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Junebug is a fun loving, crazy French Bulldog who always wants to play, says Colleen Harder of Napa

Napa County April unemployment numbers break record

Just 11 months after dropping to a 29-year low, in Napa County’s unemployment rate in April hit a 30-year high, reported the state Employment Development Department (EDD) on Friday.

Due to the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, this April the jobless rate skyrocketed to 15.9%. That’s a dramatic increase up from a revised 4.1% in March 2020, and far above the year-ago estimate of 2.7%.

Statewide, this compares with an unadjusted unemployment rate of 16.1% for California and 14.4% for the nation during the same period.

Napa County lost 10,000 jobs in the past month, reported the EDD. The bulk of those jobs – 5,600 – were in the leisure and hospitality industries. An estimated 1,300 jobs were cut in manufacturing.

In one month the number of job seekers in Napa County rose from 3,000 to 11,500, said the EDD.

“We have never seen anything like this,” said Bruce Wilson, executive director, Workforce Alliance of the North Bay. “It’s hard to know what to expect in this kind of situation.”

The dramatic rise in unemployment “is terrible at every level, most particularly in the households of those that are dealing with it,” said Wilson.

Unemployment stirs fear and uncertainty in normal circumstances, let alone a pandemic and world-wide shutdown of the economy, he said.

“It has particularly impacted the visitor serving sectors which of course are vital to Napa County,” said Wilson

“It also has compounding impacts on every part of the economy and local government’s ability to pay for services that are more important than ever including access to all aspects of health programs.”

“COVID 19 is a disruptor and the impacts of this may not go away quickly,” said Wilson.

According to Wilson, there is some good news. The number of people filing new jobless claims is declining -- from a peak of 5,526 the week ending March 28 to 2,152 as of April 11. Of course, that’s still a huge increase from March 14 when only 159 people filed new claims.

“My hope is that this downward slope will continue as Napa County and California begins to slowly open back up,” said Wilson.

According to Wilson it is important that the local economy begin to come back on line when worker safety can be assured.

This will require the partnership and consensus of the public health system and local economic advocates, he said.

“In Napa, this has been led in part by incredible business leaders from the Chambers of Commerce working with our public health officials,” said.

Wilson also said it’s important that the the federal and state government “hold the line” while this occurs. “Make sure there continue to be programs that mitigate permanent business closure and layoffs. If this can occur than we stand a better chance of seeing a quick recovery where furloughed workers can resume their jobs and careers with their current employers,” he said.

The county can do several things to help combat the loss of jobs, he said.

First, catalog its publicly sponsored economic and workforce assets and discover how they can work together and be packaged on behalf of businesses and workers.

Second, understand barriers to business productivity and work toward balanced policies that preserve health while removing barriers and bolstering economic recovery.

And third, develop an infrastructure (i.e. business assistance center) that will help with the identification of business issues and promote access to benefits and programs that can assist business and workers.

Essentially, ensure that different programs are seamlessly working together to package services for the end user – unemployed job seekers and businesses, he said. 

Those who are jobless have options, said Wilson.

Job seekers should contact CareerPoint Napa counselors to learn about and access services and resources that will help mitigate income and job loss.

Another suggestion for job seekers is to register for a Rapid Response Webinar. Every Wednesday at 10 a.m. representatives from CareerPoint, the EDD, the Department of Labor and other important resource partners present information about services that can assist impacted workers.

Business should think about how they can innovate in light of new realities about how people feel in this new environment, he recommended.

The dramatic increase in the jobless rate is not a surprise to Dr. Robert Eyler, professor of economics at Sonoma State University.

The economist said Napans should expect “historically bad numbers over the next couple months,” with) unemployment in the mid-to-high teens across the North Bay.

“We need to open up to get going again and see how we can hold the economy's capacity somewhat constant,” said Eyler.

According to Eyler, “Business losses are more problematic than job losses (though job losses are always tough) in the medium term, as business losses exacerbate job losses.”

The county of Napa should try and help as many businesses stay in business as it can, he said. However, that can be harder to do because the county depends greatly on the tourism, retail and restaurant industries.

Eyler had this advice for those that are unemployed.

First, get the benefits you are entitled to based on unemployment and federal stimulus payments.

Second, create a list of all financial resources that are available and lastly, create a plan for 12 months without a job.

In addition, “take a little time to rethink next career steps,” said Eyler. “Don't panic.” Of course, “the longer unemployment lingers the more difficult (that) advice becomes to follow.”

Employers should do the same, said Eyler, with two other suggestions.

One, consider what it will cost to continuing your business during this time, and two, “stay in touch with employees as best you can in case you suddenly need them back,” he said.

Eyler said it’s possible that the sudden shock of the pandemic will lead to a lack of labor in some, specifically lower-wage, service industries.

“If so, that inability to rehire labor quickly can lead to problems of growing again to escape the economic harm from the social policies that saved lives,” he said.

