Jessica Cejnar / Monday, March 23 @ 6:51 p.m. / Education, Emergencies, Health, Local Government
(VIDEO) County, City, Law Enforcement, Education Officials Discuss Local Response to COVID-19
Del Norte County’s public health officer urged residents to assume they and everyone around them is sick and to stay home to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In a briefing streamed live from the Flynn Center on Monday, public health officer, Dr. Warren Rehwaldt, said with the novel coronavirus turning up in nearby counties, it could already be in Del Norte County. He and officials with the county, city and Del Norte Unified School District urged Del Norters to maintain social distancing and do everything they could to stay home.
“It’s really the only defense against this virus right now,” Rehwaldt said in the video streamed on YouTube. “We’re hopeful by doing this and by continuing to do it, we create the environment when this virus arrives it will not be able to spread very easily, and if it does spread it spreads slowly in a way we can manage.”
There are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in Del Norte County currently, according to the Public Health Branch. As of 11:20 a.m. Monday, 35 people have been tested for the virus. The results of 26 tests have returned negative and nine cases are pending, according to the Public Health Branch.
Though they urged people not to venture into the community unless absolutely necessary, city, county and educational staff are providing a myriad of essential services.
The Del Norte County Sheriff’s Office and Crescent City Police Department continue to respond to 911 calls and other calls for service. Staff are keeping Crescent City’s park restrooms open and are cleaning them twice a day, though its playgrounds are closed.
According to City Manager Eric Wier, the city has also split its water and sewer crew into two teams to keep the systems operating even if members of one team become sick.
Services will also continue for the community’s most vulnerable residents, County Administrative Officer Jay Sarina said. The county’s Emergency Operations Center is spearheading the distribution of food to local pantries and food banks, he said.
Sarina also spoke to requests for personal protective equipment the Emergency Operations Center has received from other local first responder agencies.
“We have received two (shipments) and expect a third,” he said. “While we aren’t getting everything we’ve requested, we are getting equipment.”
Economics and business concerns
Wier and Gerry Hemmingsen, chairman of the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, also spoke to the economic concerns of the local business community.
Hemmingsen, chairman of the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors, mentioned a federal stimulus bill that offers $1.8 trillion to “rescue businesses,” assist those affected by the virus and help retain workers. The COVID-19 stimulus bill would be vitally important to the economic wellbeing of many, Hemmingsen said, promising to keep the community updated.
Closer to home, the Emergency Operations Center has created an Economic Resiliency Branch that will provide information, share resources and gather data to help local businesses weather the pandemic. According to a news release Monday, this includes keeping an inventory of the equipment and supplies available within the community.
The Economic Resilience Branch will also obtain information at the state and local level regarding how businesses can comply with new restrictions regarding social distancing while staying open.
The resiliency branch is staffed with the city, the county, the Crescent City-Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce, the Small Business Development Center, as well as employment services and representatives of the local finance and banking sector.
The goal is to reach out to 900 businesses to urge them to subscribe to a listserv by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, Wier said.
“We’re working uniformly in this to reach out to our businesses going through a time none of us have ever faced before,” he said. “The phone calls are looking for information of economic injury to that business to understand what the disaster truly is and get that information to the state.”
Law Enforcement and Visitors
Del Norte County Sheriff Erik Apperson said there’s no mechanism for him to bar visitors from frequenting local beaches in violation of California Governor Gavin Newsom’s shelter-in-place order. But he still urged people to call his office if they have concerns.
“What we need to do is continue to educate, continue to help each other out,” Apperson told the community. “Just because we respond doesn’t mean we have to make an arrest. It doesn’t mean we have to cite somebody.”
Apperson said he was following Humboldt County Sheriff William Honsal and “taking an educational approach” to COVID-19 and social distancing.
“Generally speaking, people are doing the right thing,” Apperson said.
During the pandemic, Apperson’s deputies and Crescent City Police Chief Richard Griffin’s officers are still responding to 911 and non-emergency calls.
“We’re asking screening questions related to the current pandemic, but we’re still responding,” Apperson said. “We’re asking questions to better prepare our first responders for their response. But if you call, we’re going to be there.”
Apperson said his communications team, including his dispatchers, are isolated to keep them healthy, but the lobby continues to be open 24-hours a day.
Apperson also reiterated that there is room at the Del Norte County jail to house additional inmates if necessary. The jail is also equipped with a drunk tank that operates on its own ventilation system and has been set aside as a possible quarantine area if necessary, he said.
Griffin, noting that his department is in constant communication with other law enforcement and emergency officials, said he’s also protecting his employees in much the same way the sheriff’s office is.
“We have not changed anything we do as far as responding to calls for service,” he said.
Since Del Norte County Unified School District closed its schools on March 16 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, classified staff, teachers and other volunteers have delivered more than 19,300 meals and 15,000 pages of work to students.
Now, they’re learning how to conduct classes while still abiding by the stay-at-home order, Superintendent Jeff Harris said. Parents will begin to see work packets that combine online resources with pencil and paper-based work, he said.
“In the following week, we hope to have together a plan for disseminating ChromeBooks, computers, to families so students can (access) the online learning platforms,” Harris said.
The district expects to roll out a new distance learning platform in the next two to three weeks, Harris said. Special education students will also be included in the new digital-based learning program, he said, adding that staff and counselors have already been in contact with families to make sure their charges’ needs are addressed.
“We’re not stopping services,” Harris said. “We appreciate everyone’s patience as we continue to understand what that’s going to look like.”
Other digital resources the district is rolling out will include a series of webinars likely starting Wednesday. Teachers, administrators and other school staff will provide parents with information on learning opportunities during the pandemic, Harris said.
Thursday’s school board meeting will also be held online for the first time, Harris said.
The superintendent also spoke to the impact the COVID-19 pandemic will have on high school graduation.
“Right now I can tell you we are not looking at extending the school year, so if you’re going into college or the military, you don’t have to worry about that,” he said.
Harris said the district is waiving some graduation credits, though he urged students who have fallen behind to continue their work to recover those credits.
“We will not stop that process,” he said. “We want you to continue to move forward.”
Crescent City Mayor Blake Inscore, who organized Monday’s COVID-19 news conference, promised to give further updates to the community regularly. He also directed residents to the Public Health Branch’s website and Prepare Del Norte.
“The most important thing is you heed the encouragement that has been given to you by Dr. Rehwaldt, our public health officer, and that you use good judgment, use good hygiene,” he said. “If you don’t need to go some place, then don’t.”