On Friday, August 12, 2020, Mendocino County Public Health Officer Dr. Noemi Doohan held a virtual press conference providing an update on the state of COVID-19 in Mendocino County. Redheaded Blackbelt and other local media asked questions about these and other concerns.
[Note: There is a lot of information in this press conference. [We will highlight in blue any particularly important responses]
Opening remarks from Dr. Noemi Doohan
Public Health Officer Dr. Noemi Doohan
- We’ve been having challenges with COVID-19 data coming to the county. The number of cases in Mendocino County is 584. The state monitoring website lists us as 487 cases. The state is about 100 cases behind us. The state monitoring shows a total of 10 deaths in the county. As of today, we have 15 deaths. Three of those deaths were patients at Ukiah’s Adventist Health Hospital. One of the deaths occurred at Sherwood Oaks Nursing home. The other was transferred to an out-of-county hospital. The doubling time for the county is approximately 23 days. The state has 28 days. The number of cases per 100,000 in 14 days that the state is recognizing is 183 cases. When counties go above 100 cases/100,000 people, a county is added to the watchlist. When counties go above 200 cases/100,000, schools can no longer open through the waiver process. We are close to the breakpoint that would not allow schools to reopen.
- The state announced on Sunday that Mendocino County would be placed on the retroactively when the state’s number finally caught up with the local numbers. The state looked back and recognized our number qualified the county for the watchlist on July 25. This means that schools are not allowed to open and need to go through a waiver process. We had to scramble this week to get that waiver process in place. I had been telling the schools. If you’re not on the watchlist, you do not have to complete the waiver, since we’re not on the watchlist, you can open. When we got this news this week, suddenly, the waiver process was required. With the assistance of local schools, Supervisor Ted Williams, incoming Public Health Officer Dr. Andy Coren, we have submitted waivers for 10 Mendocino County Schools: Montessori Del Mar, Deep Valley Christian, Mendocino Unified, St. Mary’s Catholic, Ukiah Junior Academy, Willits Unified, Waldorf of Mendocino County, Jose Sanchez Del Rio Catholic School, Pacific Community Charter, and Ukiah Unified School. This does not mean those schools are opening for full in-person opening. What is allowed is only to open up to grade 6. When a county is on the watchlist, it is not permitted for seventh grade and above to reopen for in-person learning. Seventh and above must engage in distance learning because the county is on the watchlist.
- In the light of recent fires, we’ve had to consider local lodging for evacuees. COVID-19 regulations required local lodging to reserve 25% of their rooms for potential quarantine/isolation housing. I have waived those requirements for fire evacuees. We are also preparing congregate shelters for Mendocino County.
- The Sherwood Oaks outbreak seems to have been effectively contained. Ukiah Post Acute, a skilled nursing facility, had six staff members who had COVID. All six picked up the virus outside of work. When we define something as a workplace outbreak, that means the virus is transmitted at the workplace from one person to another while working. When that happens, we can ask for the state to assist in those circumstances. There has been another outbreak that we are responding to that I cannot speak publicly about. It looks as if that has been contained, and the state is coming to provide support on Tuesday.
Around 16 minutes
MendoFever asks: There are reports that evacuees from the Sonoma County fires are heading north to seek refuge. Why sort of issues do you see manifesting with the convergence of evacuations and Mendocino County’s COVID-19 concerns? What best practices would you suggest to municipalities and individuals who are hosting these evacuees?
- Dr. Noemi Doohan says: As stated, requirements of limiting lodging have been eliminated to open up more shelter for evacuees.
- DOC Manager Bekkie Emery says: We have been evaluating all of the needs in the county to ensure we can respond to the fire victims and the realities of COVID-19. We’ve been implementing screening protocols, and we’ve opened up an alternative care site for individuals that need shelter and have tested positive for COVID. Additionally, we’re looking at spacing, cleaning schedules, showering schedules, meals/eating schedules, in the shelter to do everything we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19 within a shelter. We are preparing for everything we need to do to keep our community safe such as bolstering our stocks of hand sanitizer, gloves, masks, PPEs for staff.
MendoFever asks: There is a recurrent narrative that Mendocino County’s cases are driven by tourism. Please speak to this narrative. Is it accurate? Why or why not?
- Dr. Noemi Doohan says: We just don’t know. We don’t test tourists. Because they’re coming from an outside county, we don’t get their results. We can only presume that people coming to Mendocino County from other counties might not be wearing facial coverings to the extent we would like them to. They could be interacting with others outside of their homes. We just don’t have the data. I don’t know if we ever will. For those areas of the county with tourists, look around and see if visitors comply with facial covering and social distancing orders. From what I’ve heard from the lodging industry, there is no evidence tourists are spreading the virus within the lodging.
Around 21 minutes
KZYX’s Sarah Reith asks: It sounds like the alternate care site on Whitmore Lane is considered an alternative evacuation site. What are other sites being considered for evacuations?
