Benicia City Council free to meet electronically – Newsom issues new COVID-19 Brown Act Orders

Newsom Issues Three COVID-19 Brown Act Orders: Here’s What He Urgently Changed

Meyers Nave Law Firm, (from an email by Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson)

Governor Newsom recently signed three Executive Orders that changed fundamental limitations and requirements of the Brown Act. He signed Executive Order N-25-20 on March 12, Executive Order N-29-20 on March 17, and Executive Order N-35-20 on March 21. Before everyone had figured out the section of the March 12 order that addressed the Brown Act, parts of that section were withdrawn and superseded by the March 17 order and the remaining parts continued in the March 17 order. And then the March 21 order made more changes – all of which relate to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Executive Orders’ Brown Act changes are outlined below.

Join Our Webinar: Meyers Nave Principals Eric S. Casher and Richard D. Pio Roda will provide a webinar from 12:00-1:00 PM on March 31 to explain how the Executive Orders change the Brown Act. They will also share practical advice about how to implement the changes and conduct public meetings in the new COVID-19 environment. This webinar has been approved for 1 hour of MCLE credit by the State Bar of California. Meyers Nave, a Professional Law Corporation, is a MCLE licensed provider. PN #10416

Summary of Brown Act Changes

Executive Order N-29-20, March 17 (incorporates Executive Order N-25-20, March 12)

What’s the Big Change?
  • Waives certain requirements for teleconference meetings
  • Eliminates physical meeting location within the jurisdiction if there is a teleconference meeting
  • Simplifies notice and accessibility requirements
  • Waives numerous Brown Act requirements

N-29-20 allows local legislative or state bodies to hold public meetings via teleconference without having to provide a physical location from which members of the public may observe the meeting and offer public comment, as long as members of the public are allowed to observe and address the meeting telephonically or otherwise electronically, subject to specified notice and accessibility requirements.

Less Restrictive Teleconference Rules:
  • Physical presence of members of the legislative body or of the public are not required as a condition of participation in or quorum for a public meeting
  • Notice is not required of each teleconference location from which a member will be participating in a public meeting
  • Teleconference location does not have to be accessible to the public
  • The possibility of members of the public addressing the body at each teleconference conference location is not required
  • Agendas do not have to be posted at all teleconference locations
  • During teleconference meetings, at least a quorum of the members of the legislative body are not required to participate from locations within the boundaries of the territory over which the legislative body exercises jurisdiction
Notice and Accessibility Requirements:
  • Have and advertise (each time meeting notice is given) a procedure for receiving and swiftly resolving requests for a reasonable accommodation from individuals with disabilities, consistent with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • Provide advance notice of the time of, and post the agenda for, each public meeting according to the timeframes prescribed by the Brown Act. Include the means by which members of the public may observe the meeting and offer public comment.

Executive Order N-35-20, March 21

What’s the Big Change?
  • Allows serial or simultaneous updates about a declared emergency
  • Allows members of legislative body to ask questions during updates
  • Allows updates and questions without the public’s access or attendance

N-35-20 allows all members of a legislative body to receive updates (“including, but not limited to, simultaneous updates”) from federal, state and local officials relevant to the declared emergency (“including, but not limited to, updates concerning the impacts of COVID-19, the government response to COVID-19, and other aspects relevant to the declared emergency”).

What’s Allowed:

Members may ask questions of those federal, state and local officials who provide the updates in order to stay apprised of emergency operations and the impact the emergency has on their constituents.

What’s Not Allowed:

Members may not take action on, or discuss amongst themselves, any item of business that is within the subject matter jurisdiction of the legislative body without complying with otherwise-applicable requirements of the Brown Act.

Of Note:

Executive Order N-35-20 states that members of a legislative body may “receive updates” and “ask questions,” but they may not “discuss amongst themselves” nor may they “take action.” While the meaning of taking action is clear, when receiving updates members should be cautious not to discuss information, especially the answers to the questions that they ask. If the topic of a question feels like it will lead to a topic of a discussion then the communication should be deferred to a future Brown Act compliant meeting. Questions that only clarify are likely to be the most appropriate questions. While the update does not have to be brief, it should be conducted similar to a traditional press briefing or task force briefing, which are typically designed only to inform or educate.

Public health nurse reflects on treating coronavirus patients in their homes

Public health nurse first to test Solano residents from Travis

By Todd R. Hansen, Daily Republic, March 29, 2020
Public Health Nurse Rodney Butterfield shows how to put on protective gear when testing patients for Covid-19 during a Solano Public Health Practical Skills Training-Outbreaks and Infection Control session at the Solano County Events Center in Fairfield, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Daily Republic)

FAIRFIELD — Rodney Butterfield was not new to infectious diseases.

“As nurses, you frequently enter a space where a patient has an infectious disease,” said Butterfield, a 14-year veteran in the nursing profession, the past two as a registered nurse in the Solano County Public Health division. “But this was a little different.”

He volunteered to help test and track the health progress of four Solano County residents at their homes: three who had been released into Public Health care from Travis Air Force Base and one who is believed to have contracted the Covid-19 disease through a community contact.

