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Supes Address Corona Virus

After County Counsel Christian Curtis explained the procedural requirements last Tuesday morning, the Board of Supervisors quickly decided to add the virus emergency to their previously posted agenda.

Health Officer Dr. Noemi Doohan summarized her current activities: Testing: Basically, things are working well so far, albeit that the numbers are still relatively low. 

“We have not hit the exponential growth stage yet here,” Doohan added, “but if we don’t act, we will.”

Sheriff Matt Kendall told that Board that his crew has contacted about 100 hotels and motels regarding staying closed except for essential needs. Lieutenant Shannon Barney added that in Anderson Valley they had checked about 15 tasting rooms which were closed. (There are at least double that, but as far as we know, there are no tasting rooms open in the Anderson Valley. And since hotels and motels have been closed, wine tourists are not venturing north anyway.)

Supervisor John McCowen was audibly alarmed about what Mendo may face, veering off into Worst Case Speculation, if not hysteria, simply applying the Governor’s bleak forecasts to Mendo might mean up to 30,000 or 40,000 cases here. “It’s incredibly serious,” said McCowen, “People we know and love are at tremendous risk.”

Dr. Doohan tried to tone down that discussion by saying that none of the state’s Health Officers have seen the data behind the Governor’s projections, implying that they might be a bit high.

Doohan then said that Mendo’s second case of virus infection was confirmed recently. That case was an “inland” case and all necessary protective steps have been taken. She didn’t offer any more particulars.

Supervisor Ted Williams asked about Mendo’s healthcare capacity.

Dr. Doohan said that Mendo can handle about 45 people in ICU on ventilators. But under what she called a “moderate scenario,” as many as 1800 people might need such such treatment in the next 12 months. Further, each such patient could need to be on a ventilator for up to eight weeks. “We don’t have that,” said Doohan. “So 1800 people could die.” Doohan also predicted that the situation is likely to continue for “an extended period of time. It’s hard to assess. It could take months. There is no end date.”

Supervisor McCowen, after acknowledging that the Health Officer was responsible for issuing the virus related rules and restrictions, said he wanted to have more input. “We need a better method for input and feedback,” complained McCowen.

County Counsel Christian Curtis pointed out that sometimes there’s just no time to run everything by the Supervisors, adding that he (Curtis) realizes that sometimes the orders could be clearer. “But there are statutory requirements,” said Curtis, and the Governor’s order that was used as a model “had problems.” Curtis said he’d be happy to take input from the Board, but didn’t want to interfere with the Health Officer’s timing or priorities.

Perhaps the biggest news of the day came when the Board voted unanimously to impose an eviction moratorium until the end of May. The moratorium covers both renters and homeowners, saying that evictions for non-payment alone won’t be allowed. Apparently, the surprisingly progressive move — the first in living memory — came on the heels of a Governor’s decree authorizing such moratoriums. Nobody asked if any evictions were pending.

Although a larger than average 125 people were watching Tuesday morning’s virtual meeting — usually it’s a dozen or so — the Board’s frequent assumption that “the public” is somehow paying attention to them and their deliberations was as speculative as Supervisor McCowen’s Worst Case statistics.

Supervisor Williams on KZYX last week.

Williams said he is “quite aware” of the financial implications of all of this. “We are losing bed tax and sales tax and property tax,” said Williams, “but the short term health concern is a priority.”

Homeless people, Williams said, are in a high risk category by themselves, with implications for occupying hospital beds and for spread. The Supervisors plan to discuss the homeless/virus issue next Tuesday. Ukiah Valley is working on a plan. “We are trying to not move encampments,” said Williams. “We get it. We are actively working on the plan right now.” Apparently there are ten homeless people in the town of Mendocino currently in a visitor serving facility there. They want to work with local Inns to get more people inside in fewer inns and are looking for inns to come forward. Williams said the County “can provide some limited funds.” Inns can also house “essential service workers.”

Williams noted that the situation is a “moving target,” where orders get stale pretty fast. 

Williams conceded that he hopes Mendo doesn’t get like New York or Italy, but still the economic impact is bad and it will be hard to recover from. 

A caller noted that PG&E is not cutting anyone off for non-payment, but wanted to know if propane companies are doing the same. Williams said he’d follow-up on that as soon as possible.

