Mayor discusses ongoing pandemic challenges
–California continues to be a hot spot for the coronavirus and infections continue to increase in our county, even more significantly in our city. We have experienced twice the number of infections of the city second-highest on the list. Health experts say no single transmission vector accounts for the spread of the virus in Paso Robles. That’s a fancy way of saying if you don’t wear a face mask, wash your hands, and maintain social distancing you may already have contributed to the spread of the disease.
Here are some frequently asked questions about what your city is doing during this health crisis:
COVID-19 vs. the flu?
We face many of the same issues we did during the great 1918-19 flu pandemic. I am sure you are familiar with the 1918-9 pandemic. It killed about 650,000 Americans. As of this writing, COVID-19 has claimed 162,000 American lives. In some cities in 1918-19, most people accepted the need to wear masks and practice social distancing. In others, not so much. We seem to be re-experiencing that more than 100 years later with Paso Robles being among the reticent. COVID-19 has already killed many times the number of people who die from the flu in a given flu season. In addition, unlike most strains of the flu, the coronavirus seems to have long-term impacts on a variety of organs in a significant percentage of patients. The public’s level of trust in government, people’s willingness to take actions that were for the benefit of the group, not just themselves, are critical factors
Why does Paso Robles have so many infection cases?
We can’t access specific patient-specific data because of HIPAA, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Patient privacy must be protected. According to SLO County Public Health official, Dr. Penny Borenstein, there is no one, or even a few, statistically dominant methods of transmission. It’s carpooling; extended families; July 4th parties, birthday parties, and the like, including people who won’t practice social distancing and won’t wear masks; travelers coming through our community; communal living (such as at rest homes); etc. In short, we are are not as aggressive as other communities re: mask-wearing, hand-washing and social distancing. Dr. Borenstein says the virus should now be presumed to be everywhere in our county.
What is being done to increase testing?
Dr. Borenstein was successful on Aug. 5 in getting the state to continue their testing services in the county. Right now, the state, the county, and private providers (such as urgent care centers) are all offering testing in the county. Turnaround time to get results has lengthened, and everyone is working hard to get that back down. With the saliva-based tests and others just coming out of development, more widespread testing options and faster results appear to be in the offing. The rapid rise in cases in the county over the past few weeks has overwhelmed the Public Health Department’s contact tracing resources. Cities and other county departments are offering staff to help. It is vital that we get this back under control.
The call for mandatory face-masking is growing. The San Luis Obispo County District Attorney has said he will not prosecute people for not wearing a mask, in spite of local Police Chiefs’ requests. Local law enforcement does respond to complaints about business non-compliance (you may email email@example.com with yours). To date, the number of complaints in Paso Robles has been relatively few compared with some other cities in our county. Complaints usually result in counseling businesses regarding state-mandated safety rules. Continued, egregious non-compliance can result in fines for businesses up to $1,000. Enforcement for individuals not wearing masks in public would likely overwhelm local resources. Unless a majority of people in our community see the value of wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and washing their hands thoroughly and completely, we will not be successful.
What steps are being taken to address social distancing in outdoor dining?
The City of Paso Robles encourages restaurants with outdoor dining to segregate diners by at least six feet. Mandating this would require an amendment to our Zoning Code which, under state law, has to go first to the Planning Commission, then two readings with the council. This lack of immediacy has led us to seek other methods. On the messaging front, we have talked with our community stakeholders (Chamber, Travel Paso, Paso Wine Country Alliance, Main Street) to help with compliance efforts. These groups have each been doing some messaging, and we are convening the group to get a more targeted and updated messaging campaign. We have contacted the county and they will make County Environmental Health staff aware of our questions regarding how to best ensure compliance with state and county guidelines (that are sometimes unclear). They will help with education and compliance efforts, and possibly with proactive monitoring.
Tourism marketing during a pandemic?
Lodging is defined by the state as an essential business. Travel Paso, the organization that represents local lodging and other tourism businesses, is independent of the city. It makes its own decisions about how to balance public health, the economy, and the other challenges. Their willingness to attract people to our community because they feel they can keep their clients and staff safe, concerns many. The city has weekly conference calls with Travel Paso and the other primary organizations that represent community businesses. In addition, the mayor interacts with the Travel Paso Board.
How can I offer feedback directly to community stakeholders?
Your voice is important, but only if you use it effectively. You may always contact the entire City Council at firstname.lastname@example.org. Here are links to stakeholder websites where you can contact them:
- Paso Robles Chamber of Commerce
- Travel Paso
- Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance
- Paso Robles Main Street
What are community leaders doing?
Strong leadership from all sectors is critical. That includes our city government, Chamber of Commerce, Paso Robles Main Street, Travel Paso, Paso Robles Wine Alliance and others. The city is leading the charge with strong messaging and responsible support for local businesses, jobs and city services. Unfortunately, too many people are sitting back right now, waiting for someone else to step up. Now is the time to unify our efforts to communicate the necessity for public health measures and reasonable, effective and enforceable restrictions. As mayor, I am calling upon all of these organizations to be vocal and proactive.
The role of personal responsibility?
Personal responsibility is touted frequently as the answer to many social problems. The coronavirus provides the opportunity to prove that. If we are all personally responsible and follow simple infection control rules, we will slow the spread of this disease and speed the re-opening of our economy. If not, we will suffer the consequences. Those consequences include increased infection, rising death tolls, and continued economic disruption. And, yes, if those continue unabated, the day will come when other enforcement duties will have to take a back seat to addressing the spread of COVID-19.
So, are you personally responsible? Show it. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Avoid social gatherings where infection can spread. It doesn’t hurt. It will help. And you don’t need a difficult-to-enforce law to make it happen.
This is Paso Robles Mayor Steve Martin reminding you to stay informed, stay involved, stay strong and mask up Paso Robles.