Community leaders give COVID-19 update to city council


SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — South Lake Tahoe City Council received an in-depth COVID-19 update from community leaders at Tuesday’s meeting.

Each council meeting, City Manager Joe Irvin gives an update on the most recent case numbers as well as the city’s efforts to help the community. However, this meeting, on top of Irvin’s regular update, the council heard directly from community leaders.

Barton Health’s CEO Dr. Clint Purvance started with an update on Barton’s numbers and efforts.

The hospital tests only symptomatic people or people who have been in direct contact with COVID and have currently found nearly 900 cases.

Purvance said that while they’ve seen the predictable uptick in cases following holidays, the Tahoe region has seen an increasing trend in cases since mid-November not as a direct result from holidays.

Since March, Barton has worked diligently on creating a triage system for COVID. They have set up the call center to field virus calls, which has cut down on people going straight to the hospital. The center is staffed seven days a week by four to five nurses at a time. They field about 50-150 calls per day.

If callers meet criteria to get tested, they are directed to the drive-up clinic. Purvance said yesterday, the clinic saw 44 patients. The current maximum the clinic can see in a day is 49 but that capacity can be increased if the need arises.

For more extreme cases, patients are directed to respiratory urgent care which sees about 10-12 patients per day. Patients can also visit the emergency room but they are asked to call before coming in. On Monday, seven patients were seen in the ER.

Finally, he talked about intensive care unit capacity, the number that recently has been driving the state’s mandates. As of this morning, the ICU has five COVID patients, with one expected to be released soon. Two of those patients are on ventilators. The ICU has nine ventilators that can be used and that number can be extended to 16 if needed.

In the normal non ICU, COVID wing, there are currently six patients.

However, staffing the ICU’s is the biggest challenge facing most hospitals right now. For Barton, they currently have about 4% of their staff out due to COVID related reasons; either they have symptoms or someone in their household has symptoms.

The majority of the staff who get COVID get it from household or community spread. Purvance said its very rare for staff to get exposed at the hospital.

At any given time (regardless of a pandemic) Barton may have approximately 4% of staff out on leaves of absence or vacation, hospital officials said. Barton staff out due to COVID related reasons fluctuates daily. In total, Barton had 10% of its workforce unavailable to work as of Tuesday.

There are some silver linings that Purvance talked about. The hospital has restarted elective procedures, except for gastrointestinal and sleep studies. With the other hospitals in the area experiencing low capacity, Barton is bringing on more specialists so that they don’t have to transfer patients to other hospitals.

Barton is also helping patients from Tahoe Forest and Carson Valley Medical Center as capacity allows.

Purvance also said they have access to all adequate treatments and will soon be receiving vaccines.

One point he stressed is that mitigation efforts do work and it’s not just elderly who are getting sick so everyone needs to be cautious.

Next, Lake Tahoe Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Todd Cutler presented to the council.

All schools in the district were operating in a hybrid model except for the high school. However, on Nov. 18, because of staffing issues and local trends, the school district went back to remote learning.

Cutler said the direction he has gotten from the county indicates all the schools, except the high school, can return to hybrid when the district feels its safe, regardless of what tier the county is in.

Cutler anticipates being able to return to hybrid on Jan. 19, that will be far enough away from the holidays to track trends. He suspects the high school may be able to go to hybrid in the first week of February.

One thing Cutler said is that he’s not just looking at active cases when making decisions, he is also looking at positivity rates, testing capacity and trends that may indicate an increase in cases.

The district’s teachers union is advocating for teachers to be among the first to receive the vaccine, which Mayor Tamara Wallace supports. While the city can give its support, it cannot dictate who gets the vaccine first.

Mayor Pro Tem Devin Middlebrook asked Cutler if the city could offer support in getting students fed while they are remote learning. Cutler said while school is in session, they are able to deliver meals but services will stop during the winter break, so the district will need community support to get students fed during that time.

The final presentation was by Steve Frisch from the Sierra Business Council. The resilience fund has received 16 eligible applications and has approved four of those, three of which have been funded.

The loan has a 2% interest rate on a five year loan with a six month deferred payment. The loan also comes with technical assistance and business coaching for the life of the loan.

Frisch said many businesses said they’d rather receive a grant than a loan but because CARES Act funding is running out, interest in the Resilience Fund has increased over the last few weeks.

After the presentations, the council voted on several recommendations from the Short Term Economic Recovery Task Force.

The first recommendation is a $100,000 reimbursement program for single-use containers at restaurants. The business can send in a receipt and receive a 50% reimbursement up to $5,000.

Because of the city ban on Styrofoam and plastic bags, restaurants can’t receive reimbursement for those items. Councilmember John Friedrich spoke with South Tahoe Refuse which said they would prefer businesses use paper and cardboard items.

The second recommendation was for up to $10,000 to retrofit the recreation’s center propane tank to be a community propane refill station.

The third recommendation was a contribution by the city to the “Pay it Forward” program. The recommendation was for $5,000 but council requested the number be raised to $10,000.

The council approved all three recommendations.

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