Newsom closes more industries, county asks for COVID funding

Gov. Gavin Newsom calls for bar closures all across California, adds new industry closures for counties on the state’s monitoring list unless they can operate outside

VISALIA – Governor Gavin Newsom took to the podium yesterday and dealt a blow to bars and other industries throughout the state and in Tulare County.

Referring to reopening as if it were a “dimmer switch,” Newsom rolled back some of the industries he allowed to reopen just over a month ago. Yesterday Newsom called for all counties to close: dine-in restaurants; wineries and tasting rooms; movie theaters; family entertainment centers; zoos; museums; and card rooms.

Bars, brewpubs, breweries and tasting rooms were already ordered to shutdown two weeks ago in Tulare County as COVID-19 cases continued to climb through June and into July. But after Newsom’s press conference on Monday, 30 counties who have been on the state’s monitoring list for three days or more, including Tulare County, will see fitness centers, worship services, indoor protests, offices for non-essential sectors, personal care services, hair salons, barbershops and malls close. Unless they can be modified for pickup only or done outside.

By the numbers

Last Tuesday, Tulare County Health and Human Services director Tim Lutz provided his weekly update to the board, and found that the majority of new cases are still in the 0-17 years old and 26-40 years old demographic. As of Monday July 13, there have been 629 cases for people 0 to 17 years old and 1,651 cases for people 26-40 years old. Cases that are beginning to reach into the older and vulnerable population, ages 41 to 64, have had 1,856 cases.

As well, according to Lutz, the 14-day case rate metric increased 51.6% from the previous week, skyrocketing from 251 cases per 100,000 residents in the county to 381.7. Lutz said last week that there is not one particular outbreak to point to like there was at the beginning of the pandemic. Instead, the cases are throughout the county.

After the spread got out of hand through June and hospitals began to see an increase in intensive care unit cases involving ventilators, Kaweah Delta CEO Gary Herbst and Sierra View Medical Center CEO Donna Hefner spoke to the press before the July Fourth weekend.

Herbst recounted that Kaweah Delta had approximately 400 beds open during March and April to prepare for a surge of COVID-19 patients that never materialized. As a result, Herbst said the hospital was forced to furlough employees. Friday, July 3, Herbst said the hospital was at 90% capacity and had only 14 available beds for COVID-19 patients.

“The breakout of the virus can overwhelm the hospital,” Herbst said. “Please be vigilant and think about your fellow human beings…we ask that you wear a mask to protect you…but to also protect other people.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom issued sweeping rollbacks in reopening on Monday, closing down all bars and indoor dining options across California. Submitted image.

Hefner echoed Herbst pleas to the community to help slow the spread. She implored the community follow social distancing protocols to limit interactions with others, and wear a mask in public. She added during her remarks on Friday that Sierra View had seen a significant increase in cases over the previous week.

“We are seeing the surge in the community that is causing people to become very, very sick…I’m asking you to become part of the solution,” Hefner said, also before the July Fourth weekend.

Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux joined Supervisor Shuklian along with Herbst, Hefner and Lutz, in their call for everyone to wear masks in public.

“I’ve said it in the past that law enforcement’s function should not be to cite or arrest people not wearing a mask…we do need to wear our masks. We need to be a responsible community,” Boudreaux said.

The sheriff added that instead of taking on a traditional enforcement role, he and his deputies have decided to offer educational fliers. Complete with Centers for Disease Control guidelines, the fliers spell out the need for appropriate hygiene, the importance of social distancing and wearing a mask in public. The fliers are be in both English and Spanish, Boudreaux said.

Boudreaux said that the sheriff’s department is also offering masks to anyone who needs one, or wants one. And he reinforced the county’s message.

“If you don’t believe a mask does anything, and our medical experts say that it does, let’s rely on our medical staff and wear those masks,” Boudreaux said.

Relief needed

Much of Tulare County’s defiance with the state over Gov. Newsom’s attestation variance, and the state’s subsequent threat to withhold COVID-19 funding, seemed to be pushed aside last week.

The Tulare County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to let county administrative officer Jason Britt sign and submit a certification for reimbursement for the federally passed $2 trillion Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act package. And submit a certification for funding for realignment backfill funding for what has been lost in sales tax, due to the coronavirus.

The board voted 5-0 for Britt to submit the certifications for CARES and realignment funding by July 10. According to a county staff report on the item, the county expects to receive $48.9 million out of the Governor’s budget by July 30. The report states the funding is intended for COVID-19 expenditures, impacts, mitigations, responses and effects caused by the public health emergency.

As of last Tuesday, July 7, Tulare County Health and Human Services Agency, director, Tim Lutz said the county has spent $2.6 million in COVID-19 related costs. And $331,144 on Project Room Key, the program intended to keep homeless off the street and safe from the coronavirus. Lutz said out of the 98 participants, all but one has tested negative for the virus.

By accepting the CARES Act funding, the county is also required to agree to four conditions. According to the staff report the county must, “adhere to federal guidance and the state’s stay-at-home requirements and other health requirements as directed in gubernatorial executive order N-33-20, any subsequent Executive Orders or statutes, and all California Department of Public Health orders, directives, and guidance in response to COVID-19 emergency.”

The other requirements dictate that: the county must follow all provisions of the state’s Budget Act of 2020; the county must also report their expenditures and summarize regional collaboration and non-duplications of efforts within the region by Sept. 1, and return any funds that are unspent by Oct. 30, and then repay the state for any cost disallowed after federal review; and lastly retain records to support reported COVID-19 eligible expenditures and participate in audits outlined by the federal government and state.

Realignment funding became available after Newsom signed Assembly Bill 89 into law on June 29 releasing $1 billion in rainy-day funding.

“A key component of AB-89 provides $1 billion in realignment backfill to help prevent devastating cuts that would occur to safety net programs due to declining realignment revenues. Funding is to be used for health and human services program, entitlement programs and programs that serve the most vulnerable population,” the county staff report stated.

Cases in June and now into July have been staggeringly high since the Tulare County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 to reopen much of the economy on May 19. The move came after Newsom pointed out Tulare County’s increase in cases, particularly in the state regulated skilled nursing facilities. The vote compelled California Office of Emergency Services, an office that falls under Gov. Newsom’s purview, to draft a letter to County Administrative Officer Britt.

“As you may be aware, the budget proposed in the Governor’s May Revision includes $1.3 billion in COVID-19 recovery funding for county governments, and $450 million for cities,” CalOES director, Mark Ghilarducci stated in a May 19 letter. “This funding is explicitly contingent upon jurisdictions’ adherence to federal guidelines and the state’s stay-at-home-order. Clearly the action Tulare County has taken would render it and the cities within the county ineligible for this funding.”

But with funding all but in hand, Ghilarducci’s letter appeared to be more of a shot over the bow.

Nonetheless, the county’s May vote ruffled feathers with cities who also stood to lose state reimbursements funding as well. However, much of the ire from late May and early June have seemed to die down.

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