San Luis Obispo County took a major step backwards falling into the strictest tier of the Governor’s coronavirus pandemic response and triggering another round of business closures and stay-at-home orders.
But County officials don’t think the dire situation in Los Angeles and San Diego in terms of available ICU beds, should apply to the Tri-Counties — Ventura, Santa Barbara and SLO — who are seeking to be released from the “Southern California” Region in the Governor’s latest system.

Governor Locks It Down

Gov. Gavin Newsome in response to rising numbers of cases and dropping numbers of available hospital beds to care for the sickest patients, split the State into five regions, and then ordered lockdowns almost everywhere, garnering for the first time some pushback from local officials.

“The Board of Supervisors,” reads a Dec. 10 County Health Department news release, “from San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties issued a letter to state health officials and California Governor Gavin Newsom to request a separate Central Coast Region composed of the three counties. The letter requests that the Central Coast Region be allowed to exit the regional stay home order as a region after three weeks if the ICU capacity in the three counties exceeds 15 percent.”

SLO Not Like L.A.

The Supervisors argue that our Tri-Counties area is nothing like L.A.
SLO County Board of Supervisors’ Chairwoman, Lynn Compton said, “Our community members and businesses are being unfairly burdened because the State lumped us in with larger metropolitan areas that are geographically, demographically and functionally distinct from the Central Coast. The current region that the Governor has placed us in represents almost half of the State’s population but we are a less-populated, suburban county that should not be categorized like the metropolitan areas.

“Reassigning our counties to a smaller Central Coast Region is a necessary step forward that will result in the best outcome for our local economy and our residents.”
Kelly Long, chairwoman of the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, said, “The County of Ventura understands we must all work together to limit the spread of COVID-19; however, we should also consider a regional perspective that most accurately reflects the local reality of our situation.”

Long added that the three counties have used best practices to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and maintain hospital capacity. “Joining together with a smaller regional approach,” Long said, “allows us to fine tune regulations that protect the health of our residents while getting students back in the classroom and helping to keep our businesses open and economically viable.”

New Rules Issued

Under Gov. Newsome’s latest scheme to battle the virus, regions come under the Purple Tier when available ICU beds falls below 15%. The Southern California Region was reporting a 10.9% capacity as of last Monday when the Governor issued his new stay-at-home edict that also re-closed many non-essential businesses for a third time.

The Tri-Counties area had 25.6% ICU availability. Santa Barbara County reported 51% of ICU beds were available, and San Luis Obispo County had 48.9% of ICU beds open.

Santa Barbara County Supervisor’s Chairman Gregg Hart said, “The letter being sent to state officials is an accurate measure of our regional distinction through both geography and demographics. We are best positioned to understand the critical needs within our region and have existing partnerships to promote the health and economic well-being of our communities.”

As of press time, the Governor had not responded to the request for the change.

ICU Patients Low

While SLO County’s COVID-19 website (see: www.ReadySLO.org) lists just a handful of people in ICU with 53 total beds countywide, the numbers are not the true picture of ICU availability, nor does the County include the 165 available beds at a field hospital the County set up last spring at the Cal Poly Rec Center, which would greatly change its percentages.

That $4 million facility, while an amazing accomplishment in teamwork and efficiency, has yet to treat a single COVID-19 patient. But should SLO County’s hospitalization numbers get bad enough, it would be put to use.

But while it was designed to handle patients with breathing troubles from the virus, it wouldn’t replace an actual ICU room.
County COVID spokeswoman, Michelle Shoresman told Estero Bay News, “While we closely follow ICU bed capacity and communicate frequently with our local hospitals about bed status, we do not post the total number of ICU beds available because it is rapidly changing.

“We report that number daily to the State Department of Public Health as required so that they can track ICU bed capacity regionally. Regional data is available on their website.”

Some Can Stay Open

The latest stay-at-home order prohibits leaving home unless it’s for an essential chore, like a doctor’s appointment or grocery shopping.

Business closure orders apply to: indoor playgrounds; hair salons, barbershops, and personal care services; wineries, bars, breweries and distilleries, and more, according to the County Health Department.

However, certain businesses can remain open “with modifications,” including outdoor recreational facilities, retailers (20% capacity limit), restaurants open for take-out, pick-up or delivery only; hotels (for critical infrastructure support), and others.

