Stanislaus County officials are asking the state to grant them more authority when it comes to re-opening the local economy, following the decision by the public health director to rescind the stay at home order on May 12 and the Board of Supervisors voting to not use any resources in enforcing the statewide order.
Stanislaus County Public Health Director Dr. Julie Vaishampayan ended the stay at home order for Stanislaus County, but the statewide order issued by the California Department of Public Health and Gov. Gavin Newsom remains in place. Dr. Vaishampayan said the purpose of the local public health was to put in place stricter guidelines than what the state was mandating and that now, the county has reached a point in the ongoing coronavirus pandemic where the stricter guidelines are no longer necessary.
Dr. Vaishampayan said the data shows the threat of catching COVID-19 through community transmission is low in Stanislaus County and that the majority of the new cases are coming from cluster outbreaks, most notably the one at Turlock Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
TNRC has accounted for 150 positive coronavirus cases and 16 deaths. Other clusters that have driven up the case numbers in Stanislaus County are an outbreak at a Safeway distribution center in Tracy that sickened 56 county residents and resulted in the death of a Turlock man, and a family funeral which led to 26 positive cases in the community. All total, the cluster cases account for 42 percent of Stanislaus County’s positive cases and 71 percent of the deaths.
“It’s not reflective of what we are seeing in our community,” Dr. Vaishampayan said of the cluster cases.
On May 7, California Department of Public Health Director Dr. Sonia Angell stated the mitigation efforts of the entire state, combined with plans to meet ongoing health needs allowed for the entire state to move from Stage 1 to Stage 2 of the California Pandemic Resilience Roadmap. Some local jurisdictions that are still experiencing higher case counts, like Los Angeles, can keep in place their stricter health orders and remain in Stage 1, which only allowed for essential services to be opened.
Stage 2 is divided into two phases — A and B — and Stanislaus County is currently in the A phase. This expands the essential services and allows for things like curbside retail and manufacturing and logistics for those retail enterprises.
Dr. Vaishampayan and Stanislaus County officials believe Stanislaus County is ready to move into phase B of the second stage and are sending a letter to the state to request a variance and move into the next phase.
“Stanislaus County has made progress in flattening the curve and our data shows that we are now prepared to begin reopening safely and responsibly,” said Dr Vaishampayan. “We are now advocating and attesting to the State that Stanislaus County is ready to move forward.”
The state wants counties to show they have met certain criteria to move along to phase B. Local jurisdictions need to show they have increased testing capacity and have plans in place for containment should an outbreak occur and that the hospitals can handle a surge in cases. They also need to show they have the equipment to protect essential workers and those who are the most vulnerable to COVID-19 in the population. The final criteria are that the area needs to record zero deaths and one or fewer cases per 10,000 residents during a 14-day period, which is where Stanislaus County has had issues, though Dr. Vaishampayan said it has been from the cluster cases and not the community as a whole.
“Our Board supports Dr. Vaishampayan’s recommendation that our county’s COVID‐19 data and level of preparedness warrants a broader re‐opening of our local economy,” said Kristin Olsen, Chairperson for Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors. “We have worked with our public health experts, hospitals and other partners to ensure we have adequate resources in place to continue protecting public health as we move to re‐open more businesses and activities. Data and science demonstrate that this is the right thing to do for our community. Waiting any longer puts the health, safety, and economic well‐being of our residents at risk.”
When Stanislaus County is allowed to move into phase B of Stage 2, it would allow for dine-in restaurant service with modifications like only operating at half or less capacity. However, some restaurants like Velvet Grill on McHenry Avenue in Modesto announced they are open this week. It also would allow for the relaxation of retail guidelines so that people could go into the stores and let shopping malls and swap meets open. Other office-based businesses could re-open, though telecommuting would still be encouraged to help with social distancing. Schools and childcare could resume. Services like pet grooming, car washes, landscaping and tanning facilities also could open, as well as outdoor museums.
What would not be included in either phase of Stage 2 are personal services like hair and nail salons, barbers, tattoo parlors, gyms and fitness studios; hospitality services like bars, lounges, nightclubs and game rooms; entertainment venues like movie theaters, arenas, concert venues, arcades, casinos; community centers like libraries, indoor museums, galleries, public pools, playgrounds and picnic areas; religious and cultural services; festivals and theme parks; and hotels for leisure and tourism. Most of those businesses will not be allowed to re-open until Stage 3 and in some cases like arenas and concert venues, Stage 4.
One new development is the partial reopening of county reservoirs starting with Modesto Reservoir this weekend.
“The Parks and Recreation Department is looking forward to opening our gates to the residents of Stanislaus County,” said Department Director Jackie Dwyer. “We understand these have been trying times for everyone, and if we can be a small part of some reprieve, we’re honored to do our part. But we will definitely proceed with caution.”
Starting on Saturday, Modesto Reservoir is open to Stanislaus County residents only. Proof of address will be required. Day use will be between the hours of 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. and will be enforced. Boating and on-lake activities are permitted, but there will be no camping or shoreline congregation allowed at this time. Boating rrestrictions will also apply, with the County limiting access to 50 boats on the water. Boating access will be permitted on a first come, first served basis.
