Volunteers distributed food and COVID-19 supplies to farmworkers during a Feeding The Frontline event at Our Lady of Guadalupe School in Oxnard.
Ventura County Star
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As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise, Ventura County Public Health Officer Dr. Robert Levin sounded a public alarm Tuesday that efforts to defeat the virus may be starting to fail.
“If my reading is correct, we are showing the first signs of starting to lose this battle to COVID-19 in this county,” he said, urging people to practice social distancing and to self-quarantine.
His pleas came at a Ventura County Board of Supervisors meeting marked by public calls to further ease restrictions and to remove the statewide mask mandate. At one point, a failure by a spectator to follow COVID-19 safety protocols triggered Board Chair Kelly Long to call for the public to be cleared out of the meeting room.
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Public health officials reported 131 new cases of the coronavirus Tuesday, a tally that includes results over several days but still represents one of the highest weekday reports since the pandemic began.
A rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations means state public health officials have indicated the county will return to a state watch list for regions struggling with the virus. As of Tuesday, 51 people were receiving hospital care.
In explaining his concerns, Levin, who joined the meeting through Zoom, cited a statewide rise in COVID-19, including a 16% jump in hospitalizations over 14 days. He pointed too at gatherings where social distancing is ignored, referencing a skateboard event where he said a large crowd of people watched shoulder to shoulder.
He referenced parties and barbecues. After one such gathering in Oxnard, 19 people later tested positive for the virus and some 40 others have been identified as contacts, according to officials.
“Many of us conveniently dismissed the threat,” he said of the virus, asserting people have convinced themselves they no longer need to stay at home.
Warning the state could intervene and return many of the restrictions that have been eased, Levin urged people to take action to control the spread.
“We can prevent that future from happening,” he said. “It’s not that hard.”
He called for people to self-quarantine and to practice social distancing as they did earlier in the pandemic. He said people should leave their homes only for essential activities and exercise.
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The county was placed on the state watch list earlier this month and then removed. Rigoberto Vargas, director of Ventura County Public Health, said state officials have indicated the rise in hospitalizations will mean a return to the list.
“We’re at 21% and the allowed (rate) is 10%,” he said of the increase in the three-day average of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
He said the rise in COVID-19 includes additional cases in long-term care facilities. But he also said there appears to be increased community transmission of the virus.
The number of COVID-19 patients so sick they need intensive care has risen too, Vargas said. As of Monday, 18 people with the virus were in ICUs across the county.
In addition to the COVID-19 patients, about 60 other patients were also in intensive care, meaning about 50 ICU beds remain available across the county, Vargas said.
County officials also noted the number of people being tested continues to rise significantly. On Monday alone, 1,500 people went through four drive-through sites in the county.
More than 50,000 people have been tested across the county during the pandemic.
The board meeting brought many county residents who called for more eased restrictions, suggesting stay-at-home edicts are unwarranted and, according to one speaker, unconstitutional.
“They are treating the situation as if it was Ebola when COVID’s numbers are nothing more than the flu,” said one speaker.
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Many people focused on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s statewide mandate to wear face coverings.
“This is a violation of civil rights,” said Kevin Daly.
Some of the speakers wore face coverings. Others did not, with some saying they had medical conditions. At least two people sang “God Bless America” after their speaking time had expired.
In a meeting conducted with social distancing measures and other protocols aimed at limiting the spread of the virus, Long asked a man not to sit in a particular seat. When the man, Bruce Boyer, repeatedly refused to move, Long cleared the meeting room of spectators.
In this Thursday, April 2, 2020 photo, Shannon Bates, a nurse at Ripley Health Care Associates, holds a COVID-19 test kit in Ripley, Miss. (Photo: Adam Robison, AP)
The people who left could watch a video broadcast of the meeting. They were allowed to return to the meeting room when it was their turn for public comment.
Boyer, who tried unsuccessfully in 2018 to run for sheriff of Ventura County, was one of those who returned to the meeting room. He told supervisors that wearing mask was a badge of submission and asserted many people will not comply.
“We are going to show people that your rules have no teeth,” he said. “At that point you are going to be shown as the frauds that you are.”
Supervisor John Zaragoza acknowledged people’s frustrations but urged residents to follow social distancing protocols and to wear masks.
“I know you have your constitutional rights,” he said. “Other people have the right to stay safe.”
Tom Kisken covers health care and other news for the Ventura County Star. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 805-437-0255.
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