immediately went to his doctor at Eisenhower Health, who told him his lesions looked Atypical. The doctor then tested him for a number of possible diseases, but everything came back negative. At the time, monkeypox was not even a consideration.

"It's so rare, that it's hard to imagine that you potentially could be one out of 500 cases in the United States thus far," he said. "What I didn't know at the time was that while I was in Madrid, there had been a breakout with about 185 cases that week I was there."

Once monkeypox began to appear in the headlines-- with images of lesions similar to his-- Goldfarb said both he and his doctor took notice. So they contacted Riverside County's Public Health Department for testing.

"The County did not respond for a full 24 hours. They didn't even acknowledge a phone call or email in regards to my case," he said.

Meanwhile, Goldfarb said he continued to get sicker. "I not only had the lesions, I had night sweats that were so significant it caused me to have to go sleep in another bedroom because the sheets were just absolutely soaked. Along with fever, along with headache, along with body ache. And I was very close, phone in hand, to calling 911, because I just didn't think I could make it with how I felt."

And when the county did get back to him? "They denied the test," he said. Daut asked, "They denied your doctor's approval to get tested for monkeypox?" Goldfarb replied, "My understanding is they had confused me with another patient, which my doctor's office worked speedily to correct, and they finally gave approval to have that test done."

But Goldfarb said his troubles did not end there. A few days after that test was submitted to the county: "The message was, 'Hey, we have to do it again with another county.' So it seemed to me that somehow Riverside County could not process this test properly." 

So he said another test was conducted through San Bernardino County, and the results soon came back he was "presumed positive" for monkeypox. That meant he had to do another set of tests to finalize the results with the CDC.

Weeks later, and still feeling sick, Goldfarb waited for answer. And he said he finally got it in an unexpected way. "I was watching KESQ evening news one night, and the lead story was the first confirmed monkeypox case in the county. A man under the age of 60 in eastern Riverside County. And I was like, 'Wait what! Is that me?"

He said days later, the county confirmed to his doctor it was in fact him. "It wasn't anything new or surprising, but I certainly wanted to know the outcome," he said.

Goldfarb said he then reached out the county to try to get vaccinated for monkeypox, hoping it would help with his symptoms. He spoke briefly on the phone with the county's Director of Disease Control, Barbara Cole. "I said, 'Hi, this is who I am and this is why I'm calling.' And she said, 'Oh I can't talk to you right now. I will call you back.' Click. And she never did." Daut asked, "How frustrating has all this been for you?" Goldfarb answered, "I think it is a combination of either incompetence or negligence or both."

Daut reached out the county with a detailed list of Goldfarb's claims. Spokesman Jose Arballo Jr. sent us a statement:

“Because of privacy concerns, Riverside County Public Health is prohibited from speaking about individual cases or patients. We know through our experiences with the COVID-19 pandemic that the response to an outbreak is an evolving matter that changes as more is learned about the virus, how it spreads and the best strategy to protect the public. Indeed, Public Health’s response to the Monkeypox outbreak has evolved in the weeks since it was detected in Riverside County, and the department and our community partners are working closely together to help slow and eventually stop the spread of the virus. We recently received more of the Monkeypox vaccine, and our educational outreach to residents and medical providers is ongoing and improving with the help of our community partners. While specimens can now also be sent directly through commercial labs, we continue to send our samples to be tested to a San Bernardino County lab that has been authorized to complete the analysis before positive results are forwarded to the CDC for confirmation. Federal health officials recommend that the vaccine not be given if monkeypox symptoms appear, but instead shortly after a confirmed exposure. There is always room for improvement, of course, and we take those lessons learned and will use them to provide the community the best service possible.”      

Jose Arballo, Riverside County Public Health

Now healthy at home with his dog Pebbles, Goldfarb is grateful for the medical care he received from Eisenhower Health. But he's concerned monkeypox could hit the Coachella Valley hard, and he questions if the county is ready.  "The Riverside County population is very diverse, and clearly part of that diversity is a really large population of LGBTQ residents in the Coachella Valley. And so you've got an area where the potential impact is high, and the county's response has been dismal."

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