Just when you thought it was safe to go back to a public meeting, the City of Morro Bay has shut them down once again.
According to a news release dated May 19, the City announced that it was returning to online, Zoom meetings full time, after it had just resumed to holding in-person meetings at the start of April. It had been holding virtual meetings since March 2020 at the start of California’s coronavirus pandemic response.
The City’s reversal came a day after the Federal CDC released new data, “showing a substantial jump in both the spread of COVID-19, as well as COVID-19-related hospitalizations over the past week,” reads the City’s news release. “California has experienced in the last two weeks a 57% increase in reported COVID-19 cases, with hospitalizations up 29% during the same time period.”
San Luis Obispo County has also reportedly seen a jump in COVID-19 cases but not in increased hospitalizations. The latest uptick apparently hit close to City Hall.
“City staff has also experienced a recent COVID-19 outbreak that has been traced back to in-person public meetings,” the City said.
Estero Bay News asked City Manager Scott Collins about this and he replied, “We have had several public meetings [Council meetings and advisory board meetings in April and May]. In regard to your other question, medical privacy laws require the City to not disclose confidential medical information for City employees, however the City believes that based on confidential contact tracing a source for the recent outbreak was reasonably in-person meetings.”
State labor laws dictate what the City’s next step will be.
“The City is required by Cal-OSHA,” Collins told EBN, “to conduct contract tracing, provide notification to employees who may have had a close contact, take reasonable steps to protect employee health and prevent further spread of COVID-19.
“As a result of the recent outbreak and the uptick in COVID-19 cases in our region, the City will conduct both Brown Act and non-Brown Act meetings virtually until the number of active cases decline.”
The Brown Act is the State’s open meetings law, which the City and all other California government agencies have been allowed to fudge after the Governor issued a health emergency proclamation and lock-down orders near the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
But the Governor and State health officials have been easing COVID restrictions in the past several months, after the Omicron Variant of the coronavirus spread like wildfire at the start of 2022 but didn’t wreak the havoc and death of the earlier variants like the deadly Delta strain of the virus that is suspected to have escaped a virology lab in Wuhan, China suspected sometime in fall of 2019.
The coronavirus pandemic has hit some places hard, especially densely packed, big cities, but SLO County, while having a sizable number of cases, has been spared that level of devastation.
Still, SLO County Health Department officials announced recently that four more residents, ages 70 to 90-plus had died, and they were the 500th and 501st SLO County residents to die of COVID-19.
“This milestone,” SLO County said, “comes as the California Department of Public Health reports the loss of more than 90,000 Californians to COVID-19 and the United States reports more than 1 million COVID-19 deaths.”
“I urge all of us in SLO County to honor these lives by protecting yourself,” Dr. Penny Borenstein, County Health Officer said, “your family and our community from more pain caused by this disease.”
“Public Health teams are actively responding to 17 outbreaks in congregate settings,” she continued, “and continue to closely monitor the steady rise in COVID-19 metrics.”
According to the County’s COVID statistics, as of May 1 there were 398 active cases countywide. There were seven people in the hospital with COVID-19 but just two in intensive care units, which isn’t even close to being a problem in so far as available hospital beds are concerned. The County said there were over 60% of beds available (including all those hospitalized for non-COVID issues).
According to County Health’s data there have been 1,611 COVID cases in Morro Bay since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Los Osos has seen 1,735 and Cayucos 330. Cambria has had 562 cases and 73 in San Simeon.
SLO City leads the county with 10,679 cases with Paso Robles second with 10,207. Atascadero is a distant third at 5,811.
People aged 85-older have seen 198 people hospitalized and an alarming 192 deaths; and, those 65-84 has seen 618 hospitalizations with 207 deaths.
People ages 50-64 has seen 399 hospitalizations and 80 deaths; ages 30-49, 258 hospitalizations and 21 deaths; and 18-29 has seen 78 hospitalizations with one death. And ages newborn to 17 has seen 29 hospitalizations and zero deaths.
With Morro Bay’s politically active citizens — i.e. those who like to attend the meetings at the Vet’s Hall — up in age, it is perhaps prudent to go back to virtual meetings, even though the meetings have seemed to be as effective as virtual learning was in schools.
“Given this recent news,” Collins said, “to protect the health of community members, council members, advisory body members, and staff, the City of Morro Bay will resume full remote teleconferencing of Brown Act meetings beginning May 24. This decision is made consistent with Assembly Bill 361 (2021-22), Government Code § 54953, the Brown Act and City Council Resolution 40-22.”
For updates on COVID-19 in SLO County, see: slopublichealth.org/COVID19 or call the Public Health Information Line at (805) 788-2903. Real person phone assistance is available at (805) 781-5500 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays-Fridays.
Vaccinations are for the most part still free at County clinics, pharmacies, and doctor’s offices. The County website has information on scheduling an appointment for vaccinations.