Though county officials are encouraged by what appears to be a downward trend in positive coronavirus cases in the last two weeks, the Board of County Commissioners in concert with county public health officials, unanimously voted to extend its local disaster emergency declaration (LDE) for the fifth time since its initial passage in March.
Commissioners Hilary Cooper and Kris Holstrom (Lance Waring was absent from Wednesday’s special meeting) approved the LDE, which included updates over its previous iteration. The focus was on ensuring that the county’s youth could get back to school safely.
Once of the new portions of the fifth LDE reads, in part: “while one of the goals is to get students back in the classroom where they can be the most supported, we need to prioritize the health and safety of students, their families, staff, and of course, the county as a whole. With the virus still in our communities, we must continue to follow the guidance of health professionals …”
“We’re making our decision based on wanting to keep kids in school and our businesses open,” Cooper said.
And though the only two new positive cases in the past two weeks were those of out-of-county residents (the county’s official Covid dashboard count online includes only county residents), officials were quick to caution the coronavirus pandemic is still very much in the community.
“Because there have been zero cases lately, people think Covid is gone,” said county manager Mike Bordogna. “As wonderful as that would be, that is not the case.”
With the latest version of the LDE, the county remains aligned with state public health orders that mandate facemasks indoors in places open to the public and limitations on the number of people permitted to gather, among other guidelines. One notable area that the county deviates from the state’s public health orders is with its 50 percent cap on short-term lodging, which will remain in place. The lodging cap is reassessed every three weeks.
“I don’t think it’s wise to shift to looser regulations at this point,” said the county’s public health director, Grace Franklin.
The LDE is valid through Dec. 31, 2020, but can be either extended or rescinded by the commissioners before that date.
What county officials are most encouraged by is that a majority of county residents are abiding by the “five commitments” — wearing face coverings, maintaining physical distancing, frequent hand-washing, staying home when sick, and getting tested for COVID-19 if any virus symptoms manifest.
“People have really shifted their behaviors,” Franklin said. “(Recent case counts) have shown that the hard work has paid off.”
But, she said, now is not the time to relax on those behaviors.
“We’re in this for the long haul,” she said. “We cannot go backwards.”
“This will probably be part of our lives for the next year,” she said.
The new look of the county’s Covid webpage is thanks to Heather Widlund, the county’s geographic information systems coordinator, and web designer Tor Anderson, Franklin said. It includes new, visual displays and incorporates a broader range of metrics into the data, including a new COVID-19 meter, in addition to the now-familiar COVID-19 dashboard. Some of those metrics include testing capacity, number of probable patients transferred to regional hospitals in a 7-day period, absentee rate at area med centers, personal protective equipment supplies and other data points. The color-coded status bar is currently at blue, which is the lowest level, “cautious normal.”
“That’s as good as we’re going to get until we have a vaccine,” Franklin said. “At the heart of it are the five commitments.”
And, she added, “Our goal is to stay in the blue zone.”
The next color codes of yellow, orange and red refer to “community concern,” “on cliff,” and “severe,” respectively.
The new Covid webpage also includes a link to the state’s Covid information and public health orders.
In other county business, Bordogna returned to the board with the latest iteration of potential language for a ballot measure that commissioners will vote on at their Sept. 2 regular meeting.
The proposed ballot measure (potentially titled 1A, if the BOCC approves having it go to the voters) will act to protect “existing levels of county revenue from future state imposed reductions in residential assessed valuation rates due to … the Gallagher Amendment … or similar state action.” As currently written, it would do so without raising the mill levy for the 2021 tax collection year. It also asks for granting the commissioners the authority to adjust the mill levy rate for the years following 2021 for the purpose of maintaining revenues in order to maintain county services.
“As we increase our population, there is an increased demand for services,” Bordogna noted.
A few of those services are lined out in the Bordgona’s draft and include emergency services for wildfire fighting, necessary road repairs and maintenance, open spaces and natural resource preservation and public health response to pandemics and other emergencies.
Cooper and Holstrom, after a lengthy discussion, which included public input, asked Bordogna to make some changes to his draft. Next week he will include requested revisions such as describing what existing service levels are, refer to existing assessment rates, and other tweaks such as removing the word “pandemic” from the current draft.
To view county agendas, meeting minutes and backup materials, and the Covid webpage, go to sanmiguelcountyco.gov.