State restrictions likely to keep Solano from opening higher-risk businesses this week

The Solano County Board of Supervisors meeting commences, Tuesday, May 12, 2020. (Courtesy photo)
Fairfield Daily Republic, By Todd R. Hansen, May 13, 2020

FAIRFIELD — Solano County will continue to open businesses that present a low risk for transmitting the novel coronavirus, while assertively lobbying the state to allow more local control on deciding what kind of businesses can be opened and when.

However, what was anticipated as a possible easing of restrictions on medium-risk businesses in the county this week, including restaurants, is not likely to happen because of conflicts with the state’s “roadmap” for reopening the economy.

Terry Schmidtbauer, assistant director of the Department of Resource Management, told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that there is a disconnect between the county’s approach – based on transmission risk – and the state’s approach, which is largely based on business sectors.

The state additionally has varying levels within each stage, while the county basically has three risk categories: low, medium and high.

Dr. Bela Matyas

“It’s like saying you can’t cook the food at home unless you show all the food has been grown in the state,” Dr. Bela Matyas, the county public health officer, told the board. “So we find ourselves in a state of confusion.”

Matyas noted that the county is ready to open some activities – such as churches and fitness centers – because Public Health officials believe there are relatively simple ways to enforce social distancing. The state, however, places them in an even higher-risk category.

Churches, for example, could space out where people sit, and even offer additional sermons so smaller crowds could attend each. Collection plates would not be passed from person to person, and instead, stationary donation receptacles would be provided.

To go against the state guidelines, however, could mean the loss of relief funds to reimburse the county for its Covid-19 costs. The state typically picks up the 25 percent that is not covered by the federal reimbursement.

Supervisor Jim Spering noted that the costs related to closing down businesses far exceeds the estimated $2 million the county anticipates it will have spent by the time the worst of this crisis is done.

Supervisor Jim Spering

“There is a sensitivity to those individuals, to those businesses that are being destroyed,” Spering said.

But the costs are also being seen in more suicides, an increase in domestic violence and other similar results.

Vacaville High School freshman Amanda Moe, 15, said prior to the meeting that she had a friend who overdosed, although he did survive. She said her friend was in a dysfunctional family environment, and with the schools shuttered, he did not have that “safe place” to go.

She later told the supervisors that students, particularly seniors, have missed out on so much with the schools closed.

The Public Health Division reported another death in the county related to Covid-19, bringing the total to 11. It was the fourth death since the Friday afternoon update, and like the last seven deaths reported in the county, the individual was under hospice care at the Windsor Vallejo Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

The number of cases increased from 379 to 388, according to the county’s Tuesday afternoon update. The number of active cases increased by one, to 47, while the number of residents who are hospitalized remained at 13.

There have been 5,669 residents tested, up from 5,576 Monday as the county’s testing capacity continues to increase.

Vallejo accounted for eight of the nine newly reported confirmed cases, bringing the city’s total to 230. The other new case was reported in Vacaville, now at 37 cases. Fairfield remained at 67 cases, while Suisun City, at 20, and Benicia, at 18, also stayed the same as Monday’s report. Dixon, Rio Vista and the unincorporated areas of the county each report fewer than 10 cases.

A group of nearly two dozen protesters, including Moe and her mother, gathered in the lobby as they entered the government center Tuesday. Members of the public were allowed to attend the meeting for the first time in five meetings.

Cheri Moe said she believes the Covid-19 numbers are being skewed purposely.

“I think if it was as severe as they want us to believe, we would all know more people who (have Covid-19),” she said.

Individuals carried signs urging that all businesses be open, and at least one man warned that the county, state and the nation are facing a “deep recession” or “depression” if something is not done soon.

Ted Hunter, 80, called the response to the Covid-19 an “arrogance for power” at all levels of government, though he said the county was only a small part of the problem.

In fact, much of the criticism, including from supervisors, was leveled at Gov. Gavin Newsom and what was described by Spering in more general terms as the state’s “heavy hand” in dealing with the business community.

Those comments were largely focused on state threats to take alcohol licenses away from some bars that have opened in other counties in direct defiance of the state’s guidelines. The threat of not releasing disaster funding also was noted.

However, the county also carries a stick when enforcing its guidelines, ranging from civil fines to criminal misdemeanor charges. To date, the county is only aware of one business that has been cited, and that was a barbershop that Vacaville issued a cease-and-desist order to based on not complying with the county health order.

Most people who have the novel 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 and at times, 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.