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April 28: County supervisors discuss local government response to COVID-19

 

4 28 COUNTY

The Ventura County Board of Supervisors met April 28 to discuss, in part, the county government’s response to COVID-19. The recorded meeting can be viewed at:

 

Supervisor Kelly Long:

"Glad to be going down the road of reopening."

 

 

 

 

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County CEO Mike Powers: 

 

 Ventura County's COVID-19 rates some of lowest in the state.

Focus on governor's six indicators for reopening. Until there is a vaccine, this is the best way to identify and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Steps to reopening in alignment with governor's six indicators for reopening:

More testing.

More contact tracing and isolating.

Protecting high-risk patients, which Ventura County is doing well; focused on long-term-care facilities.

Housing our medical fragile and homeless population.

Working with farmworker community.

Surge and regular hospital capacity good.

Therapeutics beyond Ventura County control at the moment.

Facilities such as businesses, schools and childcare facilities, to be able to support physical distancing.

Openings for small businesses under 10, not public facing, occurred with Ventura County new health order of April 20.

Governor will make announcement today or later this week about state plans to reopen.

Thank the community for physically distancing at the beaches this weekend. Thank you to law enforcement for extra patrols at beaches and parks to deliver consistent measure for "soft closure," meaning parking lots and restrooms of parks and beaches closed.

 

Rigoberto Vargas, director of Ventura County Public Health

A slight uptick in our numbers of COVID-19-positive Ventura County residents.

5 additional cases as of April 28 for a total of 508 cases.

246 is the number of new tests administered, so now more than 9,500 residents tested thus far.

17 deaths thus far from COVID-19 in Ventura County. 

Ventura County in alignment with the state's plans for phasing in reopening, categorizing low- to high risk of virus transmission.

Doubling rate of cases in Ventura County is now 26 days, which is a good sign.

Positive COVID-19 rate is still at about 5 percent, which is relatively good.

 

Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin:

 

In response to Ventura County supervisor question last week, no grocery-store cashiers in Ventura County tested positive for COVID-19. One grocery store shelf stocker did.

 

Doubling rate was 3.6 days. Now it is 26 days.

If we let up on restrictions too abruptly, Ventura County will perhaps see a resurgence and return to doubling time closer to 3.6 days. "We're not going to let that happen in our county," he said

Question about COVID-19 and use of cloth face masks. To view Dr. Levin's list of pros and cons on the use of cloth masks that he presented to the supervisors, visit:

https://vcportal.ventura.org/CEO/VCNC/2020-04-18_VCNC_Masks_Pros_and_Cons_v02.pdf

Dr. Levin said he posed the question:

Should cloth masks be worn in the community setting or places of business?

Local, state and national guidelines support the use only of cloth masks and recommend against medical masks.

We're not encouraging or including in this question the use of medical masks.

The supporting literature for cloth masks uses language like "recommended" and "reduce but not eliminate" risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Some evidence, cloth masks may be helpful.

Centers for Disease Control does say you should use cloth masks.

Near-universal use of masks in Wuhan, China, during flu season leading up to pandemic. That of and by itself did not work in halting the spread of COVID-19.

With no masking rule in Ventura County, cases have still gone down.

Study of 1,600 staff in 400 hospitals; some wore masks, some did not.

Evidence from that study showed wearing cloth masks could increase the risk of infection. 

Some cloth could contain harmful chemicals, such as formaldehyde.

With repeated washing, cloth masks become more and more permeable.

World Health Organization does not recommend cloth masks.

No evidence using cloth masks is any better than social distancing alone.

Based on these findings, he said, "I cannot mandate that cloth masks be worn in essential businesses at this time."

If there were different evidence, that guidance could change.

He said he cited more articles critical of wearing cloth masks, but continues to look for more results.

Medical masks are not perfect, either, but they are better than cloth masks. Dr. Levin said he is not suggesting people should use medical masks because they should be reserved for medical workers.

Dr. Levin said 55 percent of people in one store survey were wearing medical masks, even though they should be donated to medical workers.

