Jessica Cejnar / Friday, March 27 @ 7:47 p.m. / Community, Emergencies, Health, Local Government
Though Not Unanimous, Crescent City Council Supports Order Barring Vacationers From Local Lodging Facilities
City Councilors offered their support to a county order barring local lodging facilities from housing tourists during the COVID-19 emergency, though that support was not unanimous.
The Council made its decision just after Del Norte County Public Health Officer, Dr. Warren Rehwaldt issued his order Friday, which applies to lodging facilities and campgrounds both inside and outside city limits. The Council’s resolution also gives the city manager the authority to “do all things necessary to educate transient lodging operators, city residents and visitors” about the restrictions in place due to the pandemic.
Councilor Jason Greenough opposed the resolution, calling for a more measured approach and noting that local businesses are already suffering from the effects of Governor Gavin Newsom’s March 19 stay-at-home order.
“I am not debating whether this is a serious issue,” he said at an emergency meeting Friday. “But at the same time, we still live in a free country here. The fact that these orders are in place isn’t going to change that. You can’t use police to arrest people because they’re out and about. Even the governor’s order didn’t have the teeth and I don’t think, by law, they can have those teeth unless you do go to martial law.”
Rehwaldt’s order closes county parks to camping except for hosts or other campers expressly authorized by the county for stays of 30 days or longer.
Short-term rentals, including vacation rentals or homestays, are prohibited in Del Norte County until the emergency ends. Hotels, motels, RV parks and private campgrounds are also barred from housing anyone for less than a 30-day period, though it does make some exceptions.
Rehwaldt’s order also closes pools, spas and other public bathing facilities.
At the Council’s meeting, City Attorney Martha Rice noted that violation of the governor’s stay-at-home order and Rehwaldt’s order is a misdemeanor. Rehwaldt’s order also stands regardless of the city’s resolution, she said.
City Manager Eric Wier said businesses violating Rehwaldt’s order could find thier business license or city-county permit suspended for up to one year.
Wier noted that since the City Council declared a local emergency on March 16, the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States crested to just over 100,000. The death toll in the U.S. is more than 1,500, he said, citing Johns Hopkins University, which is mapping COVID-19 cases worldwide.
Since then, several communities have enacted moratorium on short-term stays, including Trinity and Mono counties in California. Lincoln and Curry counties as well as Brookings in Oregon, Wier said.
Though there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Del Norte County currently, City Clerk Robin Patch noted that in Humboldt County there are 12 confirmed cases. In nearby Josephine and Jackson counties in Oregon there are four and six confirmed COVID-19 cases, Patch said.
In addition to giving the various statistics of the novel coronavirus in the United States and in California, Crescent City’s resolution mentions the number of beds Sutter Coast Hospital houses.
“Del Norte County has one hospital with 49 total beds and only six intensive care unit beds to serve its approximately 27,000 residents as well as regularly serving much of Curry County to the north (approximately another 7,500 people),” the resolution states.
Greenough, wondering why the City Council is enacting a resolution when Rehwaldt’s order would be in place regardless, argued that telling a business how to operate is a serious issue. Greenough’s opinion was similar to that of District 1 Supervisor Roger Gitlin, who spoke during public comment saying he has received a steady stream of phone calls from the community about the virus.
Gitlin pointed out that despite the medical emergency, tourism is how Del Norte County “maintains” its sustenance and existence. He asked the City Council to consider the community’s economic future before making their decision, stating that to limit tourism into the community would cause more harm than the virus.
“If we move forward in an aggressive way in discouraging people are we not contributing to our own economic suicide?” Gitlin asked, adding that Trees of Mystery had laid off 45 employees and stores were closed “left and right.” “I am very concerned about this disease, but at the same time I don’t want to wake up and in 30 days from now we don’t have a tax base in our town.”
Gitlin’s neighbor, Herman Rinkel, who offers his home to visitors through Airbnb, said he decided against welcoming travelers about two weeks ago when he began receiving phone calls from people in San Francisco.
“I was afraid they would bring the virus with them and start using our community resources,” Rinkel said. “I know a lot of folks need the money, but I’m of the mindset that health and lives come first. The economy will rebound if we stay vigilant about our space.”
Former District Attorney Jon Alexander, author of the Wild Rivers Outpost column Angels and Desperados, asked the City Council to close the parking lot near Battery Point Lighthouse. Alexander, who lives near the lighthouse, said he saw at least 25 cars using the parking lot with license plates from Oregon, Montana, Washington, Illinois and New Jersey.
“At no time do I see even one person use the slightest precaution,” he said, adding that he has terminal bone cancer. “I’ve watched as most walked down the wooden switchback pathway to the beach only to brush by persons using that path. Logic must dictate that it is only a matter of time before the virus arrives.”
After asking how many tests for COVID-19 cases have been conducted in the county — about 50, according to Blake Inscore — Mayor Pro Tem Heidi Kime noted that the number is small. She said it’s great that there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Del Norte, but said it’s probably here.
Kime said she welcomes people who are traveling to the community to work at the hospital or in another essential capacity, but health officials wouldn’t curb the virus unless people shelter-in-place.
“I think that moving forward we are collecting data on the impact that this is having to our businesses,” she said, “but if we don’t protect ourselves and stay home, we really aren’t going to have any businesses to come back to.”
Kime’s colleague, Isaiah Wright said that his wife is an nurse in Sutter Coast’s intensive care unit and could confirm that the hospital is tiny.
“That we haven’t had any (cases) yet doesn’t mean anything to me,” he said, adding that he lives with three people who have compromised immune systems. “We’re staying in as often as we can, but we still got to go get groceries. You can always still get something while you’re out picking up some bread and following directions. You got to get food.”
The City Council also discussed an economic resiliency plan to help local businesses and whether to continue closure of the Fred Endert Municipal Pool. Businesses are urged to visit Prepare Del Norte to take an “economic injury” survey.
As of 5:13 p.m. Friday, there are no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Del NOrte County, according to the Public Health Branch. Forty-eight tests have been administered. The results for 39 cases have returned negative and nine are pending, according to the Public Health Branch.
At a press conference earlier in the afternoon Friday, Sutter Coast Hospital CEO Mitch Hanna said the hospital’s “surge plan” plans for 20 more beds in addition to the 49 that the facility already houses.
The hospital also has a triage tent it can use if its emergency room is overwhelmed.
If people think they are infected with COVID-19, Hanna urged them to call the hospital’s RN Advice Triage Line at 866-961-2889. He said a nurse would advise them on the appropriate level of care given their symptoms.