SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) – After decades of work with Santa Clara County Department of Public Health, Dr. Marty Fenstersheib’s storied career is coming to an end as the COVID-19 pandemic eases.
“Dr. Marty” as he is known, has actually retired twice from the county. Last year, during the height of the pandemic, he was asked by his successor Dr. Sara Cody to come out of retirement to spearhead COVID-19 testing and later, vaccination efforts.
“I was honored to be asked to come back and help out during the pandemic, which I did for the last 15 months. So I got to re-retire because I think things are in pretty good shape right now,” Fenstersheib told KPIX 5.
Fenstersheib was a pediatrician who became Santa Clara County Public Health officer in 1984, just as the AIDS crisis was hitting a peak. He led the way on early prevention and testing efforts.
“I actually was the first one to give the first positive report to somebody who came in to be tested, we didn’t have much to offer at that point, but we were going out in the community doing a lot of education.”
His experience with HIV, helped prepare him for the coronavirus pandemic more than three decades later.
“I think it’s very, very important to have those messages consistent, and talk to the community in an honest, honest manner. That worked in HIV, it worked in H1N1 and it worked in the pandemic, you have to be honest with the community,” Fenstersheib said.
Dr. Marty hopes the pandemic will help secure future public health budgets, which are always in danger of cuts.
But after all he’s done, Fenstersheib said the case he’s best known for is the Wendy’s fake chili finger incident. In 2005, a San Jose woman tried to defraud the fast-food chain by placing a finger a friend lost into a bowl of chili.
“It was a big public health issue because when you find a finger, the question was, where’s the rest of the body?” he recalled. “No matter where I am, I think, around the world, people say, ‘I know that story! I know that story!;”
Dr. Marty said he’s leaving Santa Clara County is good shape, with 83% of the population having at least one COVID-19 vaccination shot, which is the highest percentage in the country for counties with at least 1.5 million people.