Pandemic Restrictions Eased a Bit

Written by Neil Farrell

Neil has been a journalist covering the Estero Bay Area for over 27 years. He’s won numerous journalism awards in several different categories over his career.

March 12, 2021

Coronavirus pandemic restrictions were lifted a bit for San Luis Obispo County, but the County Health Department isn’t stepping off the gas in the fight against the 21st Century’s first scourge.
With COVID case dropping and deaths form the virus slowing to a crawl, SLO County was dropped from the Governor’s “Purple Tier” to the “Red Tier” under the “Blueprint for a Safer Economy.”
“COVID-19 testing protects community members and their loved ones from unknowingly spreading the disease,” the County Health Department said Feb. 23, “but local health officials say it also has another benefit — the more people get tested, the faster the State will ease pandemic-related restrictions locally.”
Testing is the Key
The County said the key to regaining freedoms is testing for the virus.
“Testing for COVID-19 is as important as ever,” said Dr. Penny Borenstein, the County Health Officer. “First and foremost, it helps you and your loved ones stay safe. But it also has an added benefit of allowing us to progress towards safely reopening our local businesses and schools.”
The more testing that’s done, the potential increases for this pandemic nightmare to be over.
“The State adjusts the county’s overall case rate based on testing volume,” according to the County. “As testing volume increases, the County’s adjusted case rate decreases. Likewise, as testing volume decreases, the County’s adjusted case rate can increase.”
The County now has many more testing sites — in Nipomo, Grover Beach, Morro Bay (Vets Hall), Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo, with many sites now open until 7 p.m. and some offering Saturday testing. Walk-ups are now allowed, in addition to appointments, according to the County. See: for test site locations and to make appointments.
And apparently the tests themselves are better. “The test itself is much more comfortable, as health care workers at the sites now swab the ‘anterior nares,’ or the base of the nostril, instead of the upper cavity that was customary early in the pandemic. Turnaround times for tests have also decreased, with results delivered in one to three days.”
Schools to Open
Local schools were slated to reopen in March, with the elementary schools opening first and then the junior highs and eventually Morro Bay High School on March 15, under a plan adopted by the San Luis Coastal Unified School District Board.
And youth and adult sports are making a return with the new Red Tier status. “Organized youth and adult sports with modifications may resume in San Luis Obispo County starting Friday [Feb. 26],” the County announced, “with some modifications based on guidance from the California Public Health Department.”
So while the boys and girls can play again, it’s not normal and without fans for the most part. So don’t break out the wieners and chips just yet.
“The updated guidance includes requirements that must be observed by all sports, including use of face coverings by observers and coaches, distancing between non-household members, limitations on spectators, limitations on tournaments, and other requirements.”
County Jail has Relapse
Though it was able to declare a previous COVID-19 outbreak to be over, the virus made another inroad at the County Jail.
“The Jail is currently dealing with a COVID-19 outbreak affecting five people — four sworn custody staff and one inmate,” Sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla said on Feb. 19.
“The outbreak started on Saturday, Feb. 13,” Cipolla said, “when a newly arrested inmate had an event requiring custody staff to come to his aid, during which staff was wearing full personal protective equipment (PPE). Subsequently, the inmate went to the hospital where he was diagnosed with COVID-19.”
That inmate was released but soon after the deputies started getting sick.
“Public Health is guiding the Sheriff’s Office in identifying exposed individuals who need testing and quarantine. These cases bring the total number of inmates infected with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic to 90. The number of sworn staff at the Sheriff’s Office infected with COVID-19 since March 2020 totals 48, with 21 Patrol Deputies and 27 sworn Correctional staff.”
County Starts Vaccine Lottery
The County started a vaccine lottery system for those who are eligible to get the shot, essentially anyone 65-older.
“This is a fair and easy way to get your first-dose appointment if you are eligible,’ Dr. Borenstein claimed. “We don’t want to leave anyone behind. We hope this new registry and lottery will reduce stress, as people will no longer need to rush to get an appointment. If you’re eligible, you only have to sign up once and don’t need to worry about checking back — you’ll hear from us each week whether you get an appointment or not.”
Those eligible can register for the lottery online at: and complete the registration form. You will be able to indicate your appointment preferences for clinic location, days, and times, but the County may not be able to accommodate all preferences.”
How it works is that every Thursday a computer will produce a randomly selected list for vaccination, so you must be registered prior to that.
“Anyone in the registry by Wednesday at 11:59 p.m.,” the County said, “will be included in the random selection of appointments assigned the following week. After the County assigns appointments each week, all registry participants will receive an update of their status stating that they have been provided an appointment or will remain on the registry for the following week.”
Those without Internet access or who have difficulty with the online form can call the assistance center at (805) 543-2444 or (805) 781-4280 for help.
For more information, see: or call (805) 788-2903. A staffed phone assistance center is available at (805) 543-2444 to assist with COVID-19 questions Mondays-Fridays, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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