It’s obvious Covid-19 is making officials scramble in ways they never thought possible.
That was evident on Tuesday morning when the county health officer made a presentation to the Mariposa County Board of Supervisors.
Dr. Eric Sergienko actually had to participate in a one-hour phone call with the state health officer, delaying his presentation to the board. That phone call was outlining how Gov. Gavin Newsom plans to begin the slow reopening of California during the pandemic.
Sergienko said he will have more information on Thursday following another announcement by the governor.
But in the meantime, he said local officials are working to go into “Phase 2” of the planned reopening of businesses in California, which includes Mariposa County.
The state has outlined various benchmarks that have to be met in order for jurisdictions to be able to begin the reopening process.
One of those is new, said Sergienko, and a point of contention for jurisdictions large and small.
That point is there can be no more than one case per 10,000 residents in a 14 day period prior to any opening. Right now, that would mean some businesses in the county could reopen as early as this Sunday, May 10.
But with 14 confirmed cases in the county, which was none less than two weeks ago, there is a distinct possibility that date could be delayed.
Mariposa County Supervisor Miles Menetrey put it this way: “We’ve done good. But case per 10,000 people really screws us. With a population of under 20,000, if we get two cases, we have to wait 14 days again.”
“There is a lot of discussion about that,” said Sergienko. “There is push back from smaller counties and even urban areas.”
He said state officials “may” come back on Thursday “with another iteration.”
What that might be, however, remains to be seen.
Some of the other benchmarks include:
• No more than one death in the last 14 days. (Mariposa County has not reported any deaths from Covid-19.)
• Doing at least 1.5 tests per 1,000 residents. “We’ll handily meet that,” said Sergienko. He said John C. Fremont Healthcare Center can do 27 tests per day and the clinic in Yosemite National Park can do 15.
• Contract tracing ability. Sergienko said “we meet that check in the box readily.”
• Hospital capacity that is adequate, along with personal protective equipment for staff members. Sergienko said with the steps taken by the hospital district, they can meet that requirement.
• Protecting the most vulnerable population, which is the elderly. Sergienko said the Ewing Wing at the hospital is meeting that requirement.
• Triggers for re-instituting modification. Sergienko said at this point they are still working on those parameters. He said officials will work the rest of this week and over the weekend and then make a presentation to the board during a special meeting next Tuesday at 9 a.m. The supervisors were not scheduled to meet next week, but have changed it because of the pandemic.
Supervisor Rosemarie Smallcombe questioned Sergienko about the testing capability, since the county was chosen to have a site on Silva Road at the former middle school. He said the county is “not dependent” on that site in order to meet the requirements from the state.
He did say that site is now “fully operational.”
Sergienko said public safety workers and some hospital employees have been tested at the site. It is one of just 15 sites set up in rural areas around the state as a result of a directive from the governor.
He did say there were some “hiccups in process and procedure,” but felt those were ironed out and it is now up and running. Sergienko said there have been issues with the website and the phone service at the site and the private company running the operation is “working on that.”
There are priorities for testing by officials. Those are:
• Symptomatic public health and safety workers.
• Anyone with symptoms.
• Asymptomatic first responders and healthcare workers. He said that includes people from out of the area who are working in the county.
• Anyone who wants to be tested but has no symptoms.
Visit Lhi.care/covidtesting or call (888) 634-1123 for more information or to make an appointment.
Sergienko said studies have shown 20-30 percent of transmissions are “pre-symptomatic.” He added “a small handful” of people can have asymptomatic transmission.
“We have to prioritize and if you feel like you want to get tested, if there are spots, we will get you into those spots,” said Sergienko.
Update on cases
As of Tuesday morning, Mariposa County still had 14 positive Covid-19 cases. Of those, 13 were in one cluster, he said.
The other case was from someone associated with a resident in a long-term care facility in Stanislaus County. That person was isolated and contact tracing was completed with no known contacts associated with the person.
Sergienko said most of the people involved in the cluster of cases “have met the end of their isolation period.” He said most of them were leaving isolation on Tuesday, which he called “normal.”
He did say one of the people, a male, developed more severe symptoms and is requiring oxygen. Sergienko said that is not uncommon and stressed the man has not been required to be put on a ventilator.