- DOC Manager Bekkie Emery says: We are looking at that care site for individuals who are COVID-19 positive or in quarantine/isolation already identified by Sonoma County. For our fire shelter sites, we work with schools such as Mendocino Community College. We have worked with Ukiah High School, Willits High School, Fort Bragg, and Round Valley High Schools. We continue to work with these partners, confirming their availability. We would implement screening for any evacuees to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Reith followed up: Are we at risk of losing our Optum-Serve testing site if the fairgrounds need to be utilized for evacuation?
- DOC Manager Bekkie Emery says: I don’t feel like we are looking at that facility for evacuations, and our partnership with the fairgrounds is strong. Our goal is to continue with that availability.
Around 24 minutes
KZYX’s Sarah Reith asks: My question refers to a letter that was going to be sent by the Board of Supervisors to the state regarding opening up sectors of the economy such as salons, pedicurists, and personal care professionals. That letter was not sent because of confusion with the watchlist. I wondered if there has been more dialogue with the state to determine why some sectors have been shut down if cases have not been traced to those professions?
- Deputy Chief Executive Officer Sarah Dukett says: Supervisor John Haschek and Ted Williams did finish that letter and sent it to the governor today.
- Dr. Noemi Doohan says: The first cast of community transmission in the State of California was from a nail salon, which might be the origin of why the beauty sector is seen as a high-risk business. Also, when you think of the nature of having someone work closely towards your face or hands, it’s higher risk exposure. There is a concern by health officers across the state that the watchlist sectors are not equal and should not be closed all at the same time. The governor has made it clear; all of those higher-risk businesses need to do their businesses outside. I put those orders into place before Mendocino County was on the watchlist. We are retaining local control of those sectors. There is a discussion amongst health officers of a sector-by-sector approach to reopening. The governor is going to make announcements regarding this approach next week.
Reith follows up with: I’m wondering if there are going to be more efforts to provide the public with how cases were transmitted so we can determine what is safe and what is not?
- Dr. Noemi Doohan says: When there is an outbreak associated with a place or a group of people, Public Health would respond. There are currently no outbreaks happening that you the public are not aware of. You should not be worried about going into a local business because we have no outbreaks at this time. We see it spread within gatherings (household or parties). As fire is breaking out across the state and firefighters are rushing to contain those fires and resources get spread, that’s a good analogy to what Mendocino County is dealing with regarding COVID. Individuals need to react themselves. If you know you attended an outbreak where someone was sick, tell other guests about it, and quarantine yourself. This is very helpful to public health.
Around 31 minutes
Mendocino Voice’s Adrian Baumann asks: Regarding the death of the individual at Sherwood Oaks: Dr. Cottle said the death was COVID related. The individual recovered from COVID associated pneumonia and then passed from a preexisting heart condition. In the official county statistics, it is counted as a COVID-19 death. I wanted to allow you to unpack those definitions and explain them clearly.
- Dr. Noemi Doohan says: In Mendocino County if someone is sick with COVID and passes away, we call it a COVID-related death. We’re not splitting hairs. Someone might acutely die of COVID such as going to the hospital, sick with pneumonia, test positive for COVID, pass away in the hospital, and never go home. COVID caused the death. There are circumstances where patients go home or go to a skilled nursing facility but then die later, and we’re still calling that a COVID death. When people have been sick, and their health is undermined by the virus but then pass from the heart attack, the virus weakens them. There are other circumstances, such as a pregnant woman coming into the hospital to give birth. She is not sick with COVID symptoms, gives birth, and dies of issues related to childbirth. I would not call that a COVID related death because the COVID didn’t make her sick. Mendocino County’s cases were all clearly associated with COVID.
Baumann follows up with: You would distinguish between people who had COVID and died incidentally and those who died in from the illness itself?
- Dr. Noemi Doohan says: That is what I’m doing. To be clear, if someone is asymptomatic, and they were hit by a car and died, I would not call that a COVID death.
Around 34 minutes
Mendocino Voice’s Adrian Baumann asks: My question is about the general appraisal of the situation. The number of daily cases has dropped from 20 to 4 or 5 in the last few days. Do we see the curve flattening? Is that another data artifact, some random fluctuation?
- Dr. Noemi Doohan says: I think it is a data artifact. Our average number of cases the last 14 days was 12 cases per day. Our average is solidly 12. One month ago, we were at 100/100,000, and now we’re at 200/100,000 cases. Clearly, we’re still going up.
Baumann follows up with: So you’re saying the doubling time has increased? Is that a good thing?
- Dr. Noemi Doohan says: I think you’re looking for silver linings. I believe data is coming in fits and spurts due to the state’s and laboratory data lags. The state predicts Mendocino County will hit our peak in Labor Day and I think we may hit our peak in September.
Al Punto is a Spanish publication, and county translator George Verástegui provided translation services.