Beginning June 6, camping will be also be allowed for county residents only. Residents must make reservations online via Reserve America. Limited camping spots will be available at Modesto Reservoir (171). Shoreline utilization will be permitted for campers only. However, day use shoreline congregation will not be allowed.
Woodward Reservoir will remain closed until June 6. Upon opening, county residents only will be permitted to use the reservoir. Boating restrictions will also apply at Woodward, with a 75 boat maximum. Camping will be allowed for residents of Stanislaus County, who will be required to make reservations online as well. Reservations will be limited to 79 campers and 20 first-come, first-served. Shoreline activities will be permitted for campers only. No day use shoreline congregation will be allowed.
The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department will patrol the camping areas of both reservoirs regularly. Campers may be asked for receipts or identification. Anyone without proof of residency will be asked to leave the reservoir and will not receive a refund. No group picnic area rentals will be accepted at either campsite to remain compliant with mass gathering restrictions.
The Board of Supervisors vote to not spend any resources on enforcing the statewide public health order is in agreement with what Gov. Newsom said when the order was first issued. He said he did not want it to be a matter for law enforcement and that he didn't want people being arrested over it. Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse said people should defer to the statewide order and that businesses not allowed to be open at this time should remain closed.
“If anyone opens up outside the guidelines that are there, they could face enforcement from state regulatory bodies,” Dirkse said. “The best example would be if a bar opened up, ABC might come in and revoke the liquor license.
“In Stanislaus County we have done our utmost to treat everyone with dignity and as adults,” Dirkse said. “Our expectation is that you are going to behave like an adult.”
Dirkse said he understood people would like to get together to celebrate birthdays and milestones like graduations, but that they should resist the temptation to gather in large groups.
“Do not gather outside your household,” Dirkse said. “Make the right decision.”
Before any businesses do re-open, county officials are encouraging them to check out Good 2 Go Stanislaus online for information and state guidelines on the best practices to put in place to protect guests and employees. Good 2 Go Stanislaus can be found at http://schsa.org/publichealth/pages/corona-virus/.
Stanislaus County and City of Modesto offices will be re-opening on Monday at the Tenth Street Plaza in Modesto. When coming to Tenth Street Place, visitors are encouraged to wear a face covering at all times, use hand sanitizer or wash their hands if possible and keep six feet of distance from others when in the facility. A limited supply of face coverings will be available to visitors that do not have them.
Customers are encouraged to continue using online services, reaching departments by phone, mail or email and using drop box payment options when possible. Most services are accessible remotely or open by appointment. Please check the department website or call ahead to determine whether or not the services you are looking for are available for in person visits, by appointment or only remotely.
In accordance with the ongoing order related to mass gatherings, Board of Supervisor meetings will continue to be held online and by telephone through June.
The move to re-open more of the local economy comes as the number of positive COVID-19 cases in Stanislaus County hit 544. Of those, 108 are presumed active and 24 people have died from the virus. Within the last 24 hours there have been seven new cases and one death, according to the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency.
Unlike the national trend, which has shown men dying at a higher rate than women, 70 percent of Stanislaus County's fatalities have been women. The deceased have mainly been among those 65 years or older, which accounted for 87.5 percent, while the remainder of the fatalities have been in people age 50 to 64 years.
Of the 108 presumed active cases, 38 are currently hospitalized, with three of those in ICU. A total of 102 people have been hospitalized with COVID-19 locally. As of Wednesday, 51 percent of the hospital beds, 42 percent of the ICU beds and 79 percent of the ventilators are available, according to the SCHSA.
Of the county’s 544 cases, 389 people caught the virus through direct contact with an exposed individual. Another 138 people got it through community transmission and the remaining 17 were exposed during travel to an area where the virus is present.
Of those who have been diagnosed with COVID-19, 54 percent are females and 46 percent are males.
People 20 years and younger make up 7 percent of the cases. Those between 21 to 30 years account for 15 percent of the cases. Individuals 31 to 40 years represent 14 percent of the cases, while those 41 to 50 years account for 18 percent. Those between 51 to 60 years make up 16 percent of the cases, followed by those 61 to 70 years, which make up 9 percent of the cases. People in the ages of 71 to 80 years account for 8 percent of the cases and those from 81 to 90 years are at 9 percent. Those 91 and over account for 3 percent of the cases in the county.
Turlock has the most cases in the county at 168. Modesto has 138 reported cases, followed by 68 in Ceres and 45 in Patterson. Stanislaus County District 5 has 28 cases, and District 3 and District 2 each have 20 cases. Riverbank has 14 cases and Newman has 12 cases. Waterford has eight cases. District 1 has seven cases, as does Oakdale and Hughson. District 4 has four cases.
In Merced County's neighboring communities to Turlock, Delhi has 20 cases and Hilmar has six. All total, Merced County has had 200 cases, with 67 presumed active and six deaths.
Stanislaus County has tested 8,957 people and Dr. Vaishampayan said the three testing sites have the capability to test anyone experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. The county has partnered with OptumServe to operate testing sites in Keyes and Patterson and Verily's Baseline COVID-19 Program in Salida. Testing will be by appointment only. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, visit https://lhi.care/covidtestingto sign up for COVID-19 test.