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Calaveras Supes Decline To Be The First To End Local COVID-19 Emergency

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San Andreas, CA – A controversial agenda discussion as to whether Calaveras County should lift its local COVID-19 emergency led to thoughtful talk on growing frustrations over the state order.

District 4 Supervisor Dennis Mills addressed concerns that bringing the topic to Tuesday’s agenda might be seen as political, pointing out that he no longer had any “political skin in the game.” Mills, who lost his bid for reelection to Amanda Folendorf, a current Angels Camp councilmember, and former mayor, will be leaving his post at the end of December.

Mills maintained that the board is expected to be an integral part of the process and would at some point have to terminate the emergency once it was past. He argued that the county has not seen anywhere near the number of coronavirus cases that were originally estimated when the local emergency went into effect back in March.

He pointed out that none of the 30 beds at the overflow facility set up at Calaveras High had been used. He also questioned the testing, calling it reactive when it should be done more randomly, and further opined that there was no evidence of community spread. “Our local system is not overwhelmed. We are not in a state of emergency as defined by state law,” Mills stated.

When asked to weigh in, OES Director John Osbourn reported that the county had already spent over $600,000 in received funding, and costs such as for PPE and specific programs moving forward were contingent on following the state’s emergency order.

No County Has Yet Repealed Its Local Emergency

While the new testing site set to open this Friday at Calaveras County Fairgrounds is operated in part by the state, County Public Health Officer Dr. Dean Kelaita noted it was a joint activity. He stated, “Repealing the local health declaration of emergency blows a hole to our ability to get reimbursed for our own local activities being used to prepare and help operate the site.” He stressed, “The federal and state emergencies are still in effect. No county in California has repealed its local health emergency. That‘s the most important part of this.”

The doctor maintained, “Aside from the funding and reimbursement issues, a local declaration of a health emergency sends a message to the residents of Calaveras County that we take their health and safety seriously and that we are in charge of our own destiny.” He added. “Most emergency responses in the United States are not meant to be a top-down thing but rather they are a bottom-up thing. It is local authorities that are the first line of defense. They filter up to governors and state governments…then to the national government, which coordinates the largest efforts.”

In finishing, he said, “So like I said, no counties in California have rescinded their local health emergency. I have yet to hear a medical or public health argument for why terminating…is a good idea in the middle of a pandemic. I don’t support it.”

District 5 Supervisor Benjamin Stopper noted, “We still have not received all Butte Fire funding promised…we would put ourselves further in the hole if we terminate the order at this time.” He later went on to express his frustrations at county services not being more readily available.

CAO Al Alt reported that staff was planning for the reopening of many services under health protocols that would protect workers and residents with an updated operational plan slated for the board’s preview around June 15. Stopper also argued for the board to consider how the supervisors could all return to the dais for in-person meetings, which District 1 Supervisor Gary Tofanelli echoed. District 3 Supervisor and Board Chair Merita Callaway commented that there are still considerations to get past such as determining how the board can maintain sufficient distancing in the chambers.

Staying The Course, Albeit With Frustrations 

A letter from a local doctor to stay the course and not undo all the progress residents have made by staying at home was read into the record after which four callers expressed various concerns with not opening up more fully if not completely now.

District 2 Supervisor Jack Garamendi acknowledged, “I am as frustrated by staying home like everybody else. Is it pragmatic? The rules are changing every week. I think we have to be practical…we have several disasters online…a lot to lose and the state has a big hammer over us.”

He added, “I think We have to realize we are a small county. We should never be poking someone in the eye, be it the federal or state government when we have our hand out. And that is exactly what we are doing…I think if we just stay the course we are going to evolve out of this and we will get reimbursed.”

Asked for his final say, Mills maintained there was no case for the emergency, and that if keeping it in place was solely for the considerations of maintaining funding or getting reimbursed, “it is a sad way to fly.”

Before closing comments and getting no response for a motion to consider ending the local emergency, Callaway summed up her take. “I feel financial and other risks – the county is not ready to open for business as usual.”