Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Friday, Sept. 3 @ 5:16 p.m. / Business, COVID-19
Local Businesses Struggling With COVID-Related Staffing Challenges; Masks Available to Employers, Chamber Director Says
Before turning the meeting over to discussion about vaccines, mask mandates and in-person learning during a pandemic, moderator Cindy Vosburg asked the community to think of those manning the check-out stands and counters at local markets and counters.
The Crescent City-Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce executive director mentioned Walmart specifically, which employs 277 people.
“Last week alone, 150 of them were out,” Vosburg said Thursday. “One-hundred and fifty people were out ill. The remaining employees are now doing the work of two or even three people and they’re trying their very best to keep the service at a level we all expect. So be kind to them. Show them some respect by wearing a mask. They are wearing a mask to protect us.”It was the second briefing Crescent City hosted in response to the ongoing surge in coronavirus cases fueled by the more virulent Delta Variant.
On Friday Del Norte County’s death toll from COVID increased to 26, according to the county’s COVID-19 Information Hub. Forty-three new cases were reported to the Public Health Branch, including seven among the incarcerated population.
Del Norte currently has 191 active COVID-19 cases and 23 people at Sutter Coast Hospital with the novel coronavirus, according to the Public Health Branch.
On Thursday, Del Norte County Public Health Officer Dr. Aaron Stutz pointed out that the seven-day average for hospitalizations increased from 1.4 per day during the week of Aug. 16-22 to 2.1 patients per day during the week of Aug. 20-26.
The seven-day average for intensive care units also increased from 5.8 patients during the week of Aug. 16-22 to 7.3 patients from Aug. 20-26, according to Stutz. The number of COVID-related deaths has also increased from five the week of Aug. 16-22 to seven between Aug. 20-26, Stutz said.
With the increase in local COVID cases, one question Vosburg took from the audience Thursday had to do with why Stutz hadn’t followed his predecessor, Dr. Warren Rehwaldt, who, early in the pandemic, ordered several businesses, such as restaurants, to close.
Stutz pointed out that shuttering restaurants, bars, movie theaters and other businesses was a knee-jerk reaction to a disease no one knew anything about. The goal was to prevent people from interacting with each other, he said.
Now, Stutz said, though the case count is higher, things aren’t closing down, though he has recommended some businesses decrease their operating capacity or allow their employees to work remotely.
“Now we have a huge army of state public health people and huge bodies of knowledge to deal with this. We have a much better system in place,” he said, adding that if Del Norte had seen same number of COVID cases early in the pandemic it would harder to deal with. “Now we feel like we can do something with these numbers and perhaps not have to close restaurants and bars. It may come to that, but it’s such a last-ditch effort to tell the community they have to isolate in their homes again.”
On Friday, Vosburg told the Wild Rivers Outpost that the business community has learned a lot in the last year and five months too. Echoing what Stutz said the day before, Vosburg said more business owners are allowing those who can to work remotely.
Business owners have also put up the plexiglass barriers and asking their staff and customers to wear a mask inside their offices, Vosburg said.
But the largest challenge business owners are dealing with currently is staffing, Vosburg said, especially since the Delta Variant is more contagious.
“Say you’ve got 30 employees and those somebody gets a family member that is COVID positive and now they’re out, but they infect eight more employees,” Vosburg said. “And those eight employees either have to be isolated or quarantine and suddenly you have no staff.”
This is why some restaurants have gone to either take-out only or dine-in only, Vosburg said.
Staffing issues due to COVID-19 has also impacted Del Norte County’s largest employers, Vosburg said. On Thursday, she asked the community to keep in mind that staff at Walmart, Home Depot or Safeway may be doing the jobs of two or three people because their coworkers are either sick or have had to quarantine.
On Friday, she said the staff at those businesses are just as fragile and just as challenged as the community’s small businesses and its front-line healthcare workers.
“What I’m seeing is these large employers are also struggling mightily to be able to offer the same scope of services to us that we take for granted and their employees are also tired and fatigued,” she said. “What I said last night about taking a couple of seconds and really helping them … making sure they know we appreciate them being there and being able to take care of us and not to take that type of stuff for granted.”
On Thursday, Vosburg said the Crescent City-Del Norte County Chamber of Commerce received 11,000 N95 masks from the California Department of Public Health for businesses who have unvaccinated employees at work. Business owners can get up to 20 masks for every one of their unvaccinated employees, she said.
The chamber also has regular masks provided by the city that it can pass on to businesses as well.
Another weekly COVID-19 briefing is scheduled for Sept. 9. To register click here. To submit questions, email email@example.com.