A letter signed by six county boards of supervisors chairmen and several city mayors in the north state has been sent to Gov. Gavin Newsom, asking for local control over reopening local economies.
District 3 Assemblyman James Gallagher’s office sent the letter to Newsom Friday afternoon, according to Gallagher’s chief of staff Curtis Grima. The letter was signed by Gallagher, District 4 state Sen. Jim Nielsen, board of supervisor chairs of Sutter, Yuba, Butte, Tehama, Glenn and Colusa counties, and the mayors of Yuba City, Marysville, Live Oak, Wheatland, Paradise, Oroville, Gridley, Biggs, Williams, Corning, Tehama and Willows.
“The Sacramento Valley is ready to begin opening up,” Gallagher said.
As part of the reasoning for asking the governor to allow counties to control an easing of restrictions, the letter cited the low infection rate in the six counties and low number of confirmed cases out of the approximately 500,000 people who make up the region.
“We ask you to allow our counties to exercise local authority to implement a careful and phased reopening of our local economies,” the letter read.
Out of the six counties, one individual has been admitted to an intensive care unit due to COVID-19 and acute hospital admissions are down in the region. The letter specifically referred to Adventist Health/Rideout in Marysville as having its acute hospital admissions down by about 40 percent.
In addition, the letter said that the area is equipped to deal with a possible surge in cases with Yuba-Sutter setting up approximately 350 surge beds. Along with the economic impact of the virus, the letter said there are indirect health risks that come with an economic recession like heart disease, sleep deprivation and depression.
“We’ve asked a great deal of our residents in the past month, and they have risen to the challenge,” the letter read. “Now we must move to the next phase, which is economic recovery.”
Gallagher said he and Nielsen have been in communication with the governor’s office about the intent of the Sacramento Valley to request the authority to reopen, but did not have a commitment to any decision. If Newsom approves the request, the statewide order would not apply to the six counties and local directives from health officials would take its place.
Without the approval of the governor, Gallagher said it would become a legal question as to whether counties could take action that goes against the statewide order.
“We’re looking for a cooperative process,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher said the desire to reopen the economy does not have to come at the expense of public health because there are public health risks associated with the economy remaining shut down. He pointed to increases in child abuse and mental health issues during the pandemic.
One economic impact of the shutdown that Gallagher said people should be thinking more about is the impact on the social safety net and the growing deficit the state is incurring everyday the economy remains closed.
Revenue from income tax and sales tax that fund programs in cities and statewide is “dipping exponentially,” according to Gallagher, meaning the state will be faced with having to make cuts when this is all over to deal with an unavoidable deficit.
Colusa County Board of Supervisors Chairperson Denise Carter said the county has been in regular contact with Gallagher about the local concerns of residents and small businesses prior to signing this letter.
“Between businesses not receiving Payroll Protection Program relief, and sole proprietorships not having access to unemployment the hurt is real and it is local,” said Carter. “These business owners are members of our community.”
According to Carter, since Colusa County has had just three positive cases of COVID-19, and no new cases in over two weeks, county officials feel like it is time to get the wheels in motion to start planning the reopening of local businesses.
“Like every other County, we do not want to see this number rise dramatically,” said Carter. “In conjunction with our Public Health Officer, I do believe we can develop a plan to reopen now, in a phased manner.”
District 5 Sutter County Supervisor Mat Conant said he expected the number of cases per day in the Yuba-Sutter area to escalate, but the decrease to an average of less than one per day is why he thinks it’s time to start reopening the economy.
“There is a cost to keeping the counties closed,” Conant said.
He said the board wants to open up a few businesses with rules in place about social distancing and face coverings and see what happens. From there, he said more businesses could be opened as long as there is not a surge.
“I am very concerned about that which is why it is important not to open recklessly,” Chief Executive Officer of Adventist Health/Rideout Rick Rawson said via email about a possible surge in cases. “A surge of COVID-19 in our community means that people will die and the healthcare workers who are here to take care of those that are sick are in harm’s way.
He said more testing is critical because without more information health officials won’t know where to focus containment efforts and may not be able to recognize an outbreak before it is too late.
“We are optimistic that there are efforts across the state that will help us scale up testing to support the reopening of the economy.”