Editor’s note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/

Covid wedding “paws-poned”: Napa couple makes the best of wedding delay

Back in March, Melina Arroyo and Orlando Alvarez’s upcoming wedding celebration was just around the corner.

Invitations had been printed and mailed for the May 9 celebration. Her wedding gown and his suit were purchased. Some 300 guests were invited for “a big Mexican wedding,” at St. John’s Catholic Church in downtown Napa.

“We had been planning for over a year,” said Melina Arroyo. “We were all ready to go.”

Little did they know an uninvited guest was about to disrupt their carefully made plans: COVID-19.

As the virus spread and spring events began to be cancelled across the state and country, “I was super worried,” Arroyo said. Actually, “I was freaking out.”

“I was pretty bummed,” said Alvarez.

After it became clear there was no chance of a May 9 wedding, the couple did something many others have had to do in recent months: pivot. First they picked a new date. Sept. 11 is now their next choice for a wedding.

However, instead of letting May 9 pass like any other day, they decided to celebrate their “would-be” wedding day with a party for two – well, three if you count their dog Brewski.

The party was “PAWsponed,” they wrote, but May 9, 2020 “will forever hold a special place in our hearts. We celebrated our love in style... Corona style!”

Wearing cowboy/western-style hats and boots, the two took whimsical photos. In some pictures, they are shown putting on gloves and hand sanitizer and wearing masks. They poured Corona beer drinks. A family member stood in as a “priest.”

A close friend made a cake that looks like a roll of toilet paper. “Mr. and Mrs. Alvarez” reads a sign on the cake. “May 9, 2020” is crossed out and “Sept. 11, 2020” is written below it.

“It was COVID-19 themed with a little bit of humor,” and fun, said Arroyo.

“Obviously it’s not what we wanted but we made the best out of it.”

The couple has their fingers crossed that the Sept. 11 date will work out.

But Alvarez is afraid that date could get bumped yet again, especially if a vaccine for COVID-19 is not yet available.

“I don’t want to get my hopes up,” he said.

“If not, we’re ready for 2021 in the fall,” Arroyo said.

That church wedding ceremony will include a large party and celebration but it won’t be a legal union. Arroyo and Alvarez were legally married in a civil ceremony on Sept. 6, 2019 at Alvarez’s family’s house, witnessed by about 20 people.

The couple said that the reason they decided to wait to have a church wedding and religious ceremony was that they wanted to take more time to save money and find the right place to live together. For now, both live with their parents.

“We’re super traditional,” explained Arroyo.

There’s one other date the two already have in common – Arroyo and Alvarez were both born on the same day – Oct. 26 – on the same year, and in the same hospital – Queen of the Valley Medical Center. Who’s older? Alvarez, by just a few hours.

For now, Arroyo said they are thankful that they’re both healthy and still have their jobs. She works as a social worker for the North Bay Regional Center and he works as an assistant viticulturist.

In fact, during the shelter-in-place, they’ve been spending more time together and less time running around doing wedding planning.

“It’s been nice,” she said. “We really can’t complain.”

“As long as Melina is happy,” he’s happy, said Alvarez.

Editor’s note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to subscribers and non-subscribers alike. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/

Photos: Napa couple postpones wedding, hosts party for two

Public Safety
Napa County considers emergency sirens

Illumination Technologies California has a pitch for Napa County – let us install 32 monopoles in county rights-of-way along Napa Valley and you’ll get emergency sirens and better telecommunications.

Chris Canning made the proposal to the county Board of Supervisors on Tuesday. He acted not as mayor of Calistoga, but as Illumination Technologies CEO.

These monopoles would be about 60 feet tall and could be disguised as faux pines or cypress. The sirens would sound the alarm to sleeping residents the next time an Atlas or Tubbs-like wildfire breaks out.

“There is absolutely no impact to your budget on this,” Canning told supervisors. “We have never in our almost 20 years of existence taken a dollar from a municipality.”

Rather, under the proposal, the county lets Illumination Technologies build in right-of-way space along county roads, the county gets emergency sirens and Illumination Technologies makes money by leasing monopole space to telecommunication companies.

Supervisors said they need more time to consider the idea.

“I think this is very worthy of discussion and fleshing out,” Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said.

There’s a precedent for the proposal from 2019. The county allowed two emergency siren monopoles in its right-of-ways near Calistoga, one next to Rosedale Road and the other next to Petrified Forest Road.

But county Public Works staff decided a proposal for 32 monopoles needed Board of Supervisors consideration. A map showed locations spanning from Calistoga to south of the city of Napa, many along the eastern hills.

These 32 sites would allow sirens to be heard by 70 percent of the county’s population. The 70-decibel blasts would be equivalent in noise level – not in tone—to a freight train from 50 feet away, Canning said.

“The intention of this is to