Jessica Cejnar / Tuesday, March 24 @ 3:33 p.m. / Community, Emergencies, Health, Local Government

Volunteers, Including Those At-Risk, Can Pitch In To Help Social Safety Nets Taxed By COVID-19

Organizations providing services to the elderly and those who struggle with hunger are entering a new frontier as they figure out how to meet their clients’ needs in the middle of a pandemic.

One way to ensure the most vulnerable Del Norters are fed and remain connected with friends and neighbors during the shelter-in-place response to COVID-19 is through volunteers, Emergency Services Manager Kymmie Scott told the Wild Rivers Outpost on Tuesday.

All types of volunteers are needed, including those who can help in the medical field, Scott said. As her colleague, Public Health Officer Dr. Warren Rehwaldt addressed the Board of Supervisors on the pandemic, Scott said she has been setting up a call bank to ensure that even those in the at-risk category can help out.

“We’ll take people who are at risk or not at risk and the call center is one of those things people who are at risk can participate in as a volunteer,” Scott said.

“For the folks that are not super knowledgeable, we’re putting together a Q & A sheet to help answer the community’s needs. For folks who have a medical background, but are at risk, when questions come into the call center that are medically related, they can help answer some of those harder questions.”

Scott said she hopes to have the call bank up and running “no later than Friday and possibly within the next 24 to 48 hours.”

Scott and representatives with the Del Norte Senior Center, the Community Food Council, the Department of Health and Human Services, Rural Human Services, the Wild Rivers Community Foundation, the city and others will meet via Zoom on Thursday to discuss how volunteers and state resources can meet Del Norters’ needs.

Del Norte COVID-19 stats
Del Norte County has yet to see a confirmed COVID-19 case, according to the county Public Health Branch. Thirty-five tests have been administered as of 8:10 a.m. Tuesday. Thirty cases have tested negative for the novel coronavirus and the results for five tests are pending, according to the Public Health Branch.

As of 2 p.m. Sunday, there have been 1,733 positive COVID-19 cases in California and 27 deaths, according to the California Department of Public Health. Roughly 26,400 tests have been administered statewide. At least 14,317 results have been received by health officials and another 12,100 are pending, according to the CDPH.

Nationwide, all 50 states have reported cases of COVID-19 with 27 reporting community spread of the virus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Globally there are 375,498 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 16,362 confirmed deaths in 196 countries, areas or territories with cases, the World Health Organization reported Tuesday.

In his presentation to county supervisors Tuesday, Rehwaldt said California Governor Gavin Newsom’s stay-at-home order is the “last layer” in establishing a community mitigation strategy for combatting spread of the virus.

Rehwaldt fielded questions from county supervisors during his presentation, including one from District 1 Supervisor Roger Gitlin, who noted that more than 100,000 people have recovered from COVID-19 and asked if the world was close to “turning the corner.”

Turning a corner won’t happen until enough people have been infected and have recovered from the virus that the community as a whole develops herd immunity against it, Rehwaldt said. When enough people have been infected and have developed immunity to COVID-19, it has nowhere to go, he said.

Rehwaldt, citing public health experts, said the best estimates are between 50 and 70 percent of any given population has to achieve for herd immunity to evolve.

“That is a long process even if we did nothing and let the virus just go wild,” he said. “It will still probably take eight to 12 weeks because it takes that long for the virus to replicate and jump to enough people and we would have a lot of people die in the process.”

However, Rehwaldt said, if enough people abide by social distancing and shelter-in-place rules the virus can be slowed to a crawl enabling the medical community to save as many people as they can.

Rehwaldt also noted that he and other public health officials are trying to discourage unnecessary testing for COVID-19. Testing capacity is slowly growing, he said, but the demand has outstripped that capacity currently.

“If you’re sick, don’t presume you know the difference between a cold and COVID-19,” he told the community. “(People) may get it and not know they had it. We hope to find a way to track down everybody after the fact, but that’s very far off in the future.”

Del Norte Senior Center
To keep its clients, who fall into the at-risk category, from getting sick, the Del Norte Senior Center suspended its activities, including its exercise and craft programs, Executive Director Charlaine Mazzi told the Outpost.

The center has continued to offer lunches via delivery, to-go and restricted dine-in options for those who rely on public transportation, Mazzei said. But most who visit the senior center take their food and leave, she said.

“We’re having about 30 people or so come and pick up every day,” she said. “If they don’t come in we take it out to their car … and then they go on their way.”

Though she doesn’t know the exact statistics, Mazzei said her staff are delivering to people who would normally have visited the senior center to eat lunch. Mazzei and her staff have received guidance from the senior center’s main funder, the California Department of Aging, which has loosened up the rules for home-delivery due to Newsom’s shelter-in-place order.

