County officials Tuesday talked prospects for reopening the local economy while stressing that such a move would likely happen in a staggered manner.
San Benito County supervisors focused much of their meeting Tuesday on updates regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. They discussed an apparent flattening of the curve – measuring the infection rate locally – and initial thoughts on eventually lifting public restrictions.
The county’s current shelter in place order runs through May 3, while officials said they are looking for guidance from the state with regard to timing and appropriate steps moving forward.
San Benito County had 38 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday afternoon with 27 patients recovered and two deaths.
“I am very encouraged and happy with the progress we’re making with our shelter in place,” Public Health Officer Dr. Marty Fenstersheib said, adding it appears the county is on a “downward slope” with newly confirmed infections.
He warned, however, about lifting restrictions too soon and cautioned that any such move should happen gradually and on a staggered basis when it comes to particular activities.
“I have to commend the population for adhering, for the most part, to the orders,” he said before adding if we open up too soon, the county could face a second wave of infections.
He said it’s probably easier to shut things down than re-starting them and mentioned he had been in talks with health officers throughout the region to ensure a coordinated effort.
He would like to see hospital admissions dropping for a “good few weeks” and assurance the hospital could handle additional cases that might come up with a reopening.
“We have to definitely have better access to testing,” Fenstersheib said.
He expected more to come on the plan in the next couple of weeks.
Photo Caption: File photo from Bill’s Bullpen in downtown Hollister for a previous year’s Free Comic Book Day.
The health officer shared other data such as 24% admission rate to the hospital – amounting to nine cases – and how 22 of the cases were believed to originate out of county due to the heavy commute factor here. Of those, about three-quarters of them commuted to Santa Clara County. From a race standpoint, he noted how 63% of local infections were Latinos, which is largely in line with local demographics.
Also in the virtual meeting was Dr. Michael Bogey, medical director of the Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital emergency room. He also said the community should look at the potential flattening of the curve with caution.
“If we lift our orders too soon, I think we run the risk of that curve rising again,” Bogey said, adding he expects the hospital will be dealing with COVID-19 precautions for a “very, very long time.”
Overall, he said the county has done a “great job” managing the crisis and said the hospital has established a “red-yellow-green light” system to monitor levels of patient saturation. Hazel Hawkins has not reached the yellow level yet, he said.
“The hospital itself is prepared,” he said. “I think part of the easing of the restrictions has to be coordinated with the hospital.”
Supervisors then offered comments and questions. Supervisor Anthony Botelho asked about testing capacity. Bogey said the hospital has several machines able to handle tests but the issue is the actual test kits. He mentioned Hazel Hawkins was set to recieve some test kits from Abbott Laboratories.
Supervisor Jim Gillio emphasized the importance of coordinating efforts with surrounding counties, even those in the valley.
“We need to open as a coalition,” Gillio said.
The health officer said that is the plan and mentioned how certain sectors may open before others, but surmised how large gatherings and sports would likely be the last categories reestablished.
Officials expected to keep a close eye on plans at the state level, with Gov. Gavin Newsom expected to provide an update later today on expectations to reopen California’s economy.