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Calaveras Supes Hear COVID-19 Update, Kelaita’s Summer, Fall Predictions

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San Andreas, CA — The Calaveras supes heard from the county’s head health official what life might look like in the coming months under potentially ‘relaxed’ COVID-19 emergency restrictions.

At Tuesday’s special meeting, County Health Officer Dr. Dean Kelaita prefaced his thoughts with the latest state and local coronavirus numbers, which currently stand at 30,978 cases across California with 1,200 deaths, and 12 reported cases in Calaveras with no deaths.

He noted it is significant that of the three latest local cases, an adult male in Valley Springs and two household members in West Point, their exposure was outside of the county and/or linked to established cases so they are not being considered as community transmissions.

“So far, Mark Twain Medical Center and the health care system of Calaveras County is not overrun and surge plans have been activated,” he noted, providing expanded bed and ventilator capacity along with a 30-bed alternative care site at Calaveras High, should it be needed.

Kelaita emphasized that the statewide and local orders and enhanced social distancing practices over the past four weeks are successfully flattening the curve, delaying new COVID-19 case occurrences, and need to continue with vigilance in the weeks and even months ahead until they are no longer needed.

“Let’s be clear the public is growing weary, frustrated and anxious for life as we used to know it,” he acknowledged, indicating that it was time to broach the concept and provide some evidence-based predictions of what will be needed to relax directives, although the state’s restrictions will continue to guide local decisions on what might be allowable come May.

Resuming Solitary Outdoor Activities, Golf

If the numbers of cases continue flattening, indicating that transmission is being controlled, Kelaita tentatively proposed that solitary outdoor activities like golf, hikes and walking through parks might resume, assuming social distancing continues and golf courses have appropriate protective protocol in place.

He forecasts that the Stay At Home order would continue into mid-June at which point immunity testing and other tools could provide the means to ease it. By early summer, tailored approaches for getting more folks back to work might proceed, depending on how well the county is able to maintain low case numbers. However those at high-risk would still continue to shelter.

Antibody testing would then help determine who among nonessential workers can return and businesses will have to ensure proper distancing and other protocol although employers would be encouraged to continue having as many workers as possible telecommute.

With limited disease activities and no resurgence, restaurants by the end of July might provide dine-in using masks, gloves, distanced dining and disposable menus for example. Retail stores and wineries would have their own guidelines, including limiting access to only a few people at a time.

While Kelaita says returning to onsite schooling is likely to resume in fall with social distancing it must be managed on a case by case basis with increasing occurrences triggering a return to remote learning as needed.

In the absence of a vaccine or cure for the next 12 to 18 months, vigilance and flexibility are key, he stressed. “If this first wave of cases] declines and if we relax social mitigation, we may see increased case counts in fall,” he warned.

Support For Staying The Course

The majority of the supervisors took Kelaita’s words to heart without any push-back. District 2 Supervisor Jack Garamendi asked him how the board could further support efforts as the mitigation activities in place, while a sacrifice to the community, have been paying off.

Kelaita replied it will be key for the supervisors to continue impressing on their district residents the importance of continuing the measures and avoiding a relapse so that the community could work together on the process of getting life back to normal.

District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills opined that several states never got into the idea of sequestering and/or are now looking to get out. He called the state and local approach draconian by comparison, especially when there has been no deaths in the county, adding that he was worried for folks’ mental health.

“There is a Stay At Home order by the Governor that all of California is subject to,” Kelaita replied. “I think it was California’s early adoption that has shown to blunt the epidemic in California. I understand the potential hardships these efforts are exacting on the population — my job is to give the medical and scientific evidence…if we take our foot off the throttle we will see negative results.”

Board Chair and District 3 Supervisor Merita Callaway queried the doctor about the return of tourism  lodging, adding that when it resumes it will indicate that Calaveras is inviting nonessential travel into the county. He maintained that reopening those businesses would also be based on local disease occurrences and impacts. “When the Stay At Home order is rescinded, we will have more local flexibility regarding recreational travel and activities.”

He noted come fall, school would be considered among the higher risk activities to hopefully resume. “Distancing, hand hygiene is harder in a school than an adult population.” School bus transportation, lunchtime and all the other related activities will require mitigation activities. “School is not going to look the same…it won’t be the same school environment as before.”