A somber, business-like feeling pervaded Friday morning’s first-ever virtual Board of Supervisors meeting. As CEO Angelo and her staff held down the fort in the Supes chambers, three of the five supervisors participated from their homes by video stream (Haschak, Gjerde, Williams) while McCowen and Brown attended by phone. Williams appeared to be sitting on his back porch on the Coast with a sweeping ocean view behind him.
But the ocean view did little to raise spirits. Because the subject, of course, was the very serious subject of how Mendo was going to deal with the consequences of the mestataszing corona virus.
At the beginning of the meeting about 100 people were tuned in to the live video. But three hours later, as the discussion got further and further into operational details, virtual attendance dwindled to ten or so.
Many of the seats in the supervisor's chambers were closed off with caution [sic] tape or signs on chairs encouraging people to stay a safe distance away from each other.
For this first part of our report, we will address the more urgent health and related advisory topics. In the next day or two we will cover the longer term staffing, operational, and financial implications.
Mendo’s refreshingly direct Public Health Officer, Dr. Noemi Doohan, told the Board how she’s trying to keep up with constantly breaking developments. Our relatively newly hired Public Doctor, who is also a molecular biologist, is from San Diego where her husband still lives. Dr. Doohan is taking a crash course in all things Mendocino.
She’s in contact with other Bay Area Health Officers, and others from “hot spots” like San Diego and Seattle. The doctor said she hoped that Mendo can slow the spread and become something of a northern “firewall,” preventing the virus’s northward march.
Dr. Doohan said she has been focused on three problem areas: the homeless, the jail, and nursing facilities.
Unfortunately, Dr. Doohan didn’t have many specifics about the homeless who may be affected by the virus, other than to say that the State has authorized up to $150 million for housing homeless people who need to be quarantined. But there were few details as yet. Presumably, some of that state money (perhaps as vouchers) will go to hotels, motels or other facilities— presumably now vacant under the Governor’s new “stay home” order — who may need temporary isolation.
An isolation wing has been set up at the jail for any inmate showing signs of illness. Showers and uniform changes are required for personnel going in or out. CO uniforms are left at the jail as they leave, laundered on-site overnight in preparation for the next day's duty.
Skilled nursing facilities: Doohan said that so far Mendo facilities are in “a good position.” They are setting up special isolation housing as quickly as possible for any respiratory problems which may arise.
Testing, Dr. Doohan said, is a “challenge” everywhere. There’s only one commercial lab in the state, an outfit called Quest Lab in San Juan Capistrano, and it can only do 3,000 tests per day. There’s a huge backlog and it’s increasing every day.
The testing process is cumbersome too: A properly garbed health worker swabs one’s nose and mouth, then, to protect the sample (if it has the virus), it has be put in a special tube with “viral preservation medium,” and shipped to a processing/screening lab in Sonoma County and then to the test facility. Friday morning, the lab was getting 16,000 requests a day. It takes five to ten days to get results. That recently reported first case from the Gualala area was swabbed five days before they got confirmation last Wednesday.
As of Friday morning, Mendo had sent 73 tests out. 35 came back negative, one was positive and 37 were pending. Dr. Doohan did not know when the 37 pending results will come in. But they are focusing testing on the South Coast for now.
Supervisor Dan Gjerde asked about hotel-motel closures.
Emergency Operations Center Manager Sheriff’s Lieutenant Shannon Barney said deputies and other county staff were going door to door to all of visitor facilities to tell them not to host any new visitors. They also plan to visit commercial B&Bs in the near future with the same instructions. AirBnBs are included in the ban, but no details on enforcement so far. The instructions are that commercial lodging establishments are not to rent any new rooms without the approval of the Health Officer, and rooms are to be held to save space for surge capacity and/or homeless isolation. Long term (which in the past has meant over 30-days) hotel/motel residents will not be moved.
Dr. Doohan said that a Frequently Asked Questions page is available at the County’s website for more details about how the shelter in place order will be implemented.
Dr. Doohan said that in general Mendo will follow the Big Six Bay Area counties as the situation unfolds. She added that she wants to see that businesses survive, especially the hotels and motels that are directly affected. But how that is supposed to happen remains to be worked out. Presumably, some state money will be coming in to pay or subsidize lodging operators.
Dr. Doohan concluded that it is up to each individual and business to make their own decisions under the circumstances and the guidelines.
(For more coverage of precautions being taken in various County offices, property tax implications, financial implications, homeless funding, some of the fine points of what Mendo considers “essential,” and some of the long-term financial aspects facing Mendo in the months (and years?) to come, go to our website: www.theava.com.)