By Eli Walsh
NAPA COUNTY (CBS SF) — Napa County supervisors affirmed their support for county Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Relucio on Tuesday after a group of parents lambasted her for not reopening some schools during the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Relucio appeared before the Napa County Board of Supervisors to give an update on COVID-19 and the county, which has had one of the lowest case totals in the greater Bay Area since mid-March.
However, the county’s relatively low number of cases, 1,074 as of Monday, obscures that the county’s case total doubled from 480 to 960 in just 26 days during the month of July, according to Napa County Public Health data.
The quick rise in cases landed Napa County on the state’s coronavirus watchlist, which prevents businesses like salons and gyms from operating indoors and also prevents schools from holding in-person classes until their county is off the list for 14 days.
While school districts can apply for local waivers if they meet a handful of conditions outlined by the state, Relucio has said she’s concerned about the inequity of such requests only coming from private schools, a sticking point for several people who spoke at the meeting.
“What’s inequitable is a health officer factoring politics into her decision-making and permitting the gross negligence of (teacher) unions to impact the education of thousands of non-public school students,” said Regina Bailey, who introduced herself as a Napa resident and a mother of five.
Several speakers cited New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent announcement that the state would allow schools to begin the fall semester with in-person instruction as justification that both the state and Relucio should approve waiver requests from schools, regardless of whether they are private or not.
Some speakers also suggested that state public health officials and Gov. Gavin Newsom kowtowed to teachers’ unions in prohibiting in-person classes in much of the state.
“We’re not in Sacramento, we’re in Napa County,” said Leah Simon, a mother of two students at St. Apollinaris Catholic School. “Politics should never come into play when we’re dealing with our children.”
Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza defended Relucio, arguing that New York’s stage of the pandemic is not analogous to California’s and that the health officer is basing her decisions off the local conditions at hand.
“I think you have to make sure we’re working with the same set of facts,” Pedroza said. “When you look at New York, they’ve had in the past seven days an increase of 4,500 cases. In the state of California, 45,000 cases.”
Relucio noted that the county is dealing with a recent glitch in the state’s coronavirus monitoring system that resulted in a backlog of nearly 300,000 cases.
While the state has fixed the issue and caught up on the backlogged cases, local jurisdictions are still applying the data from recent weeks to their metrics tracking the virus’ local spread.
The state also prevented any of the 38 counties on the state watchlist from being removed until the tracking system issues could be rectified.
“I understand that kids need their education for intellectual and socioemotional development,” Relucio said. “This is a very difficult decision and I’m not doing this willy nilly.”
Napa County is currently hitting all but one benchmark required to fall off the watchlist. State public health officials require a county to have a case rate of fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 people; Napa County has 176.1, with the caveat that cases could be underreported, Relucio said.
Supervisor Ryan Gregory said that while he has been frustrated at the state’s focus on case rate per 100,000 residents as a reopening metric, he echoed his colleagues’ support for Relucio and suggested the need for a “full-court press” to bring that metric into compliance.
“I’m not happy about it but, in my view, it’s really all we have, it’s the only thing we have right now in our control,” Gregory said.
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