All Californians appear closer to life before COVID-19 after Tuesday’s announcement by Gov. Gavin Newsom that the economy will open back up fully on June 15 — IF — the vaccine supply can cover every person in the state 16 or older who wants one, and if hospitalization rates remain stable and low.
The so-called new “Green Tier” would essentially wipe clean the other tier categories — Purple, Red, Orange and Yellow — that were based on metrics about the virus spread, and of course, signified a certain level of restrictions for residents and business owners.
Under Green, (if the term even sticks after June 15) “everyday activities” will be allowed to resume and businesses can fully reopen with “common-sense risk reduction measures.” Wearing masks would still be mandated.
“The light at the end of the tunnel has never been brighter,” Newsom said.
Maybe so, but meanwhile, and surprisingly, Merced County residents were still seeing Purple, the most restricted tier, on Wednesday morning before the presses started to roll at the County Times production plant.
This realization of this region being stuck in a purple haze comes after local Public Health officials, elected leaders, business owners and just about everyone else were extremely optimistic that they would be seeing “Red” this week as local data has been consistently showing overall COVID-19 cases are continuing in a downward trend.
Apparently, Merced County was informed that there was a delay in reporting data from one of the laboratories administering the COVID-19 test. The California Department of Public Health received an increased number of COVID-19 cases for last week. This delay in reporting inflated the county’s number of daily COVID-19 cases per day delaying the county from moving out of the Purple (widespread) Tier.
Local officials say the “data dump” was unfair especially when considering the amount of local efforts that are going on to combat the virus. Earlier this week they submitted an official adjudication requesting the state reassess the categorization based on equity and current overall case data. It’s unclear when the state will return with a response.
As of Tuesday, the only other county in the state left in the Purple tier is Inyo County.
In Merced County, as of Tuesday, there were at total of 30,939 known cases of the coronavirus since the pandemic began, and 442 deaths.
‘Amazing how that works’
The Merced County Board of Supervisors held a short-but-serious meeting on Tuesday and a majority of members felt compelled, once again, to speak out on what they described as just another big frustration caused by leaders in Sacramento, particularly the governor.
“By all intents and purposes, our numbers show that we should be in the Orange category by now,” said Supervisor Scott Silveira, the West Side representative who has called out the state before on several occasions for ineptitude in mandating restrictions and regulating vaccinations during the pandemic.
“Again it’s frustrating,” he said. “I will leave it up to everyone to their own conclusions as to how this happens. … And now, all of a sudden we are going into the Green. … Maybe I have complained or vented my frustrations more than others. So does the citizens of Merced County get penalized or punished because of my comments? If that is truly the case, I feel real bad for the folks up there [in Sacramento] and they have to live with themselves. But I will feel worse if my actions caused our citizens to be held hostage to this tier system that has been shown to be a joke this morning. Miraculously, on June 15, we are going back to normal. It’s amazing how that works out when polling numbers [regarding the governor’s performance] may or may not be below 50 percent.”
Supervisor Josh Pedrozo pointed out that mass vaccination clinics in the local area are being successfully implemented from the recent 1,000 doses administered at the United Methodist Church in Merced to many more over a week-long series across town at City Hall.
“We are doing our part, but it’s now becoming political [in Sacramento],” he told his colleagues. “It’s not OK to play politics with people’s lives and livelihoods.”
Supervisor Daron McDaniel offered his thoughts on the new Green tier.
“I think a lot of the pressure the governor is feeling is causing him to make these decisions,” he said. “It’s hard to believe that it took this long for our governor to decide. I’m sure the vaccination process had a lot to do with it, but we had confidence in our folks here in Merced County to make healthy and good decisions on their own behalf — but it was their choice, not government’s choice to do that.
In other news…
McDaniel also praised a recent, more direct, face-to-face Workforce Development meeting in an open building that offered a more robust discussion among leaders as opposed to a Zoom conference and staring at little pictures of colleagues on a screen.
He said it would be nice to get back to regular, pre-covid county business.
The board has been conducting regular meetings with an in-person format and a few amount of seats available to members of the public, as well as overflow space in another room.
At the end of the meeting, board members noted Supervisor Espinoza’s upcoming birthday, and offered him well-wishes. McDaniel said they would sing him “Happy Birthday,” but later in private and not from the dais.
Merced City Council
It was a lot different over at City Hall, where members of the Merced City Council took time near the end of their regular meeting on Monday night to belt out a version of “Happy Birthday” to Councilwoman Sarah Boyle.
Spirits appeared to be elevated throughout the meeting with a little bit of laughter and chuckling from city leaders and city department heads at times during the discussions. Councilman Fernando Echevarria later told the Times that his fellow council members are getting along quite well together, and thus, are actually getting things done for residents.
So far, Merced residents are going to have to watch the leaders they provide monthly stipends to from their own TVs or computer screens. The meeting on Monday night was once again closed to the public.
In fact, despite improving covid numbers, recent vaccination clinics inside City Hall, and the fact that many local restaurants and shops have already opened indoor areas to customers, a majority of council members on Monday were still in favor of keeping meetings closed off to the public for the time being. Perhaps by the first meeting in May, the mayor said.
Also Monday, city leaders did discuss and vote on some plans and proposals that will affect the broader Merced population.
- City leaders received a presentation by City Manager Stephanie Dietz about the array of facilities, resources and services that are currently being utilized in regional homeless efforts and “public space management.” This includes the new Navigation Center, expansion of the Rescue Mission campus and new permanent supportive housing units.
In the discussion, and in addition to existing resources, city staff and leaders appear to be following a trend originating from larger urban areas in California to shift from law enforcement and the clearing of camps on the street to more targeted and “strategic” supportive onsite services for those individuals who are living as “chronically homeless” and feel safe in already established encampments that are often located on property managed by Caltrans, railroad companies and private property owners. The idea is to transition these homeless people to the Navigation Center over time.
Some of the sites talked about include an area near G and 13th streets through the backside of the D Street Shelter, the Childs Avenue overpass area near Highway 99, and along the railroad tracks behind Walmart and Lowe’s on the other side of town.
- The Council is considering the establishment of a city program to proactively address the rental units available within Merced. A draft Housing Ordinance is taking shape to establish minimum standards for a rental housing maintenance and inspection program — with fees attached to be charged to landlords and owners. A rental inventory registry is also being created.
This program to be run by the Fire Department was requested by council members last year in order to address sub-standard occupancies and maintenance compliance of rental housing properties. The program does not replace fire building inspections.
The fees — not yet set in stone — include an annual administration fee, and an annual inspection fee depending on a range of rentals from single family homes (about $200 annually in the draft plan) to duplexes and triplexes, to large apartment complexes. A less expensive self-certification process would also be implemented in the second year of the program.
Rental units that are subject to routine periodic inspections by another government agency are exempt from this program.
The city is planning to send out letters to rental owners and hold public meetings to answer questions. A public hearing will be held for the first reading of the proposed ordinance at an upcoming meeting to be announced. If approved, the city plans to start implementation of the program in January of 2022 and full implementation by 2023.
More on this to come. Stay tuned.
- Council members unanimously approved a street closure request by the City of Merced and the Merced County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to host a monthly farmers market event titled “El Mercado” on Thursdays (with the exception of the first event on May 5). The market would span Main Street between M Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way; as well as Canal Street between Main and W. 18th Street, and including Bob Hart Square. Dates of the upcoming events include June 3, July 1, Aug. 5, Sept. 2 and Oct. 7.