He said he respected the rules of individual establishments and cities that have elected to require cloth masks.

 However, he said the evidence on face coverings is not strong enough for him to require it in a Public Health Order at this time.

Despite that, he said: "The market is speaking. People are wearing them, and I support that."

He said, "Balanced against the number of people wearing medical masks and people being asked to do so much already in our county, I cannot bring myself at this point to recommend these things."

He said the governor will be the one to decide on how to regionalize reopening. He said he participates in calls twice a week with health officers from San Luis Obispo to Orange County. "We share information" he said. "The problem is, we share geography. We have to work with Los Angeles County." He said the good news is that Los Angeles "is flattening its curve as well."

He said: "A lot of it has to do with testing. It (LA) is a huge neighbor."

Supervisor Bob Huber 

He said he is concerned about the high number of Simi Valley residents going into LA County, which has a higher rate of infection.

He said he is concerned that families are buying items in LA County that they can buy more safely in Ventura County, such as shoes and items for newborns, if that were allowed.

 

Dr. Levin: 

Dr. Levin said he realizes growing children need clothes and shoes. The concern is people touching multiple clothes items. He said there are "factors we balance on either side of the scale."

 

Barry Zimmerman, deputy director of Ventura County Health Care Agency

 Testing capacity increasing. State is rolling out more testing sites. Would like to be in the same time frame as we roll out our capacity increase as well.

Supervisor Linda Parks asked: Is there a way to do more serology testing to see who might have had COVID-19 in Ventura County? 

Barry Zimmerman said the county is looking at more antibody tests.

 Steve Carroll, Emergency Medical Services administrator

Update on emergency medical services, hospitals, long-term-care facilities, personal protective equipment status.

Last weekend, a spike in 911 calls, likely due to warm weather, since there had been a decrease before and after the weekend.

Fewer hospitalizations in Ventura County and it is thought that people are avoiding going to the hospital and so are more acute when they get to the hospital. He urged people to get care when they need it.

586 hospitalized patients total in Ventura County.

67 in ICU across county in all eight hospitals.

30 were COVID-19 positive

7 from long-term-care facilities.

23 people are getting acute care for COVID-19. Six of those are in ICU.

 189 ventilators available in Ventura County.

 22 hospitalized people on ventilators in Ventura County for a number of different conditions.

Two long-term-care-facility residents of seven who were quarantined in hospitals returned to long-term-care facilities Monday. 

 Work with Ventura County first-responders to ensure they have enough PPE.

 Past 7 weeks, EMS has distributed PPE supplies — gloves, goggles, sanitizers, more than 600,000 N95 masks.

Our disaster supplies should not be the main source of PPE since commercial supply chains are improved. Working to make sure county disaster supplies are going to those most in need. Make sure those who are requesting disaster supplies have exhausted other means of getting PPE.

Regarding the distribution of N95 masks in the past for fires, Carroll said the best way of staying safe from smoke is to stay out of smoke. Mask distribution in the future for fires, he said, is something we have to address because supplies will be limited.

 

 Dr. John Fankhauser, administrator of Ventura County Medical Center and Santa Paula Hospital

 Time and energy caring for COVID-19 patients in hospitals; training from hygienists, new treatment protocols.

Decreased volumes in hospitals. Fewer people going to emergency rooms. Hearing stories across country about people delaying care, so we are increasing telehealth to reach out to people who don't need to go to Emergency Department. "We want to reassure people it is safe to come to our hospitals." We want people to know if they have chest pressure, weakness in one side of their body, fractured ankle .... "the right place for them is in our emergency rooms."

Looking at resuming elective essential surgeries. American College of Surgeons, etc., put out joint statement that aligns with governor on how to resume essential surgeries that are not emergency surgeries. Using recommended prioritization tool. Starting those up in the next two weeks.

People read cynical views of risk of COVID-19 spreading. If you doubt, go to Centers for Disease Control website under "U.S. daily count," and see what happened in the absence of distancing measures. "Fortunately, we will not be there because of the wisdom of our leaders."