Around 37 minutes
Al Punto’s Jackeline Orozco asks: What is the process of taking the COVID-19 test? Who do they call for an appointment in the following scenarios: if they have been in contact with a person who tested positive, if a person has symptoms, if a person has no symptoms.
- Dr. Doohan says: In a close contact scenario, stay home in quarantine for 14 days and participate in surveillance testing after the isolation period. If the person tells us I quarantined for 14 days after contacting someone positive with COVID-19, Public Health would decide their length of isolation with them. If they have symptoms of COVID, we want them to reach out to a health care provider to get instruction, or if they’re very sick, go directly to an emergency department to receive care. In the third circumstance (a person who has no close contacts or symptoms), they should participate in surveillance testing at our Optum-Serve testing facilities and appointments can be made by calling 1-888-634-1123.
Around 43 minutes
Al Punto’s Jackeline Orozco asks: What is the cost of getting tested for the virus?
- Dr. Doohan says: It depends on the clinic, but in general, there is no cost for COVID-19 testing.
Around 44 minutes
Al Punto’s Jackeline Orozco asks: According to reports, one of the leading causes of infections is gatherings or parties. What steps are being taken to encourage people to not hold these types of events, when the COVID-19 call center is closed on the weekends, the time most of these gatherings are being held?
- Deputy Chief Executive Officer Sarah Dukett says: We do have the special investigations units that take calls and emails.
- DOC Manager Bekkie Emery says: While our call center not staffed seven days/week, the public can call 707-234-6052 reporting for gatherings all days of the week.
Mendocino County Residents provided questions via social media that officials responded to live:
Around 46 minutes
Public Question: Where is the new health officer?
- Dr. Doohan says: He is here with us now. He has been working hard on the school reopening plans and healthcare facility outbreaks. He and I speak regularly and in communications.
- Dr. Andy Coren says: I will be joining the health department on Monday. Your participation in the media is welcome and I look forward to participating and want to do my part in this pandemic.
Around 48 minutes
Public Question: What is our daily testing capacity and what is our average daily testing over the last couple weeks?
- Dr. Doohan says: The average tests/day is 303.
Around 49 minutes
Public Question: How many people are currently in quarantine?
- Dr. Doohan says: My information says we currently have 86 people in isolation. We have 257 people in quarantine.
Around 50 minutes
Public Question: How long is the delay now between testing and receiving results.
- Dr. Doohan says: It depends on where you’re getting the testing. Labs like Quest and LabCorp have been taking up to two weeks. If you get tested at the hospital and some of our clinics, they have a one day turnaround time. UCSF surveillance testing has had delays. Outbreak testing has a turnaround time of 72 hours.
- DOC Manager Bekkie Emery says: Right now, Optum-Serve testing takes approximately 3-5 days to receive results. UCSF has approximately 4-5 day turn-around times.
Around 52 minutes
Public Question: Can you please clarify the quarantine requirements for close contacts of people who are being tested for COVID that are displaying symptoms and awaiting results?
- Dr. Doohan says: Quarantine is for people who are not sick. Isolation is for people who tested positive or have symptoms. If you are a close contact of a COVID case (closer than 6 feet for more than 10 minutes), you should be quarantined for 14 days away from other people. If you become sick during that time, reach out to your health care provider.
Around 53 minutes
Public Question: There are reports of individuals receiving letters claiming an individual tested positive having never received a test
- Dr. Doohan says: If somebody got a letter like this, I would suggest calling whoever sent that letter.
- DOC Manager Bekkie Emery says: I would encourage any resident who experiences that to contact Mendocino County COVID-19’s call center and inform them of the circumstance. The DOC would also like a copy of that to substantiate any information.
Around 54 minutes
Public Question: Dr. Doohan, what are your thoughts on testing strategies being put forth that advocate for quicker, cheaper, less sensitive testing that might actually help get ahead of the transmission of the virus.
- Dr. Doohan says: I could see the benefit because that approach allows communities to see where the virus is but difficult for individuals because the results are not as sensitive. This is most likely the antigen, point of care testing similar to rapid screening flu or strep throat tests. The problem is these tests can be inaccurate. The ideal would be rapid, point of care tests that people can do in their homes. This would be extremely helpful for teachers and schools.
Public Question: What are the next steps moving forward? How can we get through this quicker?
- Dr. Doohan says: Residents need to follow quarantine and isolation protocols. If residents sit back and say, “I’m not going to do anything till Public Health contacts me” they risk spreading the virus. If you have been in contact with a positive case, do not wait to be contacted. Proactively engage in isolation/quarantine.
Public Question: There is currently a Spanish-language meme on local social media claiming asymptomatic people are not infections but are spreading anti-bodies. Can you speak to this?
- Dr. Doohan says: That is untrue. There are asymptomatic individuals that never get sick. There are presymptomatic individuals that have COVID that don’t get sick till farther along in their infection and are very infections 48 hours before symptoms manifest. Antibodies are only gained by the person themselves who get COVID. You cannot share antibodies with other people.