Town Hall brings updates

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Town Hall brings updatesNearly 400 tuned into a virtual Town Hall meeting Monday evening, when elected, city, public safety, education and health care officials briefed members of the community on the rapid developments associated with attempts to “Flatten the Curve” in the spread of the coronavirus.

World Health Organization has declared a global pandemic as the death toll passes 10,000 in more than 200,000 cases, the Center for Disease Control began recommending that communities maintain social distancing and self-isolation to disrupt contagion.

Three cases have been confirmed in Kern County [see related story]. Ridgecrest joined other Golden State communities in adhering to directives issued over the weekend by Gov. Gavin Newsom. His advisory included self-imposed isolation to anyone 65 or older (along with other high-risk subgroups); the closure of pubs, bars and wineries; a reduction in capacity for restaurants, theaters and other public venues; canceling of any event drawing a crowd of 10 or more; and a practice of maintaining a minimum personal space of 6 feet of distance for anyone traveling in public.

At his directive, Sierra Sands Unified School District announced the closure of schools effective March 17 to April 14. However, officials are still working to fulfill the governor’s expectation that schools provide continuity of instruction, nutritional services, special education support and childcare/supervision to families. (See related story).

Ridgecrest Regional Hospital CEO gave an overview on the proactive approach local healthcare providers have taken to simultaneously prepare for a surge in patient care while implementing measures that will slow spread of the virus. (See also related story).

One of the challenges, he said, is that hospitals around the country are anticipating that surge rates will happen at once, taxing the supply chain, staffing and other resources of health care.

That said, RRH practices emergency preparedness throughout the year in collaboration with other emergency service and public health agencies.

As of now, the hospital is well positioned to respond to the needs of the community, said Suver.

RRH continues to offer elective exams and procedures as long as both patient and physician agree. That policy may be modified if circumstances or directives change. In response to a question about the number of coronavirus samples RRH has sent out for testing, Suver responded that Kern County has prohibited him from sharing information.

“It is critical that we limit testing to those who need it most, so we don’t run out of test kits,” he said. “Our healthcare professionals, in sync with the recommendations from officials, must decide the most appropriate cases.”

Turnaround time for results from reference labs was initially 2-4 days, but because of the backlog in testing that timeframe is now 4-5 days.

RRH is in short supply of the N-95 mask, which are critical for protecting clinic staff from infection. “Staffing is our greatest limitation, which is why it’s so important to protect our staff.”

Now that schools are closed, RRH has expanded its services to offer day care for employees to ensure that staff continues to be available for service. “They are doing a great job through this crisis,” he said.

The hospital is working on a drive-through system of sample collection to limit exposure, and ordering equipment to help with rapid diagnosis.

The goal, he said, is ultimately to slow down contagion to allow time for development of a vaccine and refinement in the testing process — all while keeping the number of cases within the capacity of our healthcare system.

Suver reminded listeners that they can do their part by adhering to good hygiene and social distancing — especially for those who are feeling unwell.

“And stay home as much as possible — especially if you’re high risk.”

Lauren Skidmore from Assemblyman Vince Fong’s office said that members of the state legislature were still in session during the time of the call-in.

“In Sacramento, things are changing rapidly,” she said. The Assembly and State Senate are voting on spending bills that will help assist communities with both medical and economic impacts during the coronavirus crisis. (See related story.)

She expressed faith in the Ridgecrest Community to take appropriate precautions and meet the challenge head-on. “We are behind Suver 100 percent in all of his efforts, and in support of anything the hospital or community needs to get through this.”

Kern County 1st District Supervisor Mick Gleason noted that, in keeping with the national and state declaration of emergency, the Board of Supervisors will discuss that in its March 17 session. (See related story.)

SSUSD Superintendent Dr. David Ostash said that his office still awaits guidance from the governor’s office on implementation of support services during the closure. However, children ages 1-18 are eligible for “grab-and-go” breakfast and lunch from Faller, Pierce, Monroe and Inyokern school sites. Pick-up is available from 8-9:30 a.m. and from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Corey Marvin of Cerro Coso Community College said that the local facility has joined state institutions in closing most on-campus instruction. Classes are suspended this week while teachers and staff are trained in moving instruction online. Athletics programs and other gatherings have been canceled. However, student support services continue to be offered.

“In this time of isolating, we still need to support local businesses,” said Tim Smith, executive director of the Ridgecrest Chamber of Commerce. Community collaboration can make the difference in how we weather the crisis, he said. “We can crash and burn or strengthen and sustain.”

Smith said that he drew guidance in how to proceed from the core mission of the chamber, which is to “build community and strengthen economy.”

While we isolate socially, he encouraged people not to seclude themselves from the businesses of their friends and neighbors. “We still need to go shopping. As much as is possible, do it in Ridgecrest.”

For the most part, if we are patient and refrain from hoarding, local stores have what we need.

The chamber has also modified its website, www.ridgecrestchamber.com, to include links for employment services and other community support resources on its front page.

Among the resources coming to the aid of retail and service operators are billions in small business relief from the federal government, he said.

“We are still a strong community. We need each other, and our small businesses still need us.”

City Manager Ron Strand noted that the city has closed the Kerr McGee Center and put youth sports and equipment rentals on hold until April 14. Officials are also planning to put the city’s preschool program on hold.

Although the city struggled with the technology that allowed callers to ask questions during the session, several individuals phoned or e-mailed inquiries that were answered at the meeting.

In response to one woman asking what to do about childcare while schools were closed, Ostash noted that acknowledgment of that impact was one of the reasons SSUSD was one of the later districts to close. “For many parents, its a part of their lifestyle they rely on. It’s one of the reasons this was an incredibly painful and difficult decision.”

School officials are still working on the solution, he said.

Another question about whether graduation/end-of-year would be pushed back, Ostash said they hoped that instruction would continue in a way that did not disrupt the current academic calendar.

Mayor Pro Tem Lindsey Stephens, who was in attendance along with Mayor Peggy Breeden from the city, noted that Ridgecrest residents were at an advantage, having already come through the earthquake crisis.

“We just need to band together. We need to be calm, kind, courteous, and good neighbors.”

Pictured: Mayor Peggy Breeden and City Manager Ron Strand at the Town Hall meeting. — Courtesy photo

Story First Published: 2020-03-20