 

Supervisor Steve Bennett:

We have low numbers because we did not open everything up.

"Appreciate Dr. Fankhauser reminding us of that as we move forward."

 

Dr. Theresa Cho, administrator of county ambulatory care system

Focus on increasing testing. The gold standard is a swab that goes far back into nasal passages.

Looking at self-administered tests to reduce need for PPE.

Some options require staffing increases. Look at urgent-care sites as places to expand testing.

Who will testing be expanded to and where are questions county is looking at.

Want to test people going in for elective surgeries and having babies.

 

Sevet Johnson, Ventura County Behavioral Health director 

All of clinics open but with reduced staffing to maintain social distancing. Crisis team calls remained stable at about 325 per week until last week when there was a 17 percent spike in calls last week to 385.

Will continue to track that. Able now to track COVID-related calls.

Very aware of long-term impact of COVID-19 beyond physical health.

Looking at student mental health.

Awarded $6 million grant to have 8 wellness clinics on high school campuses because we know the need is there. Will be able to help students.

Suicide rates could increase in the county, so we have to be extremely proactive.

The county conducts a suicide-prevention campaign annually. Want to make sure we have widespread campaign and have normalizing activities people can engage in.

Started self-care challenge for business employees.

Outreach is crucial. Week 1, county Public Information Officer Ashley Bautista reached out and has been amazing. Engaging clients to make sure we are partnering. Health manager reached out to school districts and about 100 at-risk families, calling them one by one.

Working with Farmworker Resource Program, making sure they are getting the services they need when they need them.

Likely to see more people become involved with criminal justice system as a result of pandemic.

Increasing of racial and ethnic disparities is a real threat, especially with loss of housing and work. Make sure at-risk communities are not spiraling down and falling into the cracks.

 

Kim Prillhart, head of county Resource Management Agency

Code compliance hotline answered 2,900 phone calls, 110 a day. People are wanting to do the right thing.

Issued nine COVID-19 compliance orders, one April 28 tin unincorporated area. 2,300 restaurants have been visited.

County code compliance hotline is: 805-202-1805, and email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.,8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

 

Sheriff Bill Ayub

Jail population continues to decline, somewhat precipitously.

No known inmates with the virus.

899 inmates total in Ventura County jails.

Over 30 waiting for transfer to state prison, which has been halted for the time being.

25 people recidivated since released from custody on zero-dollar bail.

2 recidivated twice, one 4 times in two-week period. Minor, but are a nuisance and rescidivism increases the likelihood of virus being introduced.

Beaches had largely remained open during pandemic, but LA media coverage and weather contributed to beaches being crowded. Saw crowding Thursday and Friday, which initiated soft closure requiring walking, running, surfing, fishing, etc., not lounging. People were largely compliant, glad not to have full closure order.

Worked hand in hand with coastal municipal police chiefs with coast access. Did have continuity throughout coastlines.

Reduced staffing and operation at EOC.

Good stock of PPE and new method of procuring supplies at www.VCEM.org. It is a link to a website for portal for ordering PPE for entities.

 

Supervisor Bennett:

Ventura County got unfairly linked with crowding at LA beaches.

 

Tara Carruth, Ventura County Continuum of Care director, homeless task force 

Taking calls for people homeless over 65 and people with medical issues.

Total of 297 people placed as of Monday evening. It is a fluctuating number. Some substance-abuse and behavior challenges. Appreciate site managers, contracted security team, partnership with Turning Point and Behavioral Health, and medical providers.

Partners with United Way raised funding for placements through May with fundraising.

 

 Victoria Jump, Ventura County Area Agency on Aging

To date, served over 11,000 people, over 215,000 meals.

On Friday, governor announced new program for older adults through FEMA providing meals with restaurants. It is time-limited, so wanted to get it. Launched on a small scale on Monday. We beat the rest of the state. What they are looking for are smaller mom-and-pop restaurants. For us, the qualifers are:

Minimum number of orders committed to.

