Jessica Cejnar / Monday, Aug. 31 @ 11:25 a.m.

(Updated) Del Norte's Public Health Officer Speaks To County's Position in California's 'Blueprint for a Safe Economy'

[Updated at 5:19 p.m. to include latest COVID-19 numbers.]

Though one new case was reported to the Del Norte Public Health Branch on Monday, the number of active COVID-19 cases has decreased to four, according to the county’s COVID-19 Information Hub.

Ten of the active cases completed their self-isolation over the weekend, the Public Health Branch reported. Meanwhile, the new case is a known contact to an already-identified case and is self-isolating at home.

As of Monday, there has been a total of 123 COVID-19 cases in Del Norte County.

Meanwhile, though Del Norte can relax some safety measures instituted during the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of its position on California's "Blueprint for a Safe Economy," Public Health Officer Dr. Warren Rehwaldt urged residents to continue taking precautions:

As of last week, over 180,000 Americans have died from the coronavirus pandemic. That works out to about 1 in 2000 people for the entire nation. If the virus behaved the same way everywhere, our share of that total would have been 14 people already passed away in Del Norte. That’s kind of a sobering thought. In an average year we might lose 7 people from pneumonia, and maybe 30-35 people from respiratory illness of some other kind. That we are so far below the national average is something to be thankful for, and is an unexpected benefit for living here.

And not just here; most of rural Northern California is in the same boat. There is a new map of California available online, the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy”, which rates all the counties of the state in terms of the coronavirus activity going on in their borders. Its color coded - orange is “moderate” activity and yellow is “minimal”.

All the counties surrounding us, and in the northern border area are either orange or yellow. We share a lot more with our neighbors than we realize. The “Blueprint” came out last Friday, and most of you have probably heard much of it already. The state health department has decided to build more flexibility into the reopening process, and the “Blueprint” is the result of that.

We think that it has happened this way because reports from around the country show some improvements in cases and hospitalizations, which is a good thing. We were headed in the wrong direction a few months ago, including California, and it seems the experience of this summer shows the effect of reopening too much, too fast. A lot of places around the country did not do well, and again, as in March and April, it was the cities that suffered the worst. There has been a major walking back of reopening of society throughout the country, bit by bit. It's sort of a reset button moment.

So California has taken a different course to resuming reopening. We now have “Tiers” and each county is graded on some basic measurements of coronavirus to decide which tier they belong to. Tier 1 is the worst, and is essentially unchanged from the “Watchlist” that was in effect since mid-July. Tier 4 is the best, with “minimal” activity; only three counties in the state got put into Tier 4 last week; Alpine, Tuolumne, and Modoc. Each tier has different activities connected to it. For example, indoor dining in Del Norte is now available at 50% capacity (along with all the measures expected in the guidance document for Restaurants, Bars, Wineries, and Dining-In) and bars can open to outside service. Museums can move indoors again. There are a few others, but those are the main changes for us.

But Modoc can open its bars to 50% indoors (again, with other modifications in place) because of its higher tier, and nobody at any tier can hold concerts yet, indoors or out. The key thing about this new system is that counties can and will move up and down this scale, and we all get a new assessment every two weeks.

We can strive to do better, and keep the virus in check, and make more things available. We also have the potential to mess up a bit, and lose vigilance, and see counts go up, which will move us backwards, and some things will have to close down again. The new system has the capacity to give us folks along the border some activities that are closer to normal (which is what we
have all hoped and asked for), but it also has the capacity for us to backslide.

The changes go into effect today, but we will face our next assessment the day after Labor Day; it all happens very fast. And if that backslide happens, it will be on us. More pointedly, it will be on those of us who are not toeing the line with this virus, not wearing masks or requiring others to do so, not staying home when they should, not limiting travel. There are those who are planning private events that still should not be taking place, events that have the potential for major spread of the virus, and there are still plenty of simple gatherings of family and friends where people are letting their guard down. All summer long we have seen the same thing over and over in the cases we investigate; travel and gatherings of all kinds are bringing the virus here.

So we at the local health department implore all residents once again to pay attention to the rules of the virus, and rethink their plans that might put themselves, their families, or their community at greater risk. We are happy to see so many masks being worn, but the reports we keep getting about places where they are not being worn are disappointing at the least. We are glad to hear stories of travel plans being changed or dropped, but we also keep hearing about travel that was not particularly necessary or safe. And here’s the clincher about this and the timing that is so key; we are about to start the school year. School transmission of the virus is the biggest unknown for our county, but every parent, every doctor and nurse, and every teacher can understand the potential that having school back in session could create. We are certainly going to see some changes because of school; not right away, and not all at once, but it will happen. We just don’t know how much.

Now more than ever, everybody needs to be extra vigilant about the virus. There is no room for error or nonchalance, and this is not the time to be a naysayer or a skeptic. Masks work, distance works, staying at home when you ought to works; quarantining when you need to works. Once again it's really pretty simple. We don’t want to lose the gains that we have right now. Many in our community have been struggling to cope with the impact of this virus, both owners of businesses and employees of businesses. Let's do everything we can to help them.



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