Kern County may not be far away from entering Stage 3 of California’s economic reopening plan, as the state continues navigating its way through the COVID-19 pandemic.
County Chief Administrative Officer Ryan Alsop said Gov. Gavin Newsom stated Kern County can begin reopening Stage 3 businesses such as bars, gyms, nail salons and public pools once the state’s health officer publishes guidance for those entities.
Alsop said while most local businesses are reopening, there's some reserved for Stage 3 that Newsom deemed “higher-risk” for the spread of COVID-19.
Alsop said the county could receive guidance in the next several days. He added it could be piecemeal — instructions for bars could come one day, gyms the next, etc.
“Our team here is standing ready and awaiting,” he said. “As soon as we get that guidance, we will begin opening those businesses as quickly as possible under that state guidance.”
Director of Kern County Public Health Services Matt Constantine said there’s concern regarding local protests and coinciding spikes of COVD-19 cases.
Constantine urged those participating to wear face masks, particularly when in close quarters.
“It will be interesting to watch as different industries open up and if the protests have any impact to our numbers,” he said. “It’s a good reminder that we all need to be cautious, no matter what our daily activities are. We need to be concerned and take all the actions we can. Again, you’re not just protecting yourself. You’re protecting your family, your children, your parents, your neighbors. It’s a responsibility we all face.”
Constantine said if the county slips beneath certain COVID-19 thresholds established by the state, Kern could take steps backward in reopening efforts.
“The state has told us very clearly, especially as it relates to our variance attestation that we submitted and got approved, if we fail to consistently meet those requirements in that form, and our triggers continue to be exceeded, that is always something the state has held over us. There is the potential that we may have to revert,” Constantine said. “If we are exceeding our capabilities here. If our ICU beds are impacted and we don’t have that capability to care for those in the future that are sick. That remains a threat for us when all these different activities are occurring. It’s something we have to continue to monitor.”
Constantine also discussed striking a balance between caring for local skilled nursing facilities that have experienced COVID-19 outbreaks and preventing others from going through similar issues.
Of the 45 coronavirus-related deaths locally, 24 have come from skilled nursing facilities. Most notably impacted have been Kingston Healthcare Center and Valley Convalescent Hospital.
Although skilled nursing homes are regulated by the California Department of Public Health, the county has increased its measures monitoring the 19 local facilities. Constantine said Kern County officials have daily meetings with state officials regarding local facilities, have conducted routine checks, and are obtaining additional staffing for facilities.
“This virus has shown there are areas that need improvement. Significant improvement. We have taken the unusual stance of really taking a lead role in something that is not the county’s responsibility, but because we are concerned about the residents,” Constantine said.
“It’s not enough. We need to do more. We’re concerned that, although we’re dealing with Kingston and Valley Convalescent now, that there are other facilities. There’s 19 total. This is not something that is specifically unique to those two. We are expecting that it will affect others. But we need to do things now, we need to step in now as much as we can.”
Constantine added that the county’s authority remains limited, as is its experience in caring for the facilities, and it continues looking to the state for assistance.
“We’re really asking the state to play more of an active role in protecting our residents.”