Normally, home-delivered meals are taken to those who are unable to prepare food for themselves, Mazzei said.

Mazzei, who will take part in Thursday’s meeting with other social safety service providers, said she can see the senior center moving to straight meal delivery, though it’s not there yet.

Senior center staff currently delivers meals to residents as far south as the Bertsch Tract and as far north as Smith River, she said.

There are no meal deliveries to the Gasquet or Klamath areas, though the senior center does deliver frozen meals to Klamath about once a week, Mazzei said. She said she will reach out to United Indian Health Services, which delivers meals to tribal elders in Klamath and Smith River.

“Those are both areas where if we had volunteers we could definitely reach out,” Mazzei said, referring to Klamath and Gasquet.

For most local social service organizations, the best way to serve is for people to come to them, Mazzei said.

“Getting people together is a huge part of what we usually do and now we can’t do that,” she said. “The whole question of how we continue to get people what they need when we have to do so on an individual basis instead of in group settings, it’s something we’re all still trying to figure out.”

Pacific Pantry
Though the Community Food Council’s food pantry is still operating — offering 2-hour distributions Thursday, Friday and Saturday this week — staff are giving out pre-packaged bags rather than allowing folks to choose what they want to take, Food Program Director Amanda Hixson said.

Meanwhile, Pacific Pantry staff are trying to have as little person-to-person contact as possible, she said.

Hixson said the pantry has suspended its normal practice of tracking clients and limiting their visits to once per month through the rest of March. But, she said, the pantry will likely return to once-a-month distribution in April.

“I’ve noticed already in three days, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, there have been people that have come more than once in those days,” she said.

The Food Council will also work with other community partners to set up home delivery for people who are in the at-risk category, which include those who are over 65 or who have underlying health issues and compromised immune systems, Hixson said. However, she said, she doesn’t know if that will be able to come online or not.

Meanwhile, COVID-19 has taxed the food pantry system as a whole, Hixson said. When Pacific Pantry started in April 2018, much of its food was purchased via local stores such as Grocery Outlet, Walmart and Dollar Tree. However, the ability to buy in bulk no longer exists because those retailers are limiting purchases to roughly one per person, Hixson said.

“Going to Walmart and buying 40 loaves of bread is totally not an option now,” she said, adding that she had tried to see what bread and peanut butter was available at the local store last week. “There wasn’t anything on the shelves.”

Another resource for Pacific Pantry has been Alexandre Dairy. Through the Community Food Council’s food recovery program, Hixson said, her staff would acquire the dairy’s milk at the best-by date and distribute it through the pantry, but that’s also changing.

“They’re selling all of their milk now. They’re not having milk coming back on their trucks that we can recover,” she said. “It’s great for them.”

Hixson said she’ll be meeting Thursday with Scott, Mazzei, a representative with Rural Human Services, which receives commodities through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and a representative with the Seventh Day Adventist Church, which also operates a food pantry.

“We need to understand how we’re going to make sure our food insecurity doesn’t increase at this time and how to help this community through this crisis,” she said.

Del Norters helping Del Norters
As emergency officials and nonprofit representatives, Crescent City resident Megan May-Luks and more than 2,300 other Del Norters have used Facebook to make sure people, not only get groceries or other items they may need, but to stay connected with each other.

May-Luks, who has elderly parents she wants to stay healthy, said she started the group Helping Our Neighbors in Need (Coronavirus) because she wanted to help and felt there are a lot of other people who feel the same way. But because everyone’s stuck at home, she said, the opportunity to help was limited.

“The whole thing really turned out bigger than I thought,” May-Luks said.

“I added my sister and my oldest daughter and a friend of mine as an administrator — it got kind of crazy there for a little bit. The community really stepped up and came together.”

Created on March 17, the group includes updates on COVID-19 in Del Norte County and elsewhere. Requests for resources, including pet food, thermometers and diapers. Offers of resources, such as alcohol swabs. And a running list of restaurants offering take-out and delivery food service.

There’s also the occasional bit of humor and support, including a picture of a wayward roll of toilet paper, and messages for Del Norte to stay strong.

May-Luks, whose family has delivered meals, soap and other items to the homeless community for years, said she’s worried about that community and could use some help to make sure they have what they need. She said she and her family would find people behind Safeway and on Front Street. She said she would also drop off sandwiches for people living near Old Mill Road.

“It would be cool to have maybe one person or one group of people do it one day a week and somebody a different day of the week,” May-Luks said. “Things are hard to come by right now, but the hotel-size soaps, you can get quite a bit of stuff in a bag if you have small ones. They don’t really have a lot of space to carry things.”

For more information on the community’s emergency response to COVID-19, visit Prepare Del Norte or call the Office of Emergency Services at (707) 464-7255.


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