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Napa County moves to orange tier with reduced COVID-19 restrictions ... for now
  • Updated

Napa County on Tuesday moved to orange on the state’s COVID-19 rating scale and is subject to fewer business and activity restrictions — for now.

Being in orange allows restaurants, movie theaters and fitness centers to serve more people indoors. Wineries can hold indoor tastings and bowling alleys can reopen.

The move up to orange takes effect at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

But Dr. Karen Relucio, county public health officer, said that the county’s most recent COVID-19 rates are trending higher. Unless that changes, the county could fall back into red on April 14.

“Our overarching goal is to remain orange,” Relucio told the Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. “We don’t want this to be short-lived.”

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Board of Supervisors Chairperson Alfredo Pedroza said businesses and residents want certainty. He noted the state with its rating system is trying to keep the health care system from being overwhelmed, something that isn’t happening in Napa County.

Changes could be coming. Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday said California’s economy could fully reopen on June 15, if vaccine supply is sufficient for Californians 16 years and older who wish to be inoculated and hospital rates are stable and low.

“With 20 million vaccines administered across the state, it’s time to turn the page on our tier system and begin looking to fully reopen California’s economy,” Newsom said in a press release.

For now, the tier system remains. California rates its counties using a color code based on COVID-19 spread. Colors range from the most-restrictive purple to red to orange to the least-restrictive yellow.

Napa County has a seven-day average of 10.4 new daily cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 people. The state adjusts this to 6.8 because of testing numbers. That is above what for months has been a state-adjusted rate of one to 3.9 cases needed for orange.

Given Napa County doesn’t fit that orange criterion, how is the county in orange?

“I’m pretty sure anyone who is watching this right now is somewhat confused,” Relucio said.

The state changed its criteria when it recently hit the milestone of 4 million vaccinations in hard-hit communities. One of the revised criteria for orange is 2 to 5.9 daily cases. The county met this revised standard for the required two consecutive weeks.

Napa County is benefiting from the revised criteria and better reporting periods from previous weeks. But recent growth in daily cases could drop the county back to red if it continues for two consecutive weeks.

Being in orange allows movie theaters and restaurants to operate indoors at 50% capacity or 200 people, whichever is fewer. Red allows 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer.

Orange allows fitness centers to operate indoors at 25% capacity and use indoor swimming pools. Red allows 10% of capacity.

Orange allows wineries to hold indoor tastings at 25% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer. It allows card rooms to operate indoors at 25% capacity. Both are limited to outdoor service under red.

Places of worship can be at 50% capacity indoors under orange, compared to 25% under red.

Bars that don’t serve meals can open outdoors under orange, while they are closed under red.

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SEE PHOTOS OF NAPA LIFE DURING PANDEMIC

Photos: Napa life during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Public Safety
Napa County asked to spend $42 million to reduce wildfire threat
  • Updated

Local wildfire prevention advocates want $42 million over five years for fuel reduction and similar projects to prevent a repeat of large fires that in recent years destroyed about 1,500 homes, businesses and other structures.

The county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday held what amounted to a wildfire summit. Wine industry officials and residents implored the county to take further preventative steps before another fire season begins.

“Napa will burn again,” said Christopher Thompson of Napa Communities Firewise Foundation. “We now have a plan of action and we need funding ... and we need lots of it.”

County Fire Chief Geoff Belyea asked for $6.4 million in the short-term. County supervisors responded by agreeing that the county should find the money to make that contribution.

“This is not an option,” Board of Supervisors Chairperson Alfredo Pedroza said. “We always have to spend money after disasters and we spend it in the millions of dollars. This is about spending it proactively … while it’s a bold ask, I think it’s a very appropriate ask.”

The ask is only for a year, with more money needed in coming years for more fuel reduction and to manage existing fuel breaks. Supervisor Ryan Gregory said the county ultimately may have to look at a sustainable money source, whether it be a sales tax, parcel tax or whatever.

