Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Monday, Jan. 10 @ 1:09 p.m. / COVID-19, Local Government
With Del Norte COVID Cases on the Rise, Crescent City Council Retreats Back to Zoom Meetings
With coronavirus cases in Del Norte County increasing, a three-member Crescent City Council on Friday voted to resume teleconferencing at public meetings to allow for physical distancing.
The Council’s 3-0-2 decision came after Del Norte County Public Health Officer, Dr. Aaron Stutz, pointed out that the number of active coronavirus cases in the community is more than 100. The new omicron variant is likely in Del Norte County and is probably driving the spike in new cases, he said.
According to City Manager Eric Wier, several of his staff are absent from work because they have either tested positive for COVID-19 or are a close contact.
Wier also pointed out that it has been a struggle for a full City Council to meet in one room. On Friday, Councilor Beau Smith and Mayor Jason Greenough were absent.
“We’ve experienced this over the past couple of months as well as we’ve only had the full Council one time,” Wier said. “We’ve had to delay some agenda items, the selection of mayor and mayor pro tem, as well as some other things just trying to get a full Council.”
Under California Assembly Bill 361, which was adopted on Sept. 16, governing bodies can meet via teleconferencing during a proclaimed state of emergency and if state or local officials have imposed or recommended social distancing, City Attorney Martha Rice told Councilors.
The assembly bill also allows local governing bodies to determine on their own that meeting in person would pose an imminent risk to the public’s health or safety, Rice said.
Rice said the Crescent City Council’s resolution would also apply to the other boards its members sit on such as the successor agency to the Redevelopment Agency and the Housing Authority. The resolution would also apply to the Measure S Oversight Committee, the Crescent City Planning Commission and the oversight committee for the Successor Agency to the Redevelopment Agency, she said.
The City Council’s resolution expires in 30 days, according to Rice. Councilors would have to re-evaluate the situation and, if it determines social distancing is still necessary, approve another resolution, she said.
“One thing I think the Council should consider, and why this came up at the staff level, is it’s true that we’re all worried about everybody’s health and safety, but that leads into quarantines,” Rice said. “One of the concerns is the impact quarantines can have on the Council. If you can’t meet virtually, we’re not meeting at all and that could impact the city’s ability to do business.”
Despite the increase in COVID-19 cases in the community, Stutz said the omicron variant appears to be causing fewer hospitalizations. In Del Norte County, as of Friday, only one person was in the hospital with coronavirus symptoms, according to the county’s COVID-19 Information Hub, which was in keeping with that trend, according to Stutz.
“That’s kind of what I was hoping to see during the course of the pandemic,” he said. “A variant that would come along much more rapidly spreading and could out compete the more dangerous variants and yet one that would cause fewer hospitalizations. For me, this is a positive development. It’s part of the way out of the pandemic, but that doesn’t mean it’s not going to cause a lot of positive COVID cases and keep everybody out of work and out of school until we figure out what to do about this new variant.”
On Friday, 21 new coronavirus cases were reported to the Del Norte Public Health Branch, making for a total of 118 active cases in the community.
Stutz said he was cautiously optimistic that there would be a large spike in cases that would drop off rapidly. He said though he expects an increase in emergency room and primary care visits, he hoped there would be few hospital admissions and fatalities as a result of omicron.
But, Stutz said, social distancing is still prudent.
“Take as many precautions as you feel you can reasonably take,” he said.
Before the Council took a vote, Mayor Pro Tem Isaiah Wright, who presided over Friday’s meeting, asked Wier if there would be more of his colleagues missing on Monday if they didn’t pass the resolution.
Wier pointed out that many times, a person doesn’t know if they’ve been exposed to COVID or if they’re a close contact until the day of the meeting.
Crescent City Councilor Blake Inscore said he felt, given the situation, the City Council would be down one member at least if it continued with in-person meetings.
“Mr. Wier even pointed out that after coming back in person, many of our people who insisted that we needed to be in person, continued to call in and participate via Zoom,” Inscore said. “I just feel like our biggest responsibility is to take care of one another and then to take care of business, and I think we can do both of those things.”
The Crescent City Council’s next meeting will be held at 6 p.m. this evening via Zoom.