Pandemic Groundhog Day? 5-15 OVN Editorial

Welcome to Day One, again. The goals of the state and county have changed without notice. When the stay-at-home order began, we were told the intention was to “flatten the curve” — that deaths were inevitable, but we could stem the overflow of hospitals and mortuaries by staying at home. The new standard for counties to move to the governor's "Stage 3" for reopening is now zero new deaths for 14 straight days. 
We have been on Day One for the last three days since the number of deaths rose this week to 24 as of May 13, after holding steady at nine for almost 14 days.
Additionally, to achieve “Stage 3” of the governor's plan, the numerical standard is one active case per 10,000 residents, allowing for 85 active cases in Ventura County. On May 13 there were 224 active cases countywide; and eight hospitals equipped with a total of 1,353 beds containing 23 COVID-19 positive patients. These new state requirements put the old "flatten the curve" goal fully in the rearview mirror and the idea of long term stay-at-home orders on the table.


Since we have recently become obsessed with stats and death counts, let's step back for the broader picture. California Vital Statistics reveals that Ventura county had an annual death count of 5,381 in 2013, which averages 204 deaths over any 14-day period. Preventing all death is not an option for humans; there is a certain risk level every time we leave home. 
People will choose to go out into the world again at the point at which they are willing to accept that level of risk. For example, the average number of vehicle deaths in Ventura County is 3.2 deaths every 14 days, (84 annually in 2017) and our community accepts this risk every day they travel by car. 
This is not to minimize the difference between death by car and death by viral infection which can spread. However, it sheds light on the kind of risk we are willing to take without sending our economy into a death spiral. 
We need our elected officials to look at the health emergency with a wider lens and keep advocating for us.


Ventura Public Health needs help:
     Masks. Wearing masks is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, OSHA, and the governor. They are required in the city of Ojai and city of Los Angeles, but not in the rest of Ventura County.
    Testing. With half of COVID-19 deaths in rest homes in California (Ventura withholds the local data), there should be mandatory testing for everyone coming and going from these 400-plus facilities in Ventura County, and anyone who wants one. 
    Transparency. Looking at COVID-19 statistics every day without enough pieces to see a complete picture is making us increasingly myopic. Refusing to share the city locations of active infections and deaths, along with other relevant data, such as how many deaths occur in rest homes, does not allow the public or their elected officials to make good decisions.


Implementation on opening. Ventura Public Health is starving Ojai of any possible tax revenue and forcing Ojai Valley residents to travel out of the area into less-safe cities by allowing only curbside pickup at small businesses such as Ben Franklin, Rains and other stores, while Target, Walmart and other big box stores are allowed to sell all their goods inside. Why are mega-stores getting preferential treatment? It is particularly egregious since people in Ojai are required to wear masks while there is no such order in place in the rest of the county.
    Facilities. Ventura Public Health has closed the bathrooms and parking lots at the beach, contributing to thousands of visitors descending upon Ojai Valley trails to recreate and relieve themselves. This cruel rule must end.
    Ask for help. Ventura County Public Health should let the public know the barriers to getting up to the testing levels to 1,300 per day. Let’s address the problems as a larger community who are all invested in the same issue.
    A promise. Ventura County received $147 million in aid from the state. It owes Ojai the promise that the essential services of fire and police will be ensured by the county.
In Ventura County, there have been no deaths without a comorbidity, but if you have one or more and you are over 65 years, the risk of death is huge. 
The best protection for the vulnerable is to stay home. Elected officials need to take greater responsibility for decisions, balance the needs for public health with the other needs of our community and be able to adapt to changes. Thoughtfully reject timelines and regulations that do not make sense. Speak up! We ask our officials to summon the courage to stand up to public health and admit that at some point we will have to live with this virus, and find the best, thoughtful, and balanced path forward.

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