Supervisors adopt actions to posture for reopening

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Supervisors adopt actions to posture for reopeningFollowing Gov. Gavin Newsom’s pledge to begin re-opening sectors of the economy Friday (related story: www.news-ridgecrest.com/news/story.pl?id=0000011370), the Kern County Board of Supervisors approved a multi-point resolution that would allow them to transition into the next stage of COVID-19 restrictions as smoothly as possible.

Preparations are being made in concert with the governor’s phased approach to loosening restrictions that have been in place to avoid outbreaks across the state.

The action followed a period of public comment overwhelmingly in favor of relaxing the restrictions on county businesses and a series of presentations by board and staff on how to balance the health and safety protocols with the ability to relieve economic hardship.

Dozens of citizens called or e-mailed their concerns about hardworking individuals who have been devastated by a loss of income in the face of closures. Others pointed to an apparent uneven application of restrictions — which allow for the continued operations of “big box” stores despite small-shop closures.

Others pled for the county to consider focusing on maintaining sanitation, distancing and protection protocols for the vulnerable while allowing healthy members of the population to begin the process of developing herd immunity.

A small minority asked for a more cautious approach, citing a lack of adequate testing and the potential need to re-close in case outbreaks occur.

Ahead of Newsom’s announcements, the board named 2nd District Supervisor Zack Scrivner and 3rd District Supervisor Mike Maggard to the “Back to Business” ad hoc committee that would help interpret safe guidelines for current operations of essential services, as well as a thoughtful approach to bringing other businesses back online.

“We are working with a cross section of industry sectors and regions for the purpose of putting people back to work,” said Maggard. He said that the committee, which includes representatives from a variety of business and community interests, is working with staff to develop best practices to ensure that employees and customers are kept safe in the event of a re-opening.

Maggard called on the board to adopt a four-part resolution to: formally acknowledge the formation of the committee; compose a letter to Newsom requesting local flexibility in safely reopening the county economy; authorize staff to work with the community to develop readiness and containment plans; and request county leadership to direct the necessary staff and resources to expand testing capabilities.

He said the county needed to establish a benchmark of testing 900-1,000 people each day. As of this week, the board has opened four clinics offering free testing (two in Bakersfield, one in Oildale and one in Mojave), and has plans to open three more in Delano, Taft and the Kern River Valley.

The testing sites will be funded through the CARES Act, though many details were not yet available at the board meeting.

At press time, the county had reportedly tested some 12,000 out of its more than 900,000 residents (complete information available at kernpublichealth.com/covid-19_dashboard/).

“Can we get to 1,000 people per day?” asked Maggard.

Kern County Public Health Director Matt Constantine assured the board that was possible.

“A one-size plan is not appropriate,” said Maggard. He said that Kern County had different needs and factors for consideration than big cities like San Francisco. “Let us develop a plan to present for [Newsom’s] approval.”

The county must also develop plans that demonstrate the five elements of readiness and the six that project a response for containment in the event of an outbreak. The elements of these plans incorporate information on testing, treatment, surge capacity, isolation plans and protection for the vulnerable.

Those plans must be attested to by Constantine as well as the board.

Maggard said that although he understood the urgency to wage-earners, he did not want Constantine to approve anything before safety could be assured.

“No one is influencing you. You are charged with the responsibility of making a safety determination.”

“Regarding the letter to the governor, I think it’s important we advocate for maximum latitude,” said Scrivner. He said that the county can already demonstrate key indicators including a low hospital census, surge plan and enhanced testing.

Maggard also noted that, although the governor has stated that a reopening could begin as early as today, no guidance documentations have been released and are not expected until Thursday afternoon (after the deadline for this edition.)

“Unfortunately, I think there’s still a lot of micromanaging occurring by this administration. We have to advocate to manage our own process.”

First District Supervisor Mick Gleason, who represents Ridgecrest, said that he believed some areas of the county warrant even more latitude.

In the northeast corner of Kern County, he said, COVID-19 has had very little impact. He said that Ridgecrest only has 2 known cases, and some surrounding communities have zero.

Gleason said he was thrilled to hear the governor support variance in his plan. “He said something to the fact [sic] that we are not telling locals we feel it is too soon, too fast … I read that to mean that regions that are impacted differently … we should respect the local authorities to manage the pandemic differently in those regions.”

“Perhaps salons can open up in certain areas where we don’t want them to open up in more heavily concentrated areas of the virus?”

“The readiness and containment plans will not address those issues,” said Constantine. “We will just talk about how we are prepared and how we will respond to additional outbreaks.”

He said that the governor did make mention of those variances, but “we don’t even have that authority as a county. You’re asking for that in even smaller areas.”

“How do closures make sense to mom and pop shops with no outbreaks?” asked Gleason.

He also said that Ridgecrest was unique in its travel habits, and he asked for “flex mobile capacity” for testing to be provided as needed.

Constantine said that the county is in touch daily with Ridgecrest Regional Hospital to determine screening, testing, turnaround time for results and the supply issues. “There’s a good flow. Additional testing is something we would consider.”

“As far as a systematic approach, I’m okay with most of the general concepts,” said Gleason. “I think it is patently unfair of the government to step in and say to a businessperson, or any person, ‘we are taking your rights away from you.’

“Before, when he was saying we needed to flatten the curve, I was okay with that.” But in the absence of illness, “What’s the difference between doing it now or two weeks from know? I don’t see it. I don’t understanding. What is the governor’s stated, strategic objective?”

There are ways to protect the vulnerable without negatively impacting everyone else, he said.

“What’s clear is that the world we lived in in January is not going to be the world we live in in June,” said Maggard.

He made the motion for a resolution, Scrivner seconded. The board unanimously approved.

County Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop said that the county would need the rest of the week and weekend to put plans in place. The state of emergency allows for telephonic conferencing with the board at an hour’s notice. He said he would reach out to the board when additional action from them was needed.

Pictured: Kern County 2nd District Supervisor Zack Scrivner — Courtesy screen capture

Story First Published: 2020-05-05