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Tuolumne Supes Hold Special Meeting Over COVID-19 Recovery

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Sonora, CA – The Tuolumne supervisors continue pressing for more latitude towards opening some businesses at higher-risk for COVID-19 spread, addressed camping, and passed a carefully crafted resolution.

At Tuesday’s special session, which began at 11 a.m., Interim Public Health Officer Dr. Liza Ortiz provided the latest data and concerns. While California has now logged almost 70,000 confirmed COVID cases with about reported 2,800 deaths and 900,090 tests there are still two resident and two visitor cases in the county, no deaths and no evidence yet of community transmission.

Overall, the current state numbers are being influenced by the sharp rise in southern California, particularly in Los Angeles County, she pointed out, adding that regionally she is concerned about case increases in Stanislaus and San Joaquin counties, to and from, as non-residents and locals are continuing to travel.

Ortiz, who submitted the county’s attestation documents last night, indicated that once vetted by the state and posted online, it would be followed up with a revised order from her office detailing what additional and specific rules would be loosening. She noted that the state is looking very carefully at the ability to manage case numbers, do contact tracing, and get PPE in nursing homes and hospitals.

Expanded business operations allow for the opening of offices, in-store retail, childcare for anyone who works for businesses allowed to be open along with supportive logistics and manufacturing sectors. Outdoor museums and open gallery spaces are also among those listed. Ortiz noted that pet grooming, tanning facilities, car washes, and landscape gardening are among businesses slated to next open after the county’s attestation document is posted. Once the state posts guidance on seated restaurants, there will be the ability for dine-in services to begin.

“We are continuing to advocate for further local control to go beyond that,” she assured the board. She also noted that some of these now Stage 2 listed businesses just last week were in Stage 3 until the state changed the roadmap, allowing attestation from areas with low case numbers who are ready to move forward.

“The state gives local discretion to go through Stage 2 relatively slowly…we have attested that given our situation, we feel fine moving all the way forward as soon as we are allowed,” she stated. She explained that as state guidance is constantly evolving, including for attesting, her office will continue attesting as often as possible, provided that the county meets the criteria and her office feels confident from a Public Health perspective that there are sufficient testing materials.

Controlled Reopening Through Careful Mitigation, Compliance

Supervisor Karl Rodefer brought up that one county – Shasta – already had its attestation revoked after holding a rodeo. “Our goal is to come out of the Stay At home order in a controlled manner such that we can continue to mitigate the spread of the virus and obviously continue to comply with the state guidelines and orders — and I would encourage our public to support us as we go through this process because obviously we would not want to see that happening in our county.”

Supervisor John Gray voiced concerns over emails from residents urging the board to go “rogue.” While understandable, given many folks’ impatience, the county would be liable. Asked for her perspective, CAO Tracie Riggs brought up the matter of a letter sent to three counties who broke with the state order and received a letter from CAL OES essentially letting them know they were putting their own residents at risk as well as others.

Too, she added, “If you don’t follow the orders you could not be eligible for state funding under the emergency – negligence does not make you eligible for emergency funding, and we have been advocating for funding to back-fill lost revenue.”

After providing staff direction the supervisors went on to discuss and then pass unanimously a resolution requesting that the state allow local jurisdictions within the county more flexibility in developing mitigation plans for some Stage 3 businesses to open as long as appropriate mitigation measures could be established and maintained so they operate at a similar lower-risk level as those in Stage 2. The resolution’s tone was purposefully collaborative and
respectful, indicating a continuing need for partnership, guidance, and assistance.

Among those listed were rural recreational facilities, religious sanctuaries, salons, and libraries. The resolution cited the positive impacts many of these have on residents’ physiological and emotional health as well as bringing further gains to the county’s fiscal health. Quite a bit of discussion was devoted to camping versus lodging. Board Chair Sherri Brennan referred to a Fresno media report of parks and campgrounds reopening, pointing out that most of Tuolumne County’s camping was on federal lands. Rodefer opined that camping was more like overnight recreation and essentially different.

A few hours after the meeting Riggs sent Clarke Broadcasting a letter acknowledging that county officials are continuing to receive an inordinate amount of emails these last few days about opening up camping and a call she and Brennan would be on with state officials to revisit outdoor recreation.

She wrote, “While most have been specific to Kennedy Meadows, some are more generally related to camping, summer camps, and cabins. We just want to reiterate that the Governor and the State Public Health Officer are making the decisions of what will open and when it will open. The COVID-19 website has the Resilience Roadmap guidelines as issued by the California Dept. of Public Health (CDPH), which specifically calls out hotels/lodging for leisure and tourism as non-essential. These types of activities/services are also not permitted in early or expanded Stage 2.”

She continued, “Our local Health Public Officer, Dr. Liza Ortiz, simply does not have the authority to move beyond the Governor’s Executive Order and the CA Public Health Officer directives. We understand the sensitivities and we are advocating the Governor and CDPH to allow these types of decisions to be made at the local level. We do believe the Governor and State Public Health Officer are taking all of the information in and trying to make the best decisions possible.”

Riggs emphasized, “It is important to note that while some feel camping and cabins are safer than hotels, others feel hotels are safer than camping and cabins. We also realize that one decision does not always provide the best opportunity to move forward for all businesses. The Board of Supervisors and county staff are working daily to push through the current health emergency while trying to ensure the safety and well-being of everyone involved.”

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