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Chair of Sonoma County supervisors calls for urgent coronavirus response actions

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Susan Gorin, chair of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, on Tuesday underscored the need for urgent actions to address coronavirus spread, a widespread level of community transmission that’s stymied the county’s ability to reopen more businesses and public venues as other Bay Area counties show substantial progress.

During a virtual supervisors’ meeting, Gorin said local residents and business leaders constantly are asking what the county’s plan is to reduce new daily COVID-19 infections enough to resume more commercial activities under the state’s four-stage reopening plan for the 58 counties.

Since late August, Sonoma County has been mired in the bottom stage of reopening, therefore having to keep monthslong stiff restrictions in place such as disallowing indoor food and drink service at area restaurants, wine tasting rooms and brewpubs.

“Everybody is hurting and very stressed and we hope maybe we can see a light at the end of that tunnel with some actions moving forward,” Gorin said.

Her comments were directed at County Administrator Sheryl Bratton and Health Services Director Barbie Robinson, who are leading the development of a new multifaceted strategic plan to blunt the severe public health and economic effects of the pandemic disease.

The plan, which county public health officials say should be finalized this week, includes: ramping up COVID-19 testing; offering financial assistance to residents who contract the virus but who don’t have paid sick leave from their employers; and hotel vouchers for low-income residents who have tested positive for the contagion but can’t effectively isolate at home from family members.

Bratton said the plan also includes working with the local business community to increase financial support for employees who test positive for the virus. Specifics about the final plan proposal will be presented to county supervisors at an Oct. 20 board meeting.

Meanwhile, the county administrator told the supervisors Tuesday she will be working with health department officials this week to identify sources to pay for execution of the new pandemic response plan of action.

Local officials have acknowledged they are trying to emulate some of the successful public health pandemic response tactics of Alameda and Santa Clara counties. Both counties have made significant progress tamping down the virus, thereby enabling them to continue reopening businesses and easing operating restrictions on others.

Robinson, the health services director, said public health staff members have been “working feverishly” finalizing strategy details. Robinson said that work should be finished by the end of the week.

Robinson and county Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase briefed supervisors in private meetings Friday and Monday about plan progress and elements under consideration.

Such COVID-19 “emergency” legislative meetings are permitted under an executive order California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued earlier this year, said David Snyder, executive director of the First Amendment Coalition. Elected officials can receive input and information and ask questions at such meetings, but are precluded from deliberating during the meetings about any of the information presented to them, Snyder said.

A Press Democrat reporter on Tuesday asked the county for a transcript or notes from the two private meetings. County officials have not yet responded.

In response to Robinson, Gorin called the public anxiety level “pretty intense” and stressed the urgency of the situation and the need to inform the public about what new tactics the county plans to take to try to control the spread of the virus.

"I hope that we don't delay putting the details out when we should be putting more information out into our media channels to let our community know potentially how we're moving forward on this,“ Gorin said. ”Let's not keep it to ourselves, let's put it out there.“

On Tuesday, as expected, state public officials announced that Sonoma County would remain in the most restrictive tier of reopening, due to its high rate of daily COVID-19 cases.

The state assesses counties every Tuesday using three metrics that measure success or failure in controlling the virus. They are new daily cases per 100,000 residents, the overall test positivity percentage and the test positivity rate in the county’s most disadvantaged neighborhoods.

In Tuesday’s assessment, the county’s virus transmission rate of 10.6 new daily cases per 100,000 falls short of the threshold to qualify for advancement under state guidelines. That rate is 8 or fewer new daily cases per 100,000 people.

The county’s two test positivity levels are 5% for the county overall and 7.5% for disadvantage residents in local communities. The latter is known as the health equity metric. While test positivity rates are below the 8% minimum set by state public health officials for reopening advancement, the county continues to be held back by its high virus transmission level.

If Sonoma County can meet the state’s minimum requirements on all three benchmarks, it could resume indoor businesses in limited capacity at restaurants, gyms, movie theaters and museums, among others. Also, businesses already allowed to operate indoors would be able to increase current operating capacity indoors.

As the pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on the economy and those residents that contract COVID-19, Gorin said there’s a “rising sense of urgency” among local businesses and residents for local officials to take whatever actions necessary to speed the pace of the county’s reopening.

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pressreno.

Track coronavirus cases in Sonoma County, across California, the United States and around the world here.

For more stories about the coronavirus, go here.

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