Mendo Fumbles Homeless Response

Ukiah City Manager Sage Sangiacomo was quoted by Ukiah Daily Journal reporter on Sunday saying that he was trying to get the county to develop “a sheltering plan and risk mitigation strategies to limit COVID-19 spread among the homeless population in Mendocino County. The county is experiencing a noticeably higher number of individuals within encampments throughout all jurisdictions, (which) is likely due in part to the county’s modifications to intake and releases at the jail, along with modified services delivered through the Health and Human Services Agency and partnering service providers. While I understand the need for the modifications at the jail, it appears the unintended result was not identified or mitigated. Please inform us (the cities) what services are being/will be made to ensure that individuals are not being discharged from the jail without shelter.”

Sangiacomo went to to complain about an apparent lack of coordination between the County’s homeless services agencies — apparently unaware that that has been their mode of operation since the Marbut study pointed it out two years ago and, in spite of claims to the contrary, has not been acted on other than the formation of a still-uncoordinated and disconnected “continuum of care” that is little more than a rearrangement of what the County was doing before the Marbut report, but which allowed them to continue to draw down the state’s nice new homeless money.

“Furthermore,” Sangiacomo contined, “a number of HHSA partners appear to be acting independently without unified coordination to manage the increased needs of the unsheltered population. These well-intentioned efforts will likely (exacerbate) the issue and lead to more problems, including increased pressure on already-strained public safety resources.” 

Translation: The police again will have to be the homeless service agency in lieu of the unccordinated agencies that are supposedly responsible.

“Without the proper plan and measures to address this issue, there is undoubtedly an increased risk to the homeless population of COVID-19 spread and, as such, our first responders (police and Fire/EMS) and heathcare resources are at significant risk. These issues require immediate attention and a coordinated county-wide effort.”

Sangiacomo said the Ukiah Fairgrounds might be a good location for a Ukiah Valley homeless camp of some kind, adding, “Hopefully this provides the county with a viable alternative to consider as you develop your sheltering plans and risk mitigation strategies to limit COVID-19 spread among our most vulnerable population in Mendocino County. Our team at the city is available to assist with other site identification needs if necessary.”

Coincidentally, or perhaps because of, Sangiacomo’s action, the Supervisors have an item on next Tuesday’s special board meeting agenda entitled “Discussion and Possible Action Including an Update Associated with the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), Including Possible Direction Regarding Essential Services in Mendocino County, Including Operational Preparation and Response, and an Update on County Continuity of Operations and Services. Recommended Action: Receive update regarding COVID-19, discuss and/or provide direction regarding essential services in Mendocino County, operational preparation and response, including the issues associated with protecting the health and safety of the public.”

While the agenda item does not specifically address a homeless plan, we gather from reading Supervisor Ted Williams nearly daily updates on facebook that homelessness is supposed to be included in the discussion. 

There’s an “Incident Action Plan” drafted by Environmental Health Director Trey Strickland attached to Tuesday’a agenda which appears to be the County’s first attempt to set up teams for various aspects of the virus response. Our first reading of the Action Plan confirms Mr. Sangiacomo’s observations about being uncoordinated. 

One of the teams is called “Access and Functional Needs/Care and Shelter-Homeless,” headed by Jesse VanVoorhis (a “program specialist” from the workforce development board in HHSA) and Brian Klovski (another low-level “program specialist” responsible for homelessness and housing), neither of whom we’ve heard of before. The seemingly overbroad list of assignments for this as-yet incomplete team include “Youth and Domestic Violence,” Seniors, Mental Health, Care & Shelter (Isolation), and Shelter Monitoring. But nobody’s assigned to some of those tasks as yet. Other assignments include keeping a list of encampments, development of a “plan” for opening shelters staffed by HHSA. a plan for an alternative housing facility, outreach to “high risk homeless individuals,” keeping track of skilled nursing facilities, support the County’s call center, educating “partnering” agencies, and compiling results. 

At least the subject is listed and a few people are assigned to some of these tasks, but, as Mr. Sangiacomo indicates, this is far from where Mendo needs to be for the medium and long-term, much less the “immediate attention” that Sangiacomo calls for. Messrs Strickland, VanVoorhis and Klovski seem like they have been given a task beyond their abilities. They do not have the necessary seniority and management authority to pull together what Mr. Sangiacomo is calling for. Mendo has to staff this plan with a competent high-level manager and prioritize this “team” and its “assignments.” Otherwise, already overburdened cops and first responders will be stretched way beyond their limited capacity.

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