On Friday, July 17, MendoFever had a Zoom interview with Mendocino County CEO Carmel Angelo, County Executive Office Public Information Officer Sarah Dukett, and Manager of the Department Operations Center Bekkie Emery about the state COVID-19 in the county. Topics included surge capacity, the county’s rapid rise in cases, and how Mendocino County can work towards ending the pandemic.
[Note: There is a lot of information in this interview. We will highlight in blue any particularly important responses]
Around 2 minutes
Question: What resources does our county have or have access to if Mendocino County’s case numbers start pushing up against our local hospital’s surge capacity?
- CEO Angelo says: We have been preparing for this surge in cases since January. Dr. Doohan has been working on our plans since the Fall. Because of our slow progression of cases, we have had more time to train our staff, get more contact tracers, and increase testing capacity. The only difference between COVID-19 and a wildfire is you can see a wildfire. You can have all of California and Nevada’s firefighters, but if that wildfire is so large it might not be able to be contained. No matter how prepared we are, we have a surge, uncontrolled community spread, and we have no idea how large the surge is going to get. We have called for mutual aid from the state, which implies we do not have the resources to cover all of our needs. Today, we have over 20 contact tracers trained (they are not working all at one time). We have three requests from the state for mutual aide including: more contact tracers, staff to help with the alternate care site, and other staff for community partners. Overall, we have been preparing for this for months. Are we prepared? We’re prepared? Will we have enough resources? We do not know because we do not know how big this surge will get.
Around 6 minutes
Question: Bekkie, what is your role in the Department Operations Center?
- DOC Manager Emery says: I oversee all of our responses to the COVID-19 pandemic including surveillance testing, contact tracing, case investigation, and managing individuals in isolation and quarantine. I’m overseeing our response to COVID-19 in Mendocino County under direction of CEO Angelo and our Public Health Officer.
Around 6:30 Minutes
Question: Knowing that recently a Ukiah business went public with a positive COVID-19 case amongst their staff, what steps do both the County and Public Health take to verify the business is now safe for the public to patronize? Knowing that surveillance testing is part of the process and the current turn around time in OptumServe’s testing results is approximately 7-10 days, what steps other than relying on testing can be taken to ensure staff members who return to a business are not infected?
- DOC Manager Emery says: When we have someone who has tested positive, our case investigators seek to determine who that person has been in close contact with (meaning within 6 feet for longer than 10 minutes). Once we’ve identified those individuals, the positive individual is put into isolation and close contacts are required to be in quarantine for 14 days (that is the incubation period of this virus). When there is an outbreak in a business setting, we review scheduling and the physical proximity of staff members to each other to determine who and who is not a close contact. It’s not necessarily every employee in a business that requires quarantine, it depends on their proximity of the positive case. Also, local businesses with outbreaks sanitize thoroughly afterwards.
- CEO Angelo says: This is a high profile business. This is the one business that I actually walk into. I think the business responded quickly to their one employee having a positive test. The challenge of sending their employees to the OptumServe testing site, I do no know where else they could have sent them. That is a challenge we all share. From the County’s understanding, the business did all they could. Short of closing down for two weeks to wait till everyone body gets tested, they did not have to do that. From a public health stand point, the only requirement is the infected staff member and close contacts will not return to the facility after the incubation period. At this point, we are not aware of a risk to the public’s health more so than going in any other store in this county.
Around 14 minutes
Question: What are the circumstances in which a local business has cases of COVID-19 amongst its staff that Public Health feels a need to make a public announcement about that business and the danger it presents to the community?
- CEO Angelo says: Coming out of Public Health in a large county before I came to Mendocino County, outing a business is the practice. Public Health’s number one priority is keeping the public safe. We can use this Ukiah business as an example. If this business had a positive employee and they did not disclose this to staff or the public, we would have been compelled to intervene with the business’s handling of the outbreak and inform the public of the danger the business represents to them. Mendocino County businesses have done well publicly disclosing when they have a positive case in their business. If a business chooses not to go public regarding a positive case amongst their staff, we will go public for them. If the county goes public, we will not have to close them down because the public won’t go there. I would say we have had very responsible business owners in Mendocino County.
Around 18 minutes
Question: What are some of the common questions or myths you have seen amongst Mendocino County residents that you would like to address?
- PIO Dukett says: One of the biggest myths we need to bust is there are no gatherings. We have our stable groups, your family unit, your close 6 people. People think you can still have a backyard bbq with 10 people, or have a picnic at the beach with a dozen people. We are seeing the biggest rise in cases amongst the under 35 population. We still have a ban on all gatherings and you have to take your stable bubble seriously. There also tends to be confusion regarding masks. Wearing masks in the public is absolutely required.
Around 20 minutes
Follow up question: I have heard workers express fear in asking patrons to wear masks out of fear they could be sued for going against ADA law. Is that a legally sounds concern?
- PIO Dukett says: Based on the state and local order, if you are over the age of two you need to wear a mask. The exceptions are for those that are deaf or you have a medical condition that exempts you from wearing it. We also put in the order, if you cannot wear a mask, wear a face-shield. We have seen some businesses say that you cannot come in without a mask, similar to the “no shoes, no shirt” policy. I’ve been encouraging people to not patronize businesses that are not enforcing the mask requirement. Residents can also call the COVID-19 call center to report any businesses that are not requiring masking.
Around 22 minutes
Question: It was announced last COVID-19 update that the county is interviewing and vetting a potential new Public Health Officer. Are there any updates to that process?
- CEO Angelo says: On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will go into closed session to interview the potential Public Health Officer. The candidate is a long-standing, well-known, local physician. He has good experience and is interested in a full-time permanent position. We have had good physicians interested in the position but unfortunately their schedules do no permit them to work full-time and be on call 24/7. The current candidate has the ability to work full-time and be present with us. The Board will meet with board on Tuesday to review their resume, application, and conduct an interview. I am hopeful the Board will take steps to hire the right candidate. Dr. Doohan has done an exemplary job but we know she was in the process of relocating her life to Southern California when she started to working with us. She has not abandoned us and stayed with us through this process. There comes a time when she has to move on to her new life and Mendocino County will have to go on without her. We have had more than one good physician apply for this position and what it comes down to is full-time availability 24/7. Dr. Doohan has been available, I can call her anytime in the day or night.
Around 25 minutes
Question: What is one thing you want Mendocino County residents to know, to put into action, to help our county get through this pandemic?
- CEO Angelo says: Wear your mask. I believe that if for 60 days we can wear a mask and socially distance, we can flatten this curve. We are in the beginning of a tremendous surge. When you think overnight we have people in the hospital, 10+ cases everyday, this is the surge that could overtake this community. Wear your mask, do not go to any parties, no gatherings.
- DOC Manager Emery says: I would encourage people to be washing your hands regularly and when you cannot, use hand sanitizer. The virus could be on the card machines at the store, the grocery carts, the door handles were opening. Please make sure you are washing your hands more regularly than they have been.
- PIO Dukett says: Every single resident can make a difference: wear your mask, wash your hands, staying home when you are sick, socially distancing, no parties or gatherings. If we can just keep doing this, we can flatten the curve. This is not a disaster that goes away immediately. We have to be vigilant to protect ourselves and the community.