Supervisors push back on new goal

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

Supervisors push back on new goalAs Kern County leaders navigate the convoluted path toward reopening, the Board of Supervisors pushed back this week against what some expressed was an arbitrary penalty from Gov. Gavin Newsom that will further delay lifting restrictions on public and commercial sectors.

On Aug. 28, Newsom unveiled the Blueprint for Safer Economy (covid-19.ca.gov), which categorized California’s counties into four different colored tiers based on their case numbers and positivity rates in testing. Most counties, and nearly 90 percent of California’s population, fell into the “Purple Tier,” which imposed the greatest restrictions.

In the subsequent weeks, Kern made significant progress toward meeting the metrics that would allow our region to advance into the next tier, which would allow additional sectors to open and relax other restrictions on operations.

However, Kern County Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop told Supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting that Newsom introduced a new factor last Thursday, adjusting each county’s average daily testing numbers based on how they compare to state averages. Because Kern’s numbers are below the state average, our case rates were “arbitrarily increased” as a result — putting us further away from being eligible to reopen.

Testing in California has been the subject of much controversy already. The Golden State boasted some of the highest test rates in the nation in July, but the deep backlog of test results, and long delays, prompted Newsom to change guidelines. Now, only those meeting strict criteria are not eligible for testing in outlying areas such as Ridgecrest.

Because only symptomatic people are tested, the positivity rates are more difficult to drive down. Officials have also noted that skews the positivity rates, making them less reflective of their corresponding populations.

The lack of widely available screening means that it is more difficult to identify asymptomatic carriers. And now penalties, for low testing volume can make it more difficult to reopen.

The board added the emergency item to its agenda to allow county staff the time to review the governor’s new mandate and develop a plan to increase testing rates.

The proposal gives county employees an incentive to receive paid time off in exchange for regular testing. Employees who complete six screenings between now and Dec. 30 can qualify for 8 hours of paid leave.

“County employees are essential workers,” said 4th District Supervisor David Couch. In addition to boosting county numbers, Kern is able to ensure that the staff providing critical services will also remain healthy while carrying out their missions.

Alsop noted that regular testing will not only increase numbers and protect workers, but potentially reduce asymptomatic spread.

He said that, as a courtesy, the county’s plan was submitted to city managers throughout Kern, along with an encouragement for those governing bodies to consider adopting similar resolutions.

The News Review reached out to City Manager Ron Strand to determine whether the Ridgecrest City Council would be considering such an action. Strand said that he received the memo, and the city is considering it.

Pictured: Kern County Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop

Story First Published: 2020-09-18