El Dorado aiming to move further through Phase 2 of governor’s coronavirus response plan

Dylan Svoboda / Mountain Democrat

As some retailers and supply chain companies reopen for business, El Dorado County officials say they’re almost ready to move through Phase 2 of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s four-part coronavirus pandemic response plan.

The governor said Tuesday some low-risk businesses, such as bookstores, florists and sporting goods stores, could open for curbside service Friday. Warehouses and factories were also allowed to return to normalcy, though under social distancing guidelines.

Friday’s changes are only an early iteration of the governor’s second phase. Statewide, the latter phase, involving the reopening of higher-risk businesses like dine-in restaurants and shopping malls, will come at a later date, according to an update from Gov. Newsom Thursday.

But some counties, if they meet guidelines laid out by the California Department of Public Health, can move through the second half of the governor’s plan in the coming days and weeks, Newsom said.

That was the basis for a special meeting Friday morning of the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors.

During the meeting, county Public Health Officer Dr. Nancy Williams laid out the county’s draft readiness plan. Williams and other county officials hurriedly put together the plan late Thursday night, but she indicated that the county is in a strong position to obtain state approval to move through Phase 2.

This weekend Williams will be consulting with the state department of public health to ensure the county’s plan is up to par. The county will then submit its “attestation of readiness” to the state for consideration.

To move further through Phase 2 the county must meet a set of thresholds and guidelines laid out by the governor and the state department of public health, including but not limited to:

  • Having less than one new case of COVID-19 per 10,000 residents in the last 14 days.
  • No COVID-19 deaths in the last two weeks.
  • At least 15 contact tracers per 100,000 people.
  • A testing capacity of 1.5 for every 1,000 residents.
  • Adequate hospital capacity to handle a patient-surge of 35%.
  • Enough PPE for essential workers.
  • The ability to shelter 15% of homeless residents.

Barring unforeseen problems or changes to the guidelines, the county is set to meet those requirements, Williams said.

As of Friday, the county meets the governor’s coronavirus per capita requirement. Over the most recent 14 days (April 24-May 7), a total of 12 coronavirus cases have been reported, which calculates to about 0.6 cases per 10,000 residents. That number could grow as COVID-19 testing ramps up given the opening of two new county testing sites this week.

There have been no reported COVID-19 deaths in El Dorado County to date. Williams added that there have been no coronavirus patients that required intensive care unit treatment either.

New testing sites have brought the county in line with the governor’s testing capacity requirements, Williams said. With an estimated population of nearly 193,000, the county must conduct about 289 tests per day to meet the 1.5 tests for every 1,000 residents threshold.

The two new testing sites, located at Ponderosa High School and Lake Tahoe Community College, provide about 90% of needed testing capacity. Local community health centers and hospitals can provide the remaining 10%, Williams added.

The county Public Health Department has 30 staff members trained in contact tracing, meeting the state’s requirements of 15 per 100,000 residents, she said.

Williams said the county can house 106 homeless residents if needed. A point-in-time count conducted in January 2019 found 613 homeless people in El Dorado County, meaning the county would need to shelter about 92 homeless individuals to meet state requirements. The county had sheltered 10 homeless residents as of Wednesday.

Both El Dorado County hospitals, Barton Memorial Hospital and Marshall Medical Center, have established significant surge capacity, Williams said.

In South Lake Tahoe, Barton has plans to expand its acute-care bed capacity from 63 to 150 and its ICU and ventilator capacity from 9 to 16. On the Western Slope, Marshall Medical has plans to expand its regular acute-care bed capacity from 124 to 198 and its ICU capacity from 12 to at least 20.

Still, despite optimism from county staff, final approval to move further through Phase 2 is up to state officials.

Further clarification from the state is expected in the coming days, according to county Chief Administrative Officer Don Ashton. Gov. Newsom is expected to release guidance surrounding dine-in restaurants Tuesday, May 12.

All businesses will be expected to follow safety precautions laid out by the state if Phase 2 is approved in El Dorado County.

Those waiting for Phase 3 of the coronavirus response, which includes nail and hair salons, gyms and movie theaters, will have to hold back a bit longer, Gov. Newsom said during a press conference Friday. But it could come sooner rather than later, he said.

“Phase 3 is not a year away. It’s not six months away,” Gov. Newsom said Friday. “It’s not even three months away. It may not even be more than a month away.”

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