‘State of Emergency’ Canceled

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 16, 2022

At long last, it’s finally over. Not the coronavirus pandemic per se, but the state of emergency, declared in response to the viral outbreak that threw the world a wicked curveball, has officially ended in California and San Luis Obispo County.

SLO County officials announced Feb. 22, the local state of emergency that was first declared on March 17, 2020, would end on Friday, Feb. 25 in SLO County.

County Administrative Officer Wade Horton and County Health Director Dr. Penny Borenstein were handed authority by County Supervisors to manage and handle the pandemic response, handing down whatever orders and restrictions they deemed necessary to fight the pandemic, and mostly taking their lead from the State Department of Public Health’s orders and guidelines. 

The enabling Resolution from 2020 said they were to terminate the state of emergency “at the earliest possible date that conditions warrant such termination.”

That day is apparently now. “I very much appreciate the County team,” said CAO Horton, “health care professionals, and volunteers who stepped up over a very challenging and divisive couple of years. I also understand the difficult impact the pandemic has had on our community. Moving forward, I hope we can remember how to extend more grace toward one another as fellow community members as we face future challenges.”

Dr. Borenstein, who has been the local face of the pandemic response for SLO County, said, “While these declarations are no longer needed, the Public Health team and local health care providers continue to respond to this pandemic and provide resources, like vaccines and testing, to help residents protect their health and the health of the community. We remain ready to respond to future surges.” 

Both Horton and Dr. Borenstein presented formal letters to Supervisors at their March 1 meeting to formally end the state of emergency. 

Statewide, the Governor set 12:01 a.m. Saturday, March 12 as the official lifting of the mask mandates for kids and staff in schools and daycare centers, however, they will still be “strongly recommended.

The State lifted its indoor mask mandate on Feb. 16 except for so-called “high transmission settings” — public transit, emergency shelters, health care settings, correctional facilities, homeless shelters and long-term care facilities.

On Feb. 16, the County also lifted the indoor mask mandate that it had set up last September with the Delta variant of the virus corresponding with the Governor’s announcement of the same thing.

So how bad was it? As of March 1, there had been 52,426 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in SLO County according to County stats. 

Also on March 1 there were 474 active cases in the county and 14 people were hospitalized, with two in intensive care (ICU).

To date there have been a total of 1,519 people hospitalized with COVID, 229 were admitted to the ICU and 453 people had died.

The biggest number of hospitalizations and deaths by far came in the elderly populations. SLO County saw about a dozen people die of COVID who were over 100. There were 187 people 85-older, who were hospitalized with 172 deaths in that age group.

People 65-84 have seen 590 people hospitalized with 187 deaths. People aged 50-64 had 388 hospitalized with 74 deaths; and ages 30-49 had 252 hospitalizations with 19 deaths.

People from 18-29 saw 75 hospitalizations and one death. For those under-18 there has been 27 hospitalized and zero deaths.

By locations, Morro Bay has recorded 1,517 cases of COVID since the start of the pandemic in April 2020. Los Osos has recorded 1,639 and Cayucos 294. Cambria has recorded 535 cases and San Simeon 74.

San Luis Obispo has seen the most cases with 10,062 and Paso Robles is second at 9,822.

SLO County’s pandemic response has been impressive.

They established a massive, emergency, over-flow field hospital at Cal Poly early on in the pandemic when it was feared that local hospitals could be overrun with COVID-19 patients.

And while that over $4 million field hospital was never used to treat patients, it was an impressive accomplishment nonetheless and provided a blueprint for responding to future pandemics and natural disasters.

It should be noted that SLO County continues to offer testing and vaccinations by appointment, see: www.slopublichealth.org/covid19. Testing and vaccinations are available at most pharmacies and doctor’s offices, as well.

Not All Faces Are Free

With the statewide state of emergency for the coronavirus pandemic response now lifted, what does that mean? Do we still have to cover our faces in the supermarket? Do school kids still have to wear masks?

The short answer is “No.” But it’s a bit more complicated than that.

“Effective March 1, 2022,” read the official new masking guidelines from California Department of Public Health (CDPH), “the requirement for unvaccinated persons to mask in indoor public settings and businesses is being replaced by a strong recommendation that all persons, regardless of vaccination status, continue to mask while in indoor public settings and businesses.”

So while you don’t HAVE to wear a mask, the State recommends you do, leaving it pretty much up to the individual and individual stores whether or not they want masks to be worn inside.

As for schools, “after March 11, 2022, the universal masking requirement for K-12 and childcare settings will terminate. CDPH strongly recommends that individuals in these settings continue to mask in indoor settings when the universal masking requirement lifts.”

Despite growing evidence that masks don’t stop you from catching COVID-19 or passing it on, and in the case of school kids, can have other deleterious consequences to their learning abilities and social skills, the State still thinks they are a good idea.

“Masking will continue to be an important layer of protection along with the continued recommendations around vaccinations, testing and ventilation,” the CDPH said, “to keep schools a safe environment, even as case rates and hospitalizations decline.”

The State isn’t simply lifting the mask mandates and freeing up everyone’s faces, there are exceptions.

Anyone on “public transit” — airplanes, ships, ferries, trains, subways, buses, taxis and ride share cars — are still required to mask up to ride. And you also need to mask up at facilities that service public transit — airports, bus terminals, marinas, train stations, seaports, subway stations or “any other area that provides transportation.

Emergency shelters and warming shelters also will still require masks; healthcare settings like nursing homes still require them, as well as jails, prisons, and homeless shelters.

The State is also “strongly recommending” continued mask wearing “in indoor public settings and businesses “ for example, retail stores, restaurants, theaters, family entertainment centers, meetings, and state and local government offices. 

And they want you wear “surgical masks or higher level respirators” that would include the N95, KN95 and KF 94 type masks that are engineered to protect against contaminants. A typical KN95 mask is 5-layers thick and designed to filter 95% of all airborne particles, and can be bought in packs of from three to 20 costing about $1.25 each (see Amazon.com to shop for them). They come in black and white.

When will local residents again be able to yell at their elected leaders in person? Agencies like the CSD in Los Osos, the Morro Bay City Council and County Supervisors, all recently passed continuing Resolutions calling for online, virtual meetings, Morro Bay City Council is tentatively slated to resume in-person meetings in April, according to the city manager.

This of course is dependent on whether another coronavirus variant emerges and puts case numbers on the rise again, which under the new CDPH guidelines, could cause an about-face and have the State put in mandates once again.

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