Use locally grown produce.

Provide variety so people don't eat the same every day. Everyday delivery or every other day.

Most likely provide more guidance from state.

Person must be 65 or older or be at high risk, which a lot of people fall into that category.

Those who test positive for COVID-19 or COVID-19-exposed. Those people are eligible for food. Must live alone or live with someone else who is eligible.

Qualifications that the person cannot participate in other food programs such as Cal-Fresh.

Has to affirm they cannot prepare their meals or has difficulty getting meals.

Found that people are very honest. 

Some cities can only do one meal a day, so the county is trying to make things equitable.

A little complicated. Not impossible. Be mindful of those who cannot qualify and make sure we are equitable for all.

If a person participates in a pantry, they can participate in the restaurant program.

Will limit the number of restaurants that can participate.

Application for restaurants to participate will be on www.VCemergency.com.

People can fill out application to use services on www.VCAAA.org/food  website in English and Spanish.

 

Supervisor Bennett:

Recommend flexibility that locally produced food be recommended, not mandated.

 

Melissa Livingston, acting director of Human Service Agency

Town hall on home health and hospice care Tuesday, April 28.

Back-up registry for if a provider is not available for individuals.

World Central Kitchen and Amazon want to provide free meals for child welfare recipients.

Last week, received notice from U.S. Department of Agriculture about request for project for getting fresh produce to our communities.

Request for project to be released May 1. Ability to leverage funds from USDA to get and distribute produce. Ability with that money to purchase food. Addresses problem with food-chain supply and food insecurity facing right now. Hoping ag leaders devise method to get that local produce out to pantries, food banks, schools, Ventura County Area Agency on Aging, nonprofits.

 

Rosa Gonzalez, Farmworker Resource Program director,

21,000 voluntary farmworker ID cards distributed

40 custom-made bags from LA group for farmworkers.

For those who would like to donate for farmworkers, they can call Farmworker Resource Program at 805-385-1899.

Videos on COVID-19 created and distributed for farmworkers.

 

Mike Pettit, education and business task force with county government

School campuses are closed, but education is going on through distance learning and at home.

Happening with W-Fi hot spots provided to those without Internet service.

School meals continuing. Contact local school district office and websites.

Questions about testing info is availble at https://www.vcoe.org/faq

Making plans for reopening in the fall.

Call today with county CEO Mike Powers on ways to protect students when they reopen in the fall.

Will keep coordination going with education leaders.

Business update

Call last Friday with business leaders, Public Health, code compliance, chambers of commerce, etc.

Looking to expand that input. Focus was preparing for reopening safely to control COVID-19 spread.

SBA resumed accepting Paycheck Protection Plan applications Monday. There were technical challenges. Federal government working to resolve. $310 billion provided for PPP.

State opened up pandemic unemployment assistance to help self-employed and gig workers. Additional $4.4 billion for unemployment since March 15.

 State added 2,000 additional staff to unemployment hotline. It got 15 million calls last week.

From March 21 through April 18, there were 64,000-plus unemployment claims in Ventura County.

 About 2,200 restaurants in Ventura County.

Several open for takeout, but exact number not known.

Many small restaurants will have chance to further open through new state feeding program for seniors.

 

Ventura County Agricultural Commissioner Ed Williams 

Discuss difficulties farmers are facing.

Discuss effect on farmworkers.

The impacts on the farms have a ripple effect throughout entire food system in California and the nation.

California produces half of fruit and nuts and 30 to 40 percent of vegetables consumed in U.S.

Impacts on crops from COVID-19.

Food banks impacted. Long recovery period to get us back on track.

Strawberries and raspberries — No. 1 crop in VC — businesses were doing great first couple weeks of COVID-19 outbreak because this is our peak season.

After about first two weeks, 25 to 40 percent drop in market price of strawberries due to restaurants closing.

Fewer celebrations, which have impact on "luxury" items, such as strawberries.

