July 14, 2020 Moonshine Minutes

The COVID storm’s a-blowin’



We’re running backwards.

Yesterday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced statewide closures of indoor operations for restaurants, wineries, movie theaters, zoos, museums, and cardrooms. Bars must close all operations.

Newsom took it further for 30 California counties, including Placer, requiring re-closures of indoor operations of fitness centers, places of worship, offices for non-critical sectors, personal care services, hair salons, barbershops, and malls.


These new mandates come as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise across the nation. States like Colorado, Kentucky, Montana, North Dakota and the District of Columbia are experiencing spiking numbers of cases, and may soon follow California’s lead in back stepping reopening efforts.

In Nevada, the trajectory of reopening the economy is also backwards, though not quite as swiftly as in California. Gov. Steve Sisolak recently laid out new restrictions for counties with elevated transmission risk. Washoe County is included in that list, meaning bars, pubs, taverns, distilleries, breweries, and wineries that don’t serve food must close.

I’m Alex Hoeft, here with the latest Moonshine Minutes, delving into the backstory of these renewed closures. Here’s how we got here.

The novel coronavirus blew into town in March, knocking us off our proverbial feet as cases roller-coastered around Tahoe, yielding small peaks and victorious valleys. State and local leaders, never before confronted with such a pandemic, battened down the hatches — closing businesses, begging for limited interaction among their constituents, and emphasizing hand washing and the need for face coverings.

Then the eye of the storm made landfall in May, COVID-19 curbing its wrath and giving false hope as case numbers slowed. 

As is often true of actual hurricanes, the highest storm surge comes after the eye passes and it’s likely to be a rough, wheels-up landing. The U.S. currently sits atop charts of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths, with distant second places. On July 7, the state of California shattered previous single-day records of new cases, with 11,694. Locally, cases continue to spike with Tahoe’s return to a tourism destination. The uptick was expected, and it’s known it will continue in a second wave, but the difference is that we will be ready for it.

Yet with uncertainty raging and human lives at stake, the next steps must be walked carefully, and both medical experts and political representatives hope for a balance between protecting public health and maintaining a stable economy.

Allowing the state to reopen has been a piecemeal effort by Gov. Gavin Newsom — literally. With the California Department of Public Health at the helm of the ship, health officers from each county provide information about what would flood current availability.

Numbers of beds, ventilators, and other supplies differ from county to county. Based on the data, the state set thresholds each county must stay within to continue reopening.

In addition to the average number of COVID-19 tests being given per day, the department of public health looks at three main areas when determining the success each county has in combating the virus: elevated disease transmission, an increase in the average number of COVID cases hospitalized, and limited hospital capacity.

While the formulas are the same for each county, the numbers differ based on population and whether the location is rural or urban.

Dr. Glennah Trochet, deputy public health officer for Nevada County, said, “The bottom line is, [the state doesn’t] want to overwhelm the health system with so many sick people that we run out of resources.”

She said Nevada County isn’t near overwhelming what there’s room for — that’s why things have continued to open; “but it doesn’t mean we couldn’t get there.”

On July 9, Placer County was placed on the state’s COVID-19 monitoring list. Should the county remain on the list for three consecutive days, some businesses — such as dine-in restaurants, movie theaters, and museums — will have to close indoor operations.

Additionally, brewpubs, breweries, bars, and pubs must close both indoor and outdoor operations unless they offer sit-down, dine-in meals. The announcement goes back to the July 7 Placer County board meeting where  Dr. Aimee Sisson, health officer and public health director, said some of the county’s state monitoring metrics were starting to cross thresholds.

On June 19, case rates sat at 53 per 100,000 residents across 14 days. But on July 7, the number spiked to 101.4. Additionally, county hospitalization rates are given special attention if there’s a 10% increase over three days; in the three days leading up to July 7, there was a 41% increase in Placer hospitals.

As cases rise again, it’s difficult to not consider the much-talked-about second wave of COVID.

But current spikes do not equal a second wave. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the Associated Press on June 21, “When you have 20,000-plus infections per day, how can you talk about a second wave? We’re in the first wave. Let’s get out of the first wave before you have a second wave.”

For historical context, the 1918 flu pandemic had its first flare-up in the early months of the year, a second wave in September, and a third wave in January 1919.

While many have offered the idea that COVID will flare up once more come cooler weather (the true second wave), Dr. Sisson offers a different perspective: “The concern is less around the weather in and of itself and more around people being indoors, potentially closer together in less ventilated spaces as we move into fall and winter — environments that have been shown to promote transmission of COVID-19.”

Ryan Gruver, health and human services director for Nevada County says the only way to get back to the May stagnation of cases, is to actually re-enter the stay-at-home mandate. Even modest pull-backs on reopening, he continued, wouldn’t yield flattening to that same extent.

Realistically, however, the goal is to slow the virus’ spread and turn the spike into a gradual curve that leads to flattening.

“That’s what we seem to be seeing in California with this gradual increase that goes along with increased testing capacity and kind of a gradual transmission as opposed to a spike that overwhelms everything … Obviously we’d like no new cases, [but] that’s not my expectation at this point.”

The realities are not only tied to the economy, but human nature as well. Cindy Wilson, director of public health nursing for Nevada County, compared the reopening of businesses to the mindset of ‘everything’s okay now.’ She also pointed to fatigue and a lack of understanding as to why people are wanting to socialize again.

“Nobody is saying that means [everything is] safer. What we’re saying is we believe we have a better capacity than we did in March to be able to surge. We’re more ready than we were but we’re not ever saying that reopening means we’re safe from the virus.” 

Check out the full story, A Hurricane Named COVID, in our July print edition, on stands now or online at moonshineink.com. Find direct links to county threshold info, COVID data, and more. Wear those face coverings, maintain physical distance, and remember to keep Tahoe smart.



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