“There are no additional cases or contacts with that cluster,” he said.
Sergienko had high praise for Sgt. Jake Bobman of the Mariposa County Sheriff’s Office, who is leading the contact tracing team in the county.
He said Bobman and public health nurses “were able to identify the close contacts” of the woman who was the first reported case in the county.
He said all of those people were “rapid tested” at John C. Fremont Hospital.
“The good news is we had validation of contact tracing,” said Sergienko. “It worked as planned and reassured the rest of the team we had a solid plan in place.”
Heading to Stage 2 and ‘2.5’
Also during the meeting, Sergienko outlined what may happen in Stage 2 of the reopening, once Mariposa County can reach that threshold.
One step is opening of curbside service for some businesses. He said that could be a clothing store people may be allowed to order something ahead of time and then “go in and get the item and don’t spend time lollygagging in the store.”
In addition, he said the state is developing additional rules which could be offered Friday by the governor.
Those could include how to get people working again in offices as well as opening of restaurants for in-person dining while applying the social distancing rules.
Part of the rule making process, he said, is for the public health officer to make a presentation to the board of supervisors for concurrence. If there is, the board chairman would then sign off on the order to allow for some reopening.
Smallcombe asked Sergienko about how local businesses, including restaurants, would learn about the guidelines and asked if they don’t comply, what are the consequences.
“As always with public health, we want voluntary compliance,” said Sergienko.
He said a team of county officials have been working with Tara Schiff, economic development specialist for the county, and Scott Fiester, executive director of the Mariposa County Chamber of Commerce “to let them know what they should do.”
Sergienko said Schiff and Fiester have been meeting with local business owners to talk about reopening as well as provide them with materials and checklists to follow once they do open.
“Some are harder to do and we recognize that,” said Sergienko.
Others, he said, are easier, like screening workers each day and having them fill out forms to say they have no flu-like symptoms.
“We’ve put it out there to the business community to get feedback,” said Sergienko.
“There are businesses out there ignoring everything,” said Supervisor Merlin Jones. “I know some of them. They are not going to change unless there is some teeth in it.”
Jones said “one restaurant” he knows of “open the doors, everybody is sitting there.”
He did not name the restaurant.
Sergienko said the environmental health department of the county “has regulatory authority” over food service. “The question is about enforcement,” he said.
Sergienko said at the present time, that would be a “violation of the state health officer’s order.”
Under California law, Sergienko said the county sheriff has the authority to enforce the rules.
“We may want voluntary enforcement,” said Sergienko.
“If a deputy has to stop by, there may be a little more education.”
He also talked about “Stage 2.5” of the order, which could include opening of those restaurants. Sergienko called it a “new quasi-normal” for businesses. He said checking employees and even customers could be required, as is hand hygiene and making sure restaurants meet social distancing requirements.
Sergienko was also asked about lodging accommodations.
He said that would be in Stage 3.
But, he said “even now,” lodging is available for essential workers like those who are trimming trees or working with PG&E on power lines. He said larger hotels or vacation rental owners “should not be booking guests who are non-essential.”
Sergienko said Stage 3, which would allow for hotels and vacation rentals to open, “could come two weeks after Stage 2,” or it could “go out 28 days, which is two incubation periods.”
But, he said, “if there are any setbacks in the first stage, we may have to shut things back down again. I want to avoid that as much as possible.”
The elephant in the room
Board chairman Kevin Cann then turned to the “real elephant in the room,” which is “tourism.”
Each year, between 4-5 million people travel to Yosemite National Park, which has been closed because of the pandemic. Many of those people travel through Mariposa to get to the park.
Cann said if the park remains closed, the local businesses “can work with any plan you bring to use and have a soft start.”
However, should the park reopen, that would change the dynamics.
Cann said “at some point” the governor is going to lift restrictions on non-essential travel and “that seems to be when the park will open.”
When that might be remains a big question.
“One of the problems,” said Cann, “is tourism, that is our life blood, could actually be our pork processing plant.”
Communities across the nation with large processing plants have been devastated by the virus.
“We have to really be smart on how we move forward in that time,” said Cann.
Sergienko said there should be a lot more information available following Thursday’s meeting and he would outline it all during next week’s special meeting of the board.