Most of the community has gone along with the stay-in-place orders issued by the state of California, Ceres City Manager Toby Wells told the City Council in an update at their meeting of April 13.
“It is challenging and difficult in aspects that I don’t think any of us had ever expected to be faced with but here we are three weeks into a stay-at-home order issued by the governor followed up with orders from the president,” said Wells in his last day on the job. He has resigned to become city manager of Turlock.
“For the most part our community it appears has embraced this. We have seen not a lot pushback from the order that’s been issued and we’re seeing compliance for the most part.”
When he gave the report Stanislaus County had seen 146 positive test cases for the Covid-19 but he told the council to take that number “with a grain of salt and recognize there is a lot more than that within our community.” He said that number accounted for only those tested because they showed signs of the virus and being positive. A total of 2,500 tested were negative.
Numbers released April 21 show the county had 232 positive cases, 118 cases of recovery, 3,401 negative tests and four deaths. Those four deaths involved people who had at-risk health factors.
Over 30 in Ceres have tested positive for Covid-19.
Wells reported that Stanislaus County is in negotiations with a provider for drive-up testing for anyone to be tested. He said it was expected to be offered this week.
Anyone testing positive is interviewed in an attempt to find out points of contacts to trace the origins of the virus.
“That, as you may suspect, as that number grows from 146 cases that contact tracing becomes a pretty onerous process and so Stanislaus County is working to increase their capacity to continue to do contact tracing which helps in the overall determination of how much the virus is spreading in the community.”
The focus is to keep the virus from spreading to any congregate living spaces, such as senior living or assisted living where impacts have been disastrous.
The law branch of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) continues to work on “what if” scenarios. Enforcement largely remains on social and community pressure versus making arrests. While large gatherings will flag police attention, officers focus on education “to get folks to do the right thing.”
Wells said the city expects to hit a financial hit with a significant decrease in sales tax revenues with most businesses closed or curtailed.
A business liaison unit has been formed locally to take applications for a small business relief program which the county funded by $1 million. A link to the program is offered on the city’s website or by visiting workforceresource.net and filing an application. Applicants must complete the Small Business Relief Program online application and submit all required and/or requested documentation to Stanislaus County Workforce Development by 5 p.m. on April 21.
Councilman Channce Condit asked about testing for public safety personnel and was told they are offered the service if they feel they’ve been exposed or have possible symptoms.
Because many businesses are struggling, Councilman Bret Durossette wondered if the city might relax its sign ordinance standards and allow feather or A-frame signs “until this pandemic thing goes away.”
“I drove downtown, it’s a ghost town with no signage out but there’s still places open,” said Durossette.
Wells said the state and county have been encouraging cities to back off of code enforcement and be “as flexible as possible.” He said the city didn’t need to take action but let businesses know they can skirt the regulations.
Vice Mayor Linda Ryno said she has already seen signs that are illegal but doesn’t feel a need to enact an ordinance. She suggested a social media blitz telling business that sign laws won’t be enforced for the time being.
Councilman Mike Kline agreed in being relaxed about signs that are not permitted, especially is a business is operating in a strip mall where others are closed.
“We’re hoping we’re not in this for the long, long term,” said Wells.
Wells said he was encouraged to hear Gov. Newsom talking about ending stay-in-place orders if the trajectory of the numbers of cases continues.
His final comments were: “Not to say that things couldn’t turn worse and have a big infection rate … that could change that forecast but what we’re seeing today in the grand scheme of things, Stanislaus County and all of California for that matter are doing comparatively well if you look to our friends on the East Coast. So that’s encouraging and that’s the message to our community: keep it up, keep doing the right thing.”
Mayor Chris Vierra said all the mayors and county officials have been on daily conference calls.
“I just want to assure you that the county and the cities have worked very hard to make sure there are additional beds and capacity should that be needed,” said the mayor. “Fortunately that has not been needed.”
He said he doubts if things will return to normal as before but will be offered as a “gradual ease back into things.”
Vierra said the state is not looking for one peak in numbers but potentially several “when we open this back up because there are some people who haven’t been exposed to it. So when we turn back around and go back into next flu season we could see some cases go back up. We just have to make sure we get to a point to where we feel confident that we’ve been exposed to enough of it.”
He said experts forecast a number of peaks, like a roller coaster ride with each successive peak getting smaller and smaller.
County Supervisor Jim DeMartini participated in the meeting and chimed in and said the county negotiated to open up the former Scenic General Hospital.
At the outset of the April 13 meeting, from his home citizen Gene Yeakley asked if the city had plans if civil unrest occurs and things get ugly for a lack of food supplies during a prolonged shutdown.
“When they get out to the very end it could be very trying and they could start acting out, you know, be dangerous to be outside, maybe,” said Yeakley.
He was told that the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is making plans in all scenarios.
“Yes, there is constant planning between the cities and the EOC … planning for all potential scenarios but for the most part focused on what is in front of us today and then planning for the longer term needs depending on what happens next.”