Update from Wednesday’s print edition
Colusa County has been approved by the state to move forward with a phased-in plan to reopen the economy, providing there is no suge of COVID-19 in the community.
Last week, the board reluctantly agreed to wait for Governor Gavin Newsom’s approval for reopening after he threatened to withhold future disaster relief funding from Northern California counties that moved too quickly, officials said.
Yuba, Sutter, and Modoc counties opened most of its businesses – with some restrictions – last week against the state’s recommendation, which ultimately drew Newsom’s wrath. In addition to threatening counties with lost funding, the govenor warned hair salons and bars could lose their state licenses if business owners go against his guidelines.
The approval allows for restaurants to open for dine-in services to half capacity providing physical distancing protocols can be met.
The board on Wednesday also agreed to send a letter to the governor asking him to grant them the authority to move into phase three, which would allow restaurants and bars to resume normal operations.
Despite warnings that he would withhold funding to counties that when against his directives, Newsom expressed optimism that reopening California to a “new normal” could be weeks – not months – away.
“Phase 3 is not a year away,” Newsom said last week during a press conference. “It’s not six months away. It’s not even three months away. It may not even be more than a month away. We just want to make sure we have a protocols in place to secure customer safety, employee safety, and allow the businesses to thrive in a way that is sustainable.”
Colusa County officials agreed it was best to toe the line with the governor’s directive.
“We’re all concerned about our business community; there’s no doubt about that,” County Administrative Officer Wendy Tyler told the board. “But if you choose to adopt a plan that flies in the face of the governor’s guidance, first of all, it won’t have the concurrence of the Public Health Department and they won’t be able to help us implement any plan. That would be on us.”
Large congregate settings are to remain closed until Phase 3, county officials said, including churches, schools, camps, and pools. Bars, nail salons, and hair salons, are also to remain closed until Phase 3, officials said.
In order for businesses to stay open, however, Colusa County must not have more than one COVID-19 hospitalization per 10,000 people.
“If we have a surge in the number of cases, we might be required to close back down to a smaller reopening,” said Public Health Director Elizabeth Kelly. “It would really depend on what we’re looking at, concurrent with our health officer’s direction and the California Department of Public Health.”
Kelly said Colusa County residents should be mindful that SARS-CoV-2 is a virus that humans have not been exposed to previously, which could result in constant changes in the directives from Public Health on how to proceed during the pandemic.
The gradual reopening of the county also assumes a higher degree of personal responsibility by citizens, officials said. Vulnerable people are encouraged to protect themselves from illness by staying home. People at the most risk for COVID-19 complications are those 65 and older, and people of all ages with underlying medical conditions such as chronic lung disease, heart conditions, obesity, and people who are immunocompromised, or have diabetes, kidney disease, or liver disease.
Long-term care facilities also need to implement and hold to procedures that reduce the risk of their residents contracting the virus, Kelly said.
Local public health officials also encourage face coverings/masks that cover the nose and mouth to be worn in public, but they are not required, the Board of Supervisors insisted. People are also asked to maintain a physical distance of six feet from other people when in public.
While the board agreed to the reopening plan, several supervisors vocalized the numerous restrictions on constitutionally-guaranteed rights that were imposed on Colusa County citizens.
“I have a hard time endorsing anything that discourages all those rights – an incredibly hard time,” Supervisor Kent Boes said. “I know the ramifications that come with that but it’s something we need to acknowledge.”
Supervisor Merced Corona said he has talked to numerous people who voluntarily complied when the orders were first mandated for the purpose of medical facility preparation, but who now feel the restrictions have gone on too long with very little viral activity.
“We’ve seen three cases and not a (single) case in over a month,” Corona said. “People are ready to get back to work and anything short of that, people are going to be disappointed. Our constituents want to go back to work and they want everything open, and yet we sit here and listen about how important our decision is today because this is (about) money the state could withhold from us in the future. As supervisors, we have to decide what is best for the community, and going against our public health officer’s recommendation and going against the governor is not a good idea. But people are going to be disappointed, and I know there is going to be a backlash.”
But while people want things to go back to normal, health officials said that will not likely ever happen.
“There is no normal anymore, unfortunately,” Kelly said. “I’m sorry…However, I do believe we will progress in a positive direction because the county hasn’t seen what other counties have seen.”
Supervisor Gary Evans said his greatest concern with the plan was that with testing expanded from people who have symptoms to “anyone who wants one,” even two or three positive cases could put Colusa County back into restrictions that violate constitutional rights.
“If we have two cases inside Valley West, then the whole county shuts down again?” Evans questioned.
Kelly said that if cases occur in Valley West, then it would be an indication of community transmission, and that the county would employ targeted mitigation measures, which may or may not include closure or partial closure of worksites and facilities. Under the current plan, senior residential care facilities should still be closed to non-essential visitors.
As of Tuesday elective surgeries may resume. Destination retail is open for curbside pickup. Outdoor recreation is also allowed, with guidelines for sanitation and physical distancing. Organized youth activities is also allowed, and childcare facilities can open. All travel can resume and social gatherings can occur with up to 10 people.
Kelly said contact tracing, which Public Health already performs to remediate the spread of Tuberculosis and sexually transmitted diseases, could slow or stop a surge in COVID-19 cases at the local level without severe measures being taken.
Officials said only a significant surge in cases would likely require the public to return to “shelter-in-place orders.”