Napa Communities Firewise Foundation is a nonprofit that works with 12 community fire safe councils on such projects as vegetation management.

The foundation and Belyea unveiled a $42 million, five-year fuel reduction plan to better protect both rural areas and cities. The challenge will be securing all of that money from the county and through grants.

Studies show that more than one-third of Napa County could burn with flames taller than 20 feet in height, Thompson said.

About $5.4 million in proposed projects for this year includes fuel reduction near the rural communities of Angwin in the hills east of St. Helena, Circle Oaks between the city of Napa and Lake Berryessa and Berryessa Highlands on hills above Lake Berryessa.

Ten million dollars in year-two proposals includes projects close to cities. One is a $250,000 fuel break near the city of Napa from Timberhill Park to Partrick Road above Browns Valley.

“A wildland fire extending from this area will quickly threaten Redwood Road and lower Dry Creek residents,” a Firewise report said.

Also, a $200,000 fuel break would be created along the eastern boundary of American Canyon. In 2019, a 526-acre wildfire in this area led to residents in nearby subdivisions being evacuated.

Among other proposed projects in the five-year plan are fuel reduction near the Silverado community that had more than 100 homes burn during the 2017 Atlas Fire.

Belyea said much of the work will be “shaded fuel breaks.” Underbrush and some tree branches will be removed and grasses will cut low to create a park-like setting where firefighters can fight fires.

“It will not be a completely denuded swathe of land,” Belyea said.

More than a dozen public speakers addressed supervisors on the wildfire issue. Still more sent letters and emails.

The Napa County Farm Bureau proposed that Napa County look at forming its own fire department with its own fire chief who reports to the Board of Supervisors. The county presently contracts for its fire department with Cal Fire.

A county-run fire department could more appropriately address the multitude of concerns that have been brought to the Board of Supervisors by industry and begin to place control with county government, Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Klobas wrote.

Jeff Enos of the Mount Veeder Fire Safe Council wrote that the top concern of 97 property owners in that area west of the city of Napa is vegetation management, followed by evacuation and roadside vegetation clearing.

“Vegetation management often is expensive, dangerous, difficult and requires tools beyond lawn mowers and leaf blowers,” Enos wrote. “Many property owners cannot afford to get this work done and are not able to do the work themselves.”

Vintner Stuart Smith asked supervisors to look at an updated agricultural pass plan for areas during wildfires, such as last year’s Glass Fire.

“If firefighters and the press can access our property during an emergency, then so should we,” he wrote. “We will gladly wave any liability for this access. If we are on our property, we can save it. If we’re not on our property we cannot save it.”

The five-year plan for fire protection projects is based on the recently completed county Community Wildfire Protection Plan. Napa Firewise spearheaded the effort, with help from the Napa County Fire Department, Cal Fire and a variety of county and state agencies and non-profit organizations.

Go to https://bit.ly/3mnUYNL to see the county Community Wildfire Protection Plan.

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SEE PHOTOS OF DEER PARK AFTER GLASS FIRE

Photos: The Glass Fire's aftermath in Deer Park

International
AP
Vaccine deadline moved up
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden announced Tuesday that he’s bumping up his deadline by two weeks for states to make all adults in the U.S. eligible for coronavirus vaccines. But even as he expressed optimism about the pace of vaccinations, he warned Americans that the nation is not yet out of the woods when it comes to the pandemic.

“Let me be deadly earnest with you: We aren’t at the finish line. We still have a lot of work to do. We’re still in a life and death race against this virus,” Biden said in remarks at the White House.

The president warned that “new variants of the virus are spreading and they’re moving quickly. Cases are going back up, hospitalizations are no longer declining.” He added that “the pandemic remains dangerous,” and encouraged Americans to continue to wash their hands, socially distance and wear masks.

Biden added that while his administration is on schedule to meet his new goal of distributing 200 million doses of the vaccine during his first 100 days, it will still take time for enough Americans to get vaccinated to slow the spread of the virus.

