More than 100 local businesses have been cleared to reopen in Trinity County this week with modifications after closing their doors two months ago in compliance with state and local stay-at-home orders to prevent potential spread of the COVID-19 illness caused by the coronavirus.
Many others are still frustrated at the pace, including restaurant owners that remain limited to takeout services only as those in neighboring counties including Shasta are being allowed to open for indoor dining under modifications to ensure social distancing by reducing table capacity.
Trinity County submitted the required state forms and local reopening plan last weekend, signed by County Health Officer Dr. David Herfindahl, allowing it to reopen Stage 2 businesses at an accelerated pace under California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s four-phase plan for reopening the state.
Called a COVID-19 County Variance Attestation Form, the 12-page document attests that the county has the ability to test, contact trace, isolate and support those exposed to the illness; protect those at greatest risk; has capacity to handle a moderate surge in cases at its hospital and health care clinics and that businesses have ability to support physical distancing where allowed to reopen in Stage 2.
In all, there are 15 indicators the county must attest to in the documentation prepared by County Health and Human Services, Public Health and Administrative staff in consultation with the County Health Officer. Letters of endorsement were sent by the Trinity County Board of Supervisors and Mountain Communities Healthcare District.
Gov. Newsom announced this week that higher risk, Stage 3 businesses may be able to start reopening in as soon as two weeks if specific targets are met on COVID testing results, but counties are not allowed to progress into Stage 3 until the governor orders it. Stage 3 businesses include personal care hair and nail salons, gyms, theaters, bowling alleys, churches and bars.
Those allowed to reopen in Stage 2 include automotive, business/professional services and retail stores for curbside services. Several county offices have reopened with social distancing measures in place and real estate services have resumed though offices remain closed. Hotels and lodging facilities are open to county residents and essential workers, but the county’s ban on nonessential travel has been replaced by the new plan that “strongly discourages” nonessential travel as the state continues to do. A 14-day quarantine on non-resident visitors to the area has been lifted by the new orders signed by the Health Officer.
Trinity County Environmental Health Officer Kristy Anderson said that as of yesterday, the county had received 145 submissions from local businesses detailing their plans for reopening with modifications to ensure public safety, and she expected to be certifying all but 10 of those. The 10 that have to wait are in the Stage 3 category of higher risk businesses.
The Board of Supervisors held a special meeting last Friday with Dr. Herfindahl in attendance by phone to discuss the accelerated reopening plan and authorize a letter of support. Though the vote to do so was unanimous, board members pressed for more speed in allowing restaurants to reopen for dine-in services. The plan signed off on by the doctor continues to limit restaurants to takeout service only for two more weeks when the order may be reconsidered if there are no further positive COVID test results in the county that currently remains at just one.
“I really don’t see where we’ve advanced Stage 2. Retail we say is open, but just curbside, and restaurants are closed,” said Sup. Keith Groves.
Interim Health and Human Services Director Liz Hamilton said the difference is that employers will be allowed to reopen offices if they adopt social distancing measures and stores may be allowed to let customers inside if they limit the numbers at any one time and take other measures to ensure social distancing. Individual details must be worked out case by case in the county certification process.
“Nowhere do we talk about resorts, but next weekend (Memorial Day) I anticipate between 1,000 and 3,000 people coming into the Trinity Lake area and resorts don’t know what to do,” Groves said, adding U.S. Forest Service campgrounds will be open, but private campground operations remain closed and nonessential travel is still highly discouraged.
Hotels and lodging facilities for leisure and travel are listed as Stage 3 businesses, “and we just aren’t there yet,” said Sup. Judy Morris.
“The frustration is not lost on me, and I’m going to speak frankly with you,” said Trinity County Public Health Nursing Director Marcie Jo Cudziol, noting “we are buying a little space from when things open up to illness activity that could happen in our county. This is not the flu. It is not seasonal. Until 70 percent of the population is immune, either from having it or from immunization, it will continue. Our health care system has not changed or our essential workforce. We are walking a tightrope. We have Memorial Day coming up, but we want a two-week buffer to buy time to look at what happens as we incrementally open.”
Dr. Herfindahl said the virus spreads primarily through respiratory droplets expelled by an infected person through coughing, talking, sneezing and singing.
“A good sneeze can move a droplet 20 feet, so we are not yet ready to have people sitting in restaurants until air flows and the culture are such to avoid exposing more people to this virus,” he said, adding that over the next two weeks, “we have ample time to see what’s working or not working in other counties. Then we can open up if we can do that safely.”
