COVID continues to be a threat

Laney Griffo

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — The Caldor Fire may have pushed the pandemic from people’s minds while they worried about evacuating and losing their homes. Still, the coronavirus continued to move through El Dorado County residents.

Since Aug. 24, as evacuation orders were coming down, more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 were reported in the county. While the virus may have lost its spotlight to the fire, local agencies continued to think about it and worked to combat it.

“Mitigating the spread of COVID-19 as well as treating patients who are sick from COVID-19 continues to be a top priority for Barton,” said Barton Health Chief Medical Officer Dr. Matthew Wonnacott. “Despite evacuation and temporary placement of patients and staff at regional partner medical facilities, infection control protocols and mitigation measures were followed to decrease exposure. This included donning of proper PPE, physical distancing, placement in isolated rooms for patients with COVID-19, and testing when needed.”

During the time Barton was closed due to the fire, they referred patients needing testing and treatment to partner health systems in the region. Local testing resumed as soon as the facilities were operational.

The Reno-Sparks Convention Center was one of the many evacuation centers for residents fleeing Caldor. The center was run by the American Red Cross and they continued to follow national guidelines for COVID mitigation.

“COVID tests are not mandatory to stay in a shelter. We do a standard health screening when they check in,” said Stephen Walsh, director of communications for American Red Cross Gold Country Region. “Rapid COVID tests are available by request at all shelter sites. If it’s determined that an evacuee tests positive for COVID they are transitioned to what we call “non-congregate shelters” which are hotels/motels.”

The evacuation center has closed since Walsh gave this statement but during its operation, they followed CDC guidelines such as spacing beds apart, providing packaged meals instead of serving in a buffet style and requiring volunteers and guests to wear masks.

Being evacuated is a stressful experience so for people wondering if they were going to lose their home, staying six feet away from someone might not be front of mind. The Red Cross worked to strict a balance between compassion and compliance.

“Safety comes first. Especially during the pandemic. We’ve had great success getting evacuees to follow the rules in shelters. I think by now, people realize why guidelines are in place so they’re inclined to follow the rules,” Walsh said.

“Many people, though, chose to sleep in their campers, RVs, cars, etc. for a variety of reasons,” he added. “Some for comfort, some because they had pets that weren’t allowed in the shelters. But even those people who slept outside a shelter can take advantage of all Red Cross services: meals, casework, access to resources, etc.”

Now that life is returning to normal, Barton is continuing to push mitigation efforts.

“Community members are encouraged to continue to be diligent and do their part to slow the spread of COVID-19. The Delta variant is highly contagious, and is infecting people of all ages. As we begin to socially interact and reconnect in places like school and work, there will be an increase in COVID-19 cases,” Wonnacott said. “Receiving the COVID-19 vaccination continues to be the best defense against transmitting the disease as well as avoiding severe illness or hospitalizations. Practice physical distancing and mask while indoors in public places, regardless of vaccination status, until we reach herd immunity.”

El Dorado County could not be reached for comment on COVID testing and tracking during the fire.

As of Sept. 15, there are 14,367 confirmed cases, 21 hospitalizations and six people in the ICU.

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