Rising COVID-19 cases in Del Norte County moved the county into the Purple Tier on Tuesday, which led to a unanimous vote by the Crescent City Council to close city hall for the rest of the year.
City employees will still be at work and will be available to assist community members but only if appointments are made in advance.
Under the Purple Tier in California, non-essential businesses are forced to close to the public. Restaurants will move to carry-out or delivery service, and businesses are urged to allow as many workers as possible to work remotely.
Dr. Warren Rehwaldt, the county’s public health officer, told council members COVID was spreading quickly in Crescent City.
“I think it’s pretty clear things have changed a bit,” he said. “We’re probably over 300 cases. Not a good direction to go.”
Rehwaldt said contact tracers have found several major problems as the cases have grown. He said some people are still not taking the virus seriously, with many cases traced back to parties or large gatherings. He also said people have been going to work when sick and infecting others.
“Stay home when you’re ill,” he said. “Forego the parties, forego the gatherings. It’s too dangerous now. I’m concerned about the upcoming holidays. I know people made plans. If it’s not too late to alter them, it’s probably the best things to do. Do not gather in large groups and take precautions in your home. Wear a mask around your family. When you sit down for dinner, don’t sit down next to each other, spread out. Treat each other like you could be the one carrying it into the house.”
While the number of cases is not good, there are a few positive notes, Rehwaldt said.
“It’s not a good place for us to be,” he said. “It still hasn’t impacted our hospital. I think there’s only one person in the hospital.”
Rehwaldt said there has also not been any cases as the city’s lone senior assisted living facility. While there are new cases at Pelican Bay State Prison, it is slow growth and not a rapid escalation.
Rehwaldt said with the move to the Purple Tier, a lot of businesses will be asked to move things outdoors.
Councilman Alex Fallman said one thing he is hearing is that the virus isn’t deadly to most, so they aren’t going to make drastic changes.
“Well, it’s still deadly,” Rehwaldt said. “Look at our numbers. It’s more deadly than the flu or the worst pneumonia we see. It literally can fill up hospitals in a few days or a few weeks. It has the capacity to infect so many people at once it can shut down our medical systems.”
Councilman Jason Greenough asked about the senior center and whether it had the right to refuse to allow someone in if they have COVID.
Rehwaldt said the rules are unusual, but the long answer is no. He explained that the Crescent City facility has a plan in place where it could safely care for COVID patients without infecting others.
“I would really like for us to get to the point where we don’t put any in a nursing home when they have COVID,” Greenough said. “I don’t know how we do that.”
Mayor Pro Tem Heidi Kime asked Rehwaldt what the long-term goal was.
“What is it we want out of this,” she asked. “What are you hearing? My understanding is the goal is to flatten the curve. We did that. That was supposed to be two weeks. I’m getting the impression we don’t want people to test positive. I was under the impression biology should take place. People would get this and build up a natural immunity to this. Can you explain what the desired outcome is?”
“We are trying to keep a lid on the virus,” Rehwaldt said. “I think a lot of people are just tired of this and they aren’t taking precautions. The flattening of the curve, calling it a two-week project was misleading. It’s really like a 12-month project.”
Rehwaldt said the goal is to control the virus until a vaccine is available for wide distribution.
Kime also asked about one other things Rehwaldt brought up.
“Did I hear correctly, if I’m at home having dinner with my family, I need to wear a mask,” she asked.
“If you’re eating, it’s pretty hard to have a mask on,” Rehwaldt said. “What we’re recommending is when you’re eating, spread out. Maybe go into a large room and sit on your knees.”
After hearing from Rehwaldt, the council voted to continue a long emergency order that has been in place since March.
City Manager Eric Wier then asked the council to close city hall temporarily to protect the community and city employees. He said a number would be moved to working from home, but there would always be a presence at city hall. He said if someone needed to do business in person, they could call the city and set up an appointment.
After some back and forth discussion, the council voted to shut down city hall through the end of the year.