An image of the novel coronavirus, which is now known as COVID-19. Image courtesy of USA Today

Plumas officials update supervisors on COVID-19 and reopening

By Debra Moore

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Plumas County finds itself in a Catch-22: nonessential travel is still prohibited which keeps residents safer from coronavirus exposure, but local businesses, particularly the lodging providers, need those visitors to survive financially.

That’s part of the message shared by county Public Health Director Andrew Woodruff and Sheriff Todd Johns during the May 19 meeting of the board of supervisors. They also provided an update on how Stage 2 is progressing. Restaurants and retail businesses are open throughout the county with social distancing and sanitation measures in place.

Sheriff Johns said that he and three of his staff spread out last week and contacted 100 businesses “asking if they had questions, if they needed resources, information, etc.” He found that they need face masks. “Several businesses requested them,” he said, so he put in a request for masks to distribute.

Now county officials are waiting to see what happens. “In a week or a couple of weeks if we don’t see an increase (in cases), we can ask the governor to move part of phase three into phase two,” Johns said.

During a news briefing last week, Gov. Gavin Newsom addressed the first phases of Stage 3, and mentioned barbershops, salons, and some changes to churches, but did not mention gyms or lodging.

“The stay-at-home order still prohibits nonessential travel,” Woodruff said, and added that small counties asked for the governor’s help with this initially because of the increases risk that travel would bring.

Woodruff said officials continue to monitor what is happening in Reno and Washoe County. “Over the weekend there were 54 new cases in Reno,” Woodruff said, with half attributed to a memory care unit.

Reno’s close proximity to the eastern portion of the county concerns public health officials, because if there were to be a spike in cases, it could jeopardize the progress that the county has made in reopening.

Still, they know that those visitors are vital to the local economy. Woodruff said he understood the situation well. “My girlfriend is an innkeeper in Plumas County,” he said.

Though he couldn’t give a specific date, Woodruff said he was confident that if all goes well, Stage 3 could be just weeks away. However, he cautioned that nonessential travel “may not be allowed until Stage 4.”

Woodruff reminded the supervisors that the county was just six days into reopening and it takes a few weeks to see any ramifications. However, he said his agency will “do absolutely everything to move ourselves through the stages. I’m optimistic.”

Johns said, “We have to do this as safely as we can.” Supervisor Lori Simpson commended Johns and his staff for visiting the businesses.

Johns also mentioned the fact that local barbershops and hair salons remain closed, while some in Reno are operational. “I’m concerned that people here drive to Reno for a haircut.”

One local barbershop did open, but was subsequently cited and closed again. District Attorney David Hollister told the supervisors he was working with the state to save that barber’s license.

Hollister said the pandemic was a “national problem with no national response” so local government has stepped up. “I echo Sheriff Todd Johns, we want to open the second it’s safe to do so, but we want it to be legal.”

Shifting subjects, Supervisor Simpson noted that court was resuming and asked if it would be possible to check temperatures in the lobby since more people would be entering the courthouse.

Hollister said that bailiffs were checking temperatures before individuals entered the courtroom and he could make a thermometer available for lobby personnel.

Woodruff presents an update on coronavirus in the county to the board during its scheduled meetings, as well as to the supervisors individually by phone during the week.

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