It has been a tough seven weeks for our community – fear of the virus, anxiety over job loss, stress of the unknown. Most significantly, we should never forget about the three Yuba-Sutter community members we lost to COVID-19 — three deaths too many. Our hearts continue to go out to their families.
This virus has been infecting people around the globe since late 2019. While there is still much about COVID-19 that we do not know, we can certainly make use of the things we have learned to guide our path moving forward. We must consistently look to the science of how the virus spreads and resulting hospitalizations and mortality rates for insight on how best to minimize the risk to the public.
In the case of COVID-19, we gained significant insights by watching how this virus moved across Asia, Europe, and the United States, and we were able to observe the success or challenges of efforts by countries and communities. With all of this in mind, I support California’s early and swift action. I’m proud that the state acted early and decisively to prevent an onslaught of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths — it could have been a lot worse.
Now, we are at an especially important moment in deciding what we do next. Based on local and regional data, we are seeing a plateauing of new cases coming in. Our hospital is, thankfully, not overwhelmed with hospitalizations from COVID-19. We are in a more robust position in regards to testing capability, due to soon start an OptumServe testing site on May 4. Our dedicated Bi-county Public Health continues to conduct robust, timely, and comprehensive contact tracing to break the chain of transmission for COVID-19. When OptumServe allows our region to test more, we will identify more cases, but our public health team is ready and able to meet the expected increase in case counts.
One truth we cannot ignore: without a vaccine, COVID-19 is going to be with us for the foreseeable future.
As the public health officer for Yuba and Sutter counties, I must consider the totality of health for the community. While work continues to address the risk of COVID-19 infection in our community, I also take into consideration the risks that come from residents having to choose between buying groceries and paying for medications; people who really should be going to the emergency room but are not seeking care for fear of getting exposed to COVID-19; and of course, the mental health ramifications from continued social isolation. I saw these examples first-hand when I worked as medical director of public health in Saipan, following the 2018 Super Typhoon Yutu. I do not want to see that happen here.
It is important for everyone to understand that some activities still carry too much risk to allow them to ramp up immediately, which is why it is necessary to phase in these things over time. It would be unwise to allow my previous order to simply expire, as that could lead our community to think we are in a safe enough position to go from zero-to-100. Such an approach would certainly lead to a surge and the possibility of overwhelming our fragile healthcare system.
In crafting this new order, I went back to the basics of scientific evidence. I utilized the guidance provided by Johns Hopkins which focused on risk stratification -- the classification of low-to-high-risk businesses and organizations based on proximity and duration between staff and customers, and the number of contacts. My goal in utilizing these risk factors was to rid the confusing and false dichotomy of “essential” versus “nonessential.”
It is not realistic to keep the community closed for months on end; which is why I’m asking for your help.
It is going to take all of us respecting each other’s health and wellbeing to ensure we don’t see a surge. By following Public Health guidance on social distancing of six feet or more, limiting group gatherings, practicing good hand hygiene, and wearing facial coverings when social distancing is not possible, we can limit the exposure to the virus in a way that allows us to resume certain normal activities while maintaining the continued health and safety of each community member.
I appreciate the work of the Compliance Working Group (comprised of county staff, law enforcement, business owners and other local stakeholders), as well as collaboration of each county board, county executives and county staff, in providing input for this new order.
In conclusion, I would like to ask all Yuba-Sutter residents to do their part to ensure the totality of health and well-being of our region is maintained.
(Dr. Phuong Luu is the Bi-County Health officer for Yuba and Sutter counties.)