He said “this virus is lurking. It is not going away and it will come back this fall with a vengeance. We cannot let our guard down. In Shasta County, people are coming in, traveling, staying in RV parks, and bringing the virus with them. We will be ready in two weeks to reassess. We’ll have the data and open up our restaurants safely. That is our goal.”
“But Shasta County is open for dine-in and our folks travel down there to eat out then come back and expose our residents,” Morris argued.
“I hear you. I am not encouraging people to go to Redding to eat. We discourage travel,” Herfindahl said, adding he is also extremely concerned about the pending influx of tourists to Trinity County to recreate, camp and fish, as he was about the Cottonwood Rodeo held in Shasta County in May with approximately 2,000 in attendance “if people do not adapt a new philosophy from ‘leave me alone’ to keeping everybody safe. We’re just not ready to open up our restaurants yet and we share the common goal of doing that safely.”
He was also pressed about allowing churches to reopen, even if it is just for small gatherings of less than 10 people, and about major upcoming events including the Weaverville 4th of July celebrations and the Trinity County Fair in Hayfork.
“We won’t break with the state guidelines and churches have to wait until we get into Stage 3,” Herfindahl said. The 4th of July and county fair events involving mass gatherings of people will not be allowed until the governor declares Stage 4 as the final reopening phase and return to normal.
“We don’t have a crystal ball, but my guess is that reopening will go less smoothly than we hope in California. I’m guessing probably not on the fair, but you never know,” he said.
Sup. Bobbi Chadwick said many will not be able to afford to keep their businesses “if this is prolonged and there are feelings that summer would be a better time to be exposed to the virus when people are outside and gardening and healthy rather than the fall or winter when flu is going around. Our constituents have been amazingly patient and following the rules, but we are seeing wear on that. We need to be able to see light at the end of the tunnel and right now, the tunnel just got longer.”
Herfindahl said his role as Health Officer “is to protect the facts, the science, and you, the politicians are those who make the decisions. The only thing I disagree with is there is never a good time to get the virus to gain immunity because that means people will be dying and there is no science to say it will be better in summer than in the fall.”
County Counsel Margaret Long emphasized that the attestation form to the state is from the Health Officer, not the Board of Supervisors.
“The Health Officer has the ultimate say on what it contains, but the state does want to see the board’s support,” she said.
Several public members called in to urge the county to adopt a more accelerated reopening plan akin to Shasta County’s, arguing local businesses must be trusted to take the necessary precautions that will keep their customers safe.
President of the Trinity County Chamber of Commerce Kelli Gant called Trinity County’s plan “a little insulting, treating our businesses as if they don’t care about keeping people safe. They will do everything in their power to keep people safe. People are camping around the lake without sanitation. It already feels like summer up there.
“Tourists will come, so it’s best to allow lodging owners to house them in safe and clean environments. Many are cabins already socially distanced from others and people just want to spend the day hiking. Our main request is to really write an accelerated plan. We are all going to have to live with COVID-19 for decades, so we might as well learn to live with it now.”
Not wanting to hold anything up with the county’s submission to the state, board members agreed to authorize a letter of support for the plan, but they also expressed hope that the Health Officer will change his decision about restaurants sooner rather than later to allow dining in. Doing so would be at his direction and not require further contact with the state.
Following virus cases
According to Johns Hopkins University, these are the numbers of cases in counties around Trinity as of Monday afternoon, compared to last week.
Trinity County still has 1 confirmed case of COVID-19, due to a reporting issue that incorrectly showed a second case.
Humboldt County now has 81 confirmed cases. Humboldt County reports that on May 11, cases were 61, instead of 57. The corrected total is up 20 from last week, with 1 death.
Tehama County has 2 confirmed cases with 1 death.
Siskiyou County still has 5 confirmed cases with zero deaths.
Del Norte County has 8 confirmed cases, up 5 from last week with zero deaths.
Mendocino County has 14 confirmed cases, up 2 from last week, with zero deaths.
Glenn County has 9 confirmed cases, up 3 from last week, with zero deaths.
Shasta County has 31 confirmed cases with 4 deaths, up 1 from last week.
Tehama County has 2 confirmed cases, up 1 from last week with 1 death.
Butte County has 22 confirmed cases, up 4 from last week, with zero deaths.
Colusa County still has 3 confirmed cases with zero deaths.
Lake County still has 8 confirmed cases, with zero deaths.
Modoc and Lassen counties still have no confirmed cases.
Total: 182 confirmed cases, up 34 from last week; 7 deaths, up 2 from last week.
The full map of known and active cases can be found at https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html