But he expressed hope that his Tuesday announcement, that every adult will be eligible by April 19 to sign up and get in a virtual line to be vaccinated, will help expand access and distribution of the vaccine. Some states already had begun moving up their deadlines from the original May 1 goal.

“No more confusing rules. No more confusing restrictions,” Biden said.

Biden made the announcement after visiting a COVID-19 vaccination site at Immanuel Chapel at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria. During his visit, he thanked everyone for administering the shots and for showing up to receive them.

“That’s the way to beat this,” Biden said. “Get the vaccination when you can.”

The president also said no one should fear mutations of the coronavirus that are showing up in the U.S. after being discovered in other countries. He acknowledged that the new strains are more virulent and more dangerous, but said “the vaccines work on all of them.”

Biden also announced that 150 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine have been shot into arms since his inauguration on Jan. 20. That puts the president well on track to meet his new goal of 200 million shots administered by his 100th day in office on April 30.

Biden’s original goal had been 100 million shots by the end of his first 100 days, but that number was reached in March.

Still, he acknowledged Tuesday that his administration fell short of its goal to deliver at least one shot to every teacher, school staff member and childcare worker during the month of March, to try to accelerate school reopenings. Biden announced the target early last month and directed federal resources toward achieving it, but said Tuesday that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that about 80% of teachers, school staff and childcare workers had received a shot.

Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband, Doug Emhoff, also spent the day Tuesday focused on promoting the COVID-19 vaccine, each touring a vaccination center, Harris in Chicago and Emhoff in Yakima, Washington.

Harris praised the workers and those receiving their vaccine at a site set up at a local union hall, and spoke of spring as “a moment where we feel a sense of renewal.”

“We can see a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

Some states are making plans to ease their health restrictions, even as the country is facing a potential new surge in virus cases.

On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, warned that the country is in a “critical time” because “we could just as easily swing up into a surge.”

“That would be a setback for public health, but that would be a psychological setback, too,” he said during an interview with the National Press Club. He noted that Americans are experiencing “COVID-19 fatigue” after more than a year of lockdowns and restrictions to public life aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

Nearly half of new coronavirus infections nationwide are in just five states — a situation that is putting pressure on the federal government to consider changing how it distributes vaccines by sending more doses to hot spots.

New York, Michigan, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey together reported 44% of the nation’s new COVID-19 infections, or nearly 197,500 new cases, in the latest available seven-day period, according to state health agency data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. Total U.S. infections during the same week numbered more than 452,000.

Also, most children with a serious inflammatory illness linked to the coronavirus had initial COVID-19 infections with no symptoms or only mild ones, new U.S. research shows.

The unusual post-infection condition tends to be milder in kids who were sicker with COVID-19, although more than half of affected youngsters received intensive hospital care, according to an analysis by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published Tuesday in JAMA Pediatrics.

The study represents the largest analysis to date on U.S. cases of multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children and bolsters evidence that it is a delayed immune response to COVID-19. The study included almost 1,800 cases reported to the CDC from March 2020 through mid-January. Most were in kids younger than 15 but the study included up to age 20.


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Public Health
State investigating perplexing COVID outbreaks among vaccinated residents at Vets Home, Napa State
  • Updated

County and state officials are continuing to investigate a pair of COVID-19 outbreaks among staff and residents at the Yountville Veterans Home and Napa State Hospital.

The Veterans Home and Napa State had reported 29 cases and 20 cases, respectively, at the end of March, county Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Relucio said in an interview Tuesday. Those numbers may change as more information is made available, she said.

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Following news of the outbreak, the county sought to have positive individuals retested, Relucio said: some were tested directly by the county itself, and some utilized their own care providers.

Of the 29 individuals who tested positive at the Veterans Home, 25 tested negative after retesting; all of the 20 individuals who had tested positive at Napa State came back negative.

