Newsom trotted out his new “Blueprint for a Safer Economy, on Aug. 28, which changes the way the state monitors COVID-19 in California’s 58 counties.
The Blueprint replaces the previous “county monitoring list,” with a four-tiered, color-coded system that tracks counties by the number of Covid-19 cases recorded each day and the percentage of positive cases out of the total number of tests administered, both averaged over seven days.
“Once again, the most recent system of metrics in the Blueprint represents a one-size-fits-all approach that is not feasible in rural counties, and only further slows the reopening of local communities,” said Chairwoman Denise Carter, in a Sept. 1 letter to Acting California Public Health Officer, Dr. Erica Pan.
The Board of Supervisor objected to the new monitoring system because the Blueprint does not reflect the realities of rural communities and economies, and makes it nearly impossible for Colusa County to move forward to open restaurants, bars, gyms, and high schools, despite that Colusa has extremely low COVID-19 cases.
According to the state, Colusa County is Purple, or Tier 1, indicating that the virus is widespread, with more than seven cases per 100,000 residents or more than 8 percent of tests results reported positive over seven days.
The problem with the metrics, Colusa County officials said, is that testing is limited, administered largely to people with symptoms, and many are duplicated by the same individuals testing multiple times before the virus has run its course, particularly those in nursing care or who are eager to return to work.
“By our calculations, not only would we need to somehow dramatically increase local testing, there are still delays in testing results, and there is a general fatigue in the community regarding testing at all,” the letter states.
Public Health Director Elizabeth Kelly said it is likely Colusa County will stay at Purple, and that the county will have no choice but to operate within the state’s new framework for reopening.
Kelly said the state has failed to provide Colusa County with documented rationale for being included in the tiered system or any remedies for solutions, even though state officials acknowledged that the data for small counties should have been reviewed before issuing the new framework.
“It’s unfortunate that the state hasn’t tried to identify better ways to live with COVID-19 so the health of our businesses are not completely destroyed the way they have been, and also the realistic issues of face-to-face school that have gone by the wayside and what does not appear to be a high priority for the state,” Kelly said.
Meanwhile, the county will continue working with schools, and has so-far issued waivers for some smaller K-6 campuses, including Maxwell and Princeton, to reopen for in-person instruction next week with small groups of cohorts, as long as they adhere to all COVID-19 protocols. Our Lady of Lourdes, which was also granted a waiver, opened to in-person instruction on Tuesday.
The shutdown of schools since March has had a devastating affect on children, officials said.
“In the last week or so, I’ve been getting calls daily, and it all seems to revolve around school,” said Supervisor Merced Corona. “The kids aren’t learning. The kids – and what they are doing now as far as the teachers, is not working. I just think it’s frustrating everybody. There just doesn’t seem to be an end to it.”
Supervisors, along with county staff, also expressed concern that many teachers continue to send mixed messages to parents and the community by insisting it is “unsafe to go back to work,” particularly since most Colusa County residents, as essential workers, have been working every day since the shutdown six months ago.
“The Walmart employee, since March, sees thousands of people every day and all day so you can buy your damn pickles, but some people can’t go and hang out with the same 20 people,” said Supervisor Kent Boes.
Superintendent of Schools Mike West thanked Public Health officials, at the Board of Supervisors’ Sept. 1 meeting, for working the past eight weeks to give the Office of Education and local school districts reopening assistance, but said the frustration of what is happening in Colusa County with state guidelines is magnified throughout the 58 counties.
“I encourage you not to relent to this pressure,” West said. “You need to continue to complain. You need to voice your opinion.” West said the guidelines the state has required for education, particularly with a 14 student maximum classroom requirement, is not doable because most classrooms across the state have 24 or more students.
“Even in small schools like Maxwell and Princeton, they are struggling,” West said.
The state guidelines for in-person instruction also calls for COVID-19 testing of staff and students, and opening requires support from the teachers union, which has so far resisted in-person instruction, even though food service, maintenance, and office staff continue to work daily, cranking out thousands of meals for students each week, West said.
West called the state’s changing metrics for reopening Colusa County ridiculous because COVID-19 illness, hospitalization, and death rates are low.
“It is frustrating to us as educators because this is crushing our kids…” West said.“Our kids are getting destroyed socially and emotionally. They can’t go out. They are told they can’t touch things. They can’t eat things. They can’t see people. They’ve got to mummy up to protect themselves, from what? I don’t see this as a killer of kids from preschool to 39.”
While county officials said they do not downplay the risk of COVID-19 for those with multiple comorbid conditions, county officials said California must move forward with business and education, despite the pandemic, as other states have done.
“The suggestion that our communities must wait to reopen until there is a vaccine is simply not realistic,” Carter’s letter states. “We must learn to live with this virus among us, while still protecting our most vulnerable.”
While the state has not responded directly to any correspondence from Colusa County regarding what officials said is the state’s unfair insistence on keeping small communities shut down, the Board of Supervisors have, once again, requested local control over the county’s COVID-19 response, recovery, and reopening.
While officials said the state’s flawed one-size-fits-all approach “is not a workable system for Colusa County,” the county would comply with all protocols and requirements.
The county did credit residents with adhering to Public Health guidelines, such as hand washing, distancing, and wearing face coverings to reduce the spread of COVID-19, in order for the county to achieve some balance between protecting public health and reopening the local economy. ♣