Business owners should check the COVID website, www.ReadySLO.org, to see if they fall under the closures, which are supposed to be in effect for another 2 weeks or until the ICU capacity drops again, assuming the Tri-Counties’ plea for relief from the Governor is granted.

Quarantine Eased

The County is slackening the coronavirus pandemic response in a minor way, reducing the time it recommends people self-quarantine after being exposed to the virus.

The County Health Officer, Dr. Penny Borenstein, announced that the agency would change the required quarantine period from 14 days to 10 days after the date of exposure.

“Based on local conditions,” reads a Dec. 9 news release from SLO County, “the County of San Luis Obispo Public Health Department adopted a reduced COVID-19 quarantine for some people, based on recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and California Department of Public Health.”

The County cautioned that 14 days is still the preferred quarantine time and was based on what the CDC thinks to be the incubation period for the virus. The 10-day quarantine comes with a catch.

“Anyone who is eligible to reduce their quarantine to 10 days must rigorously adhere to COVID-19 precautions [wear a mask and maintain at least 6 feet of distance from others, and self-monitor for symptoms]. If symptoms occur, they must immediately self-isolate and contact the public health department.”

Change Aims to Ease Stress

Dr. Borenstein said the change was an attempt to help people with the mental distress of forced isolation.
“This approach balances a reduced burden of quarantine, including physical and mental health benefits and more complete compliance, against a small possibility of increasing the spread of the virus,” said Dr. Borenstein. “It is a good option for some essential workers who are able to strictly follow COVID-19 precautions.”

Based on available data, the County said the CDC estimates the risk of transmission after day 10 of quarantine to be about 1%, with an upper limit of about 10%.

The County rejected an even shorter quarantine recommendation from CDC of seven days for those who were exposed but got a negative COVID test, “because that could result in a higher likelihood of transmission and put a strain on testing resources that are already in high demand,” according to the County. “A negative test result does not change an individual’s duration of quarantine.”

Mayor Makes COVID Video

Meanwhile, Morro Bay Mayor John Headding has taped another video for residents regarding the new lockdowns and stay-at-home orders, urging everyone to wear a mask whenever you go out of your home and adhere to the other guidelines on washing hands often and keeping your distance from others (See: https://youtu.be/HPBHrVbhz3A).

He also announced an $80,000 business grant program to assist local businesses, taking monies from the Pacific Gas & Electric settlement to mitigate loss of taxes when Diablo Canyon Power Plant closes, and from other sources.

State Park Campgrounds Close

State Parks decided to close down many of its facilities after the Governor’s new edicts, closing campgrounds up and down the North Coast from Montaña de Oro to San Simeon State Beach.

“Due to the critical need to stop the COVID-19 surge and prevent overwhelming regional ICU capacity,” reads a news release from State Parks in Sacramento, “the public is advised that the closure of campground sites may be made with little advance notice.” The State’s reservation service “Reserve California” was to notify all those with reservations who will now not be able to use them, and anyone with questions should call Reserve California’s Customer Service line at 1-800-444-7275, open seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Camping might be out but local state parks are open for day use. “Day use outdoor areas of park units currently open to the public will remain accessible, including trails and beaches,” the release said. “Members of the same household are encouraged to maintain physical and mental health by going to a park to hike, walk, bike ride, off-highway riding or boating, provided that they recreate responsibly by abiding to COVID-19 guidelines.”

County Still Testing

The County continues with an aggressive free COVID testing program, extending the hours clinics will be open in Nipomo and Paso Robles.

Locally, the County is offering free tests at the Morro Bay Vet’s Hall, 209 Surf St., Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and in San Luis Obispo at the Vet’s Hall, on Grand Avenue at Monterey Street, Mondays-Fridays, from 7-7.
Free testing is also available in Grover Beach at the Ramona Gardens Park Center, Mondays-Fridays, 7-7; at the Paso Robles Event Center (Mid State Fairgrounds) Tuesdays-Saturdays, 7-7; and at the Nipomo Community Center, Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays, 7-5.

All of the clinics are by appointment only, see: www.EmergencySLO.org/testing. The tests are free to anyone without health insurance, otherwise they will bill your insurance, but there will be no co-pays attached.
For up-to-date COVID information in SLO County, see: www.ReadySLO.org or call (805) 543-2444 Mondays-Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.