Frustrated with the guideline requirements released by the state of California, the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to rescind the local shelter-in-place order and stated the county will no longer spend resources enforcing the state’s order.
The county will look the other way in regards to enforcement except for mass gatherings and the authority to quarantine or isolate individuals who test positive or were exposed to the coronavirus. Restrictions on nursing homes and assisted living facilities will also continue.
The county had not formally sent their attestation to the state making a case for an exception when the May 12 meeting was held.
The board went forward with the motion to rescind local county orders and not use county resources for enforcement in advance of that process.
On May 15, the county approved and submitted an attestation to advance into the expanded Stage 2 of the reopening process. The letter of support was prepared by the county public health officer and was passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors. The letter argued against California's "one size fits all" approach to the county variance application process and made a case that Stanislaus County is ready to move forward.
So what does this mean for county residents and business owners?
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s shelter-in-place order is still in effect across Stanislaus and every other county in the state of California. The county’s decision to rescind the local order does not supersede the order from the state. Stanislaus County will defer to state guidelines with this decision yet not enforce them.
Currently, every county, unless they are granted county variance by the state to advance further, is allowed to begin Stage 2 of the reopening process, meaning that lower-risk workplaces including retail, manufacturing, and logistics are allowed to reopen with modifications in place such as curbside pickup.
Stanislaus County will await a formal response from the state in regards to their attestation application for county variance. Why the county could not wait until this formal process was completed was justified by stating it is urgent the county moves ahead deeper into Stage 2.
Supervisors stated the county would not stop business owners from opening in defiance of the state order.
County officials cautioned that those businesses would be on their own when it came to repercussions from state agencies or boards.
“I just want to comment on the business owners in our community that while we won’t be enforcing the order, I do suggest that you think long and hard how you want to respond,” Kristin Olsen, Chairperson for the Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors said. “Boards that are visiting establishments are telling them that they could be at risk of fines and/or having their licenses removed if they choose to open in defiance of the governor’s orders.”
The board did acknowledge that educating those reported to be in violation will still take place, but that resources will not be used for enforcement.
To a degree, the motion passed by county supervisors was a political statement aimed at pressuring the state into altering the requirements for Stanislaus County in the reopening process.
It was done before the formal process even took place due to the likelihood that the county's attestation would be rejected because it does not meet state guidelines.
County supervisors deemed this necessary by what they have characterized as a complete lack of communication from the state.
It did not materially offer assurance to any business that follows their lead against state enforcement repercussions, putting business owners in a precarious situation.
They are faced with the decision to open and risk losing state licensing or stay closed and endure additional lost revenue.
Clarity on how this will impact workers' ability to seek unemployment benefits should they choose to not return to work for a business that reopens in defiance of state orders, nor the ramifications from state agencies in response, was also not addressed.
The board acknowledged that not everything could reopen even under their reopening process plan.
By making statements that the county will also not enforce the state’s orders, the county may have contributed even more confusion to the very problem they are seeking to resolve.
The county argued that education over enforcement was in spirit with Gov. Newsom’s directive, but without the backing of enforcement in conjunction with education, it is questionable whether this stance will have any impact on dissuading bad actors.
How businesses will react to the county looking the other way at risk of being in violation of the state and losing licensing is also unknown.
County officials claim standards are unreasonable
The Board of Supervisors argued that the standard for each county should be “dynamic”, not a “static” set of rules that applies to every county regardless of their situation.
The county challenged the metric requirements and the wisdom behind the reopening guidelines released by the state on May 7.
“Guidelines just aren’t acceptable. They aren’t reasonable,” District 3 Supervisor Terry Withrow said.
A total of 18 of the 58 counties in the state have qualified for county variance to advance quicker into Stage 2 as of May 14. The counties that have qualified have mostly been rural areas of the state. Counties that have qualified are Amador, Butte, Calaveras, Colusa, El Dorado, Glenn, Lassen, Nevada, Mariposa, Placer, Plumas, Shasta, Sierra, Tehama, Tuolumne, Yuba, Sutter, and San Benito.
Stanislaus County officials argued that standards are unachievable under the current guidelines for medium and large counties.
County officials said on May 12 that the board took issue with two of the six requirements laid out by the state to be granted a county variance.
Stanislaus County had hoped to get approval from the state to reopen quicker, but are unable to qualify due to requirements that the county goes 14 days with zero COVID-19 deaths and no more than one positive case per 10,000 residents over that time frame prior to the attestation submission date.
Six deaths and 114 new cases have been reported in the county since May 1.
The county does not qualify under these state guidelines.
Public health officer Dr. Julie Vaishampayan stated at the May 12 meeting that most of the deaths and positive cases in the county are located at nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
Notably, Turlock Nursing and Rehabilitation Center has been a hotspot for the coronavirus. The center has been linked to over 130 positive cases and 16 deaths in total as of May 14.
Dr. Vaishampayan stated the congregate living cases should not count to the overall county totals when discussing public community transmission and businesses reopening.
“That’s transmission in the facility, which to me is not the same as transmission in the public, which is what we’re talking about now,” Dr. Vaishampayan said. “Some of the arguments have been that the staff are mixing with the public. Well okay, I guess we can count the staff if we want to. I still think the transmission event was within the facility, but the residents aren’t out and mixing while they're infectious, so that doesn’t make sense to me to add the residents. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me to count them as transmission events because that’s really what you’re looking at with the numbers. You’re looking at transmission in the community, but that’s not reflective of transmission in the community when you include congregate living facilities.”
DeMartini expresses conspiracy rhetoric
The presentation by Dr. Vaishampayan was driven by county data, and what she felt was the proper way to interpret that data in regards to reopening, but not all of the statements made by members of the board followed her lead.
District 5 Supervisor Jim DeMartini had this to say about the state of California’s motivations without offering anything to back his claim.
“I think that doctors are being pressured into saying that the people have died of this coronavirus just because they tested positive whether they died of something else or not. It seems like the state is desperate to keep the numbers up to justify the stay-at-home order,” DeMartini said. He stated that most of the deaths have been from people with preexisting conditions and questioned if deaths from those conditions were erroneously attributed to the coronavirus.
His statement was not directly rebuked by any member of the board or anyone present for the remainder of the May 12 meeting when he implied that deaths are being attributed to COVID-19 due to interference from the state.
The board was emphatic in their support of Dr. Vaishampayan during meetings, yet other doctors or public health officials tasked with reporting COVID-19 data around the state don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt in DeMartini’s eyes.
DeMartini reiterated his skepticism that the crisis ever “ really occurred” during the special meeting held on Friday.
He stated that while the reaction during the onset of the pandemic was reasonable due to a lack of understanding of the coronavirus, the models used forecasting the extent of the dangers of the pandemic were wrong.
“There never was this surge. Here in this county, we were easily able to handle what cases that we had, and as Dr. V pointed out, the nursing home in Turlock is the biggest part of our deaths,” stated DeMartini. He went on to say. “With the inaccurate models that we were looking at, I don’t think that we have much of an issue anymore, and I question these people that are going around saying that there is going to be a second surge. I don’t even think we had the first surge yet.”
Analysis of how much the early models were impacted by the success of the stay-at-home restrictions was not articulated by DeMartini. Analysis of the likelihood, or not, of another surge was also not provided.