But the California Department of Public Health’s (CDPH) testing facilities “detect virus at a lower level,” according to Relucio. The discrepancy, then, may be that the residents and staff have very low levels of virus in their systems – lower than other testing facilities, potentially including those used by the county, can detect.

Low levels of viral “shed” is sometimes associated with variant viral strains of COVID-19 in vaccinated persons, Relucio said. At this point, the state is “concerned” about that possibility, she added.

“If they do come back as positive for variants, we’ll know there are variants in our county,” she said, adding that if a variant strain is found, officials will seek to confirm whether or not they are “variables of concern.”

Variants of concern are those that prove more transmissible, more severe in their prognosis or those that interfere with test results, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Vaccinations may also offer less protection against some variants of concern, according to the CDC’s website.

Congregate facilities have proved a pain point for Napa County’s attempt to contain the spread of the coronavirus through the course of the pandemic. But these two outbreaks are unusual, Relucio told the County Board of Supervisors March 30, because all of the infected residents in question had already been fully vaccinated. To have such a substantive outbreak among vaccinated individuals – a phenomenon called “breakthrough” cases – is unusual, she told the Board.

The cases were discovered during regular surveillance testing that both the Veterans Home and Napa State are continuing to conduct on their already-vaccinated residents, according to County Public Information Officer Janet Upton, who said the county was “not letting our guard down.”

In response to request for comment, a spokesperson for Napa State Hospital said in a written statement that as of April 5 the facility had 17 staff and fewer than 11 patients who had test positive for COVID-19 in the past two weeks. (State reporting guidelines do not require facilities to report the exact number if it is less than 10.)

“The Department of State Hospitals is working closely with the California Department of Public Health and the Napa County Public Health Department to further investigate these cases,” the statement continued.

Lindsey Sin, a spokesperson for the California Department of Veterans Affairs (Cal Vet), said via email Wednesday night the Veterans Home could not specify "the final outcome of each individual or sample that was retested" for privacy reasons. Testing at Yountville is done weekly for both staff and residents, including those who have received vaccines, she wrote. 

Just a single individual between the two outbreaks was symptomatic, Relucio said, noting that person was an unvaccinated staffer at the Veterans Home. Around 25% of staffers at the Veterans Home and 35% of Napa State employees have chosen to remain unvaccinated, Relucio said.

CDPH is retesting the original specimen given by residents and staff who tested positive to determine whether the positive results may be the product of a variant strain, according to Relucio.

“They have been doing whole genome sequencing for all of those specimens, and we’re awaiting the final results,” Relucio said, noting that the county was expecting them soon. Whole genome sequencing is the “gold standard” of coronavirus testing, Relucio added, results sometimes take as long as a month to get back. Napa County’s samples have been expedited because the outbreaks could change how the county ranks in the state’s reopening blueprint.

She noted that all cases among vaccinated individuals had been asymptomatic.

“It’s possible the vaccine has provided protection, and … it might have had an impact on transmission, as well,” Relucio said. “(That is) to be seen.”

Residents at Napa State were given either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, Relucio said. Early results from trials have shown those two vaccines are effective against an apparent majority of the known variants of concern, including one that originally appeared in South Africa and another that was discovered in the United Kingdom.

Experts suspect another variant of concern, first detected in California, as having fueled the state’s intense winter surge, though experts have said vaccines will likely still remain effective against it.

Relucio could not confirm which vaccine Veterans Home residents had received.

One resident of the Veterans Home, who asked that his name not be used to protect his privacy, said residents had been notified by mail that “after retesting the original samples … the results were determined to be negative.” It went on to say the Veterans Home was subsequently tracking zero cases among its residents.

News of the outbreak was “very disturbing,” the resident said, given that all residents are fully vaccinated.

Napa County continues to await the results from the state’s laboratory, Relucio said. Whether or not the retested specimen come back positive or negative could impact the county’s recent progression into the orange tier, according to Relucio, who warned that higher positivity rates could send the county back into the red tier as soon as April 14.

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