Public Health Nurse Rodney Butterfield demonstrates proper technique for adorning protective gloves before testing patients for Covid-19 during a Solano Public Health Practical Skills Training-Outbreaks and Infection Control session at the Solano County Events Center in Fairfield, Tuesday, March 24, 2020. (Aaron Rosenblatt/Daily Republic)

Butterfield said the coronavirus was new to everyone – medical professionals and members of the public alike. There was very little information about it, and not all the information was correct, or it was changing so rapidly that even the medical profession struggled to keep up.

He said even today physicians are calling the Public Health office to make sense of the sometimes conflicting information, and there are frequent updates on how the virus can be transmitted.

The primary way, however, remains person-to-person, so health officials continue to emphasize the need to wash hands, keep a healthy distance from other people and to keep your environments clean and sanitized.

Even worse at the beginning, Butterfield noted, everyone who seemed to be getting Covid-19 were dying, if the scattered media reports were to be believed.

“So, yeah, it was a little scary because everything I’ve dealt with in the past was known,” Butterfield said. “It put you on a red alert to be cautious with all you did.”

But as cautious as the situation made Butterfield, he said his clients were truly scared.

“They were frightened. . . . At the time, they didn’t know anything about (the novel coronavirus). We didn’t know anything about it,” Butterfield said.

To make matters worse, and the isolation even more severe, neighbors were also uncertain and did not necessarily react with a sense of understanding or kindness.

“I don’t know what the neighbors said, but my clients felt ostracized,” Butterfield said.

“The question that was most penetrating for us was, ‘What is going to happen to us?’ ” Butterfield said of his clients’ concerns.

It was a question that had far-reaching effects, from the immediacy of their health to their families to what the future would be like for them.

Butterfield, who was a construction contractor in Utah in his first life and started his second career as a licensed vocational nurse in correctional facilities, said his four clients have recovered, and he has talked to two of them since.

“They were just thrilled that they were past this thing,” Butterfield said. “I think what they were thankful for the most was I was giving them the most updated information available.”

Butterfield has now returned to his normal duties, though he still fields calls about the new coronavirus. Many are from individuals who are concerned for their health because the companies they work for have not shut down or made any attempt to adhere to social guidelines.

Butterfield said the experience has made him wonder if he should have gone into research, because it will be researchers who find the ultimate cure.

“I just hope next year we will all be getting vaccinated for this,” Butterfield said.

Most people who have the new coronavirus experience only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. Some people, especially older adults and those with underlying health problems, experience more severe illness such as pneumonia, or death.

The vast majority of people recover. The World Health Organization reports people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Access, transparency lacking in media coverage of coronavirus

Editor: Note reference to relaxation of HIPAA restrictions, perhaps significant here in Solano County.  – R.S.

The scariest aspects of the coronavirus are what we can’t see on TV

By Brian Stelter, CNN Business, Host on Reliable Sources, March 26, 2020

We see the daily counts of coronavirus cases and deaths; the long lines for tests; and the White House briefings where the president pretends the situation is not dire.

But we’re not able to see inside the emergency rooms and intensive care units where this invisible demon is being fought.

We’re not able to see the front lines. Or the full extent of the human suffering. We only hear about the battle through the testimonies of doctors and nurses; though the pleas of governors and mayors; and through interviews with patients who are well enough to call in via Skype.

Does this distort the public’s understanding of the virus? Does the lack of visibility make it hard for some folks to process how serious this pandemic is? I asked Esther Choo, emergency physician and health care advocate who started the #GetMePPE hashtag last week.

Yes, she said via text, “this whole thing has been hampered by its abstractness. I mean, half the interviews on TV that I’ve seen are totally well people pissed they didn’t get tested.” But they’re not the real faces of this pandemic — the hospitalized patients are. “The truth is, the sickest patients are terrifying,” Choo said. “They are air hungry, dropping their oxygen, confused, distressed. We can never show that. But it is terrifying.”

Choo put it this way: “What would the zombie apocalypse be like if we only had verbal descriptions of zombies, but could never show them?”

HIPAA restrictions and media ethics issues both stand in the way of having cameras in hospital corridors. So this crisis challenges reporters to get creative…

Painting ugly pictures with words

This graf of a must-read NYT story about the surge at NYC hospitals is the closest we can come to seeing inside the ER: “Rikki Lane, a doctor who has worked at Elmhurst for more than 20 years, said the hospital had handled ‘the first wave of this tsunami.’ She compared the scene in the emergency department with an overcrowded parking garage where physicians must move patients in and out of spots to access other patients blocked by stretchers.”

“Tomorrow will be worse”

Meredith Case, an internal medicine resident at Columbia, took to Twitter on Wednesday because she said the press “does not reflect our reality.” The deluge of patients “is here,” she wrote in the morning. “Our ICU is completely full with intubated COVID patients.” At night she signed off with this: “Today was the worst day anyone has ever seen, but tomorrow will be worse. We are on the precipice of rationing. Needless to say, these decisions run counter to everything we stand for and are incredibly painful…”

? Via the NYPost: “A stunning photo shared on social media shows three nurses at Mount Sinai West posing in a hallway while clad in large, black plastic trash bags fashioned into makeshift protective garb…”

? In Louisiana: “Number, rate of hospitalized patients also up…”

? In Michigan: Hospitals are “nearing capacity…”

New York (CNN Business) A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.