Little light at the end of the tunnel

Photo by Mufid Majun on Unsplash

Editor’s note: New Sacramento supervisors’ chairperson wants to reopen businesses, but COVID-19 numbers say ‘no’

Sue Frost made her top priority crystal clear as she took the gavel on Jan. 12 as the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors chairperson for 2021—to “safely reopen” businesses as soon as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

New Supervisor Rich Desmond, who was sworn into office Jan. 12, declared the same.

But the latest numbers show once again how challenging that task will be.

Sacramento County passed 1,000 deaths by Jan. 11. Under the state’s update Jan. 12, the county’s new case rate was at 56.6 per 100,000 people and positive test rate at 14.0%. That’s even worse than the new case rate of 47.2 and 12.1% positivity rate on Jan. 5.

So it doesn’t appear the county will get out of the most restrictive “purple” tier and be able to ease restrictions on businesses any time soon. To do so, the county must get the new case rate to 7.0 or below and the test positivity rate to 8% or below.

Late Jan. 12, however, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced that Sacramento and 12 surrounding counties will emerge from a regional stay-at-home order they have been under since Dec. 10. Getting out from the order is based on four-week projections of intensive care unit bed availability reaching at least 15%, plus ICU admissions, new case rates and transmission rates. On Jan. 12, the state Public Health department put current ICU availability at 9.4%, but Sacramento County said the projection is 19%.

With the lifting of the order, restaurants can resume outdoor dining, barbershops and hair salons can reopen and retail stores can increase the number of customers, as restrictions on businesses ping-pong again. But the non-essential businesses remain under a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew and other limits.

Sacramento County issued a new public health order effective Jan. 13. County Public Health has posted a chart on the differences between the stay-at-home order and purple tier restrictions.

While that’s progress on the COVID-19 pandemic, supervisors also learned of a new outbreak in the county’s jails. As of Jan. 6, there had been 418 cases. All jail medical staff should receive COVID-19 vaccines this week.

Overall, however, in Sacramento County, as statewide, the vaccine rollout is lagging. The county’s public health officer, Olivia Kasirye, told supervisors that the county has received nearly 45,000 doses of vaccine and expects to get 15,000 more this week.

There was a glimmer of hope on Jan. 12: Jim Hunt, the county’s acting health services director, said the county is in line for $31 million in federal emergency rental assistance, possibly by the end of the month.

Supervisors also want to provide more economic aid to small businesses, when money from the new federal relief package becomes available. Frost said that “a respectable portion” should go to businesses and said she supports a proposal from several chambers of commerce to give incentives to comply with COVID-19 safety measures.

“The businesses are at the end of their rope,” she said. “They need help.”

Sue Frost, new chairperson of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors

Frost has been pushing for faster reopening for months, arguing that COVID-19 is spreading far less in Folsom and other parts of the county so they shouldn’t be lumped in with the rest of the county.

She and others also point out that most cases are in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

In a detailed demographic report to supervisors on Jan. 12, officials said that 3,122 cases and 407 deaths have been among congregate care residents and another 2,122 cases and six deaths among staff. Those 65 and older make up nearly 700 of the county’s COVID-19 deaths; the death rate for that age group is 8.6%, compared to 1.3% overall.

As of Jan. 12, the county had 76,220 total cases and 1,044 deaths.

But at times, Frost ventures awfully close to the arguments made by COVID deniers, who have been calling into supervisors’ meetings to angrily call for the public health emergency to be lifted.

With COVID-19 so widespread, Frost asked during the Jan. 12 meeting: “Why are we testing?”

Kasirye replied that testing shows if public health strategies are working.

Frost, who was criticized by some callers for not wearing a mask during the meeting, also argued there isn’t the data to show how and where COVID-19 is being spread and at the same time people are “losing their livelihoods” due to public health restrictions.

“Is it actually helping us?” she asked. “How do we justify it?”

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