Lemons have been severely impacted in VC. Every packinghouse jammed to the gills. Fortunately, lemons can be stored in cold storage. Problem is there are no orders going out since they are used primarily in food services.

This is the peak. Lemons will hold on trees, but not indefinitely.

Avocados actually did fairly well for a couple weeks, then took a 25 to 30 percent drop in market supplies, but have since stabilized. Able to sustain that harvest and make a little bit of money there.

For vegetable crops, celery in particular. Vegetables don't stop growing. Market really dropped. At this point, cost is hovering around cost to harvest products. Growers are having a hard time even scheduling harvest. Postponed some of planting in county. Skipped fully mature fields of celery, parsley and lettuce becuase there's no market to move that product. A lot of growers harvested the product and donated to FOOD Share and other food banks.

Big effort with that.

Food to Families program working to repackage boxes of produce. Hard to take truckloads of celery to food banks. Not everybody can eat that, unless have lots of peanut butter, he joked. New USDA program to allow for requests for projects will have to coordinate between producers and distrubutors to make sure products are usable for public.

 

Cut flowers also impacted. They have been struggling for several years now for survival from competition from South America. A lot of flowers used in the spring, but with Easter celebrations and weddings curtailed, cut-flower industry has suffered some significant impacts.

Surprised that nursery industry for shipments in California has been doing fine. A lot of people are staying home and doing gardening. Produce stands and farmers' markets seem to be doing fairly well. Farmstands getting up to 50 percent more business. Several farmers' markets can only sell food products, so have taken an overall cut, but produce vendors seem to be doing fairly well.

Cattle industry in Ventura County is affected by meat packers shutting down in country, so has shut down livestock processing in the country. Local cattle industry holding on to their calves. Fortunately, with good rain, there is good pasture to keep animals healthy.

Wholesale distributors and exporters also being impacted. Not as much produce being distributed, so port shipments have slowed down. Certify 1,500 to 1,600 shipments a month. Reduction of about 25 percent to other countries and states that our office has been certifying due to transportation. Airline industry to transport food has also been curtailed.

Impacts on farm labor. 25 to 40 percent reduction in labor available to farmworkers. Very important are the safety-net programs to help keep people at least treading water.

Farmers have had to readjust the way they think and operate in the fields — masks, transportation, staggering break times, maintaining physical distancing to keep workers safe. Farmers been doing a good job. Couple of programs, such as Food to Families Program — $3 billion nationwide for fresh produce and meat and dairy products that are a help to farmers.

Get food from traditional marketing chains to new recipients. PPP — farmers through SBA can now participate in that program.

 

Supervisor Huber:

Some obstacles for farmers to distribute to food banks?

 

Ed Williams:

Distribution and packaging are a challenge since food has to be repackaged into smaller, multiple-product packages.

 

County CEO Mike Powers in response to question from Supervisor Huber about including farmer representation at county business meetings, said Ventura County Farm Bureau would be asked to participate in future.

 

County Public Informaton Officer Ashley Bautista

Go to www.VCemergency.com  for daily information to promote mental health and get information on suicide prevention.

KVTA radio updates in the morning.

County videotaped updates on Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 1 p.m. at www.vcemergency.com 

Using WhatsApp to communicate.

 

Visit www.wellnesseveryday.org for support groups. 

Visit www.volunteerventuracounty.org  to find ways to volunteer.

 

Shawn Atin, Ventura County Human Resources

Distributed 3,500 cloth masks to county government workers for those who want to use them.

Using temperature testing.

Reiterating and reaffirming social-distancing protocols. 

 

County CEO Mike Powers

CARES Act funding for county government for $147 million-plus arrived last week.

For COVID-19 related expenses not already budgeted.

Revenue replacement not currently permitted. Bill being worked on CARES Act 4.0. Counties looking for flexibility in maintaining capacity to deliver on programs when county budget is decreasing from sales tax and other revenues.

Costs, to date, mostly Office of Emergecy Services costs, are about $4 million in COVID expenses.

Other agencies received other CARES Act funding.

 

 

 

 

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