In my April 23 post, “Headlines in search of stories…” I raised 10 significant coronavirus issues worthy of further inquiry and reporting here in Benicia & Solano County.
Noting that the Benicia Independent is a one-person enterprise, dependent on the wider community for rigorous investigative reporting, I wrote, “…here is my list of headlines in search of stories. Please. Someone out there – get on the phone or otherwise track down the information that the public needs to know.”
Wouldn’t you know, our intrepid Benicia Mayor Elizabeth Patterson forwarded my list of concerns and questions to Solano County Health Officer Dr. Bela Matyas, and many of my concerns were evidently addressed in the County’s weekly phone call with City staff and mayors.
Mayor Patterson followed up with an email to me. I share it here with the Mayor’s permission, as a contribution to understanding the current status of Benicia and Solano County as we move through our collective efforts to control and deal with this historic health crisis.
From: Elizabeth Patterson
Sent: Friday, April 24, 2020 4:32 PM
To: Roger Straw
Subject: Fwd: Questions being asked by Benicia Independent
I learned a few things today at the city officials’ call with Solano County staff:
There is one nursing home with tested and confirmed COVID-19 cases (tested because of symptoms). All of these cases to date are not threatening – which of course could change. All cases have been traced. The state keeps the data base for nursing homes, congregate care facilities (6 residents or more) and is seeking information on those with less than 6. Data gathering is expensive and people-intense, and officials must choose whether to deploy people for contact tracing or data processing. The reason the state maintains the data is because they are the ones who license these facilities.
Testing in Solano County is ramping up as it is elsewhere. The state is sending more resources so that the county can and will be expanding testing. They are considering migrating from drive through testing to existing medical facilities. Again this takes human resources with certification.
Testing in Benicia may be possible if we have the right certified people and PPE. I will be talking off line with Dr. Matyas about this. The testing has to be available for symptomatic people or at risk people and therefore must be available almost daily rather than once in a while. As I say, we will explore this.
PPE equipment is arriving: 10K N95 masks, 1000 face shields, 60K masks are on the way from state. Local manufacturing has been retooled to produce 2000 gowns – one size fits most, and Gallo is providing hand sanitizer.
Unemployment numbers are from the state. Not until after they process the unprecedented number of applications with nearly 2,000 processors from 8am to 8pm seven days a week, can they “mash” the numbers and provide details on a county basis. It will take even more work to sort it by zip code. No amount of investigation will speed that up.
Re-opening: It appears that “managed and controlled reopening is closer to May 17th” because Solano needs to follow state guidelines and because we may need another two weeks to “test” the flattening of the curve.
Local revenue losses: Benicia’s City Manager provided a report (which I included in my e-Alert) projecting Benicia’s loss of revenue for this fiscal year – about $3 million. And projected loss for next fiscal year 2020/21 is about $12 million. I got support for establishing a Benicia economic recovery task force at the April 1 meeting, and the City Manager has gathered staff and is reaching out to various people including IDEO for brain power to help with recovery ideas. It is clear the City needs to continue to invest because history has shown that government investment is what restores economic activity. Some will want to furlough employees and/or cut back on investments. One investment that should go forward is the hotel investigation project. That is a perfect project to keep going because we can measure the return of visitors and business and, at the same time, be ready for business in a couple of years. In short, lots of thinking and planning for economic recovery for the City as well as for the city retail and industrial businesses.
Gathering details and planning is underway. Look for a stakeholder subcommittee for working with the staff economic recovery task force. We need to be strategic and innovative and make investments. The real work is developing a road map and sticking to it…and probably massive debt.
The County has the Solano Economic Development Board with a program of Solano Forward, and it will need to be tuned up to adapt to the new conditions. Again, lots of data is being gathered and since this is new, never happened before, there will need to be some brave people to get out of their comfort zone to do what was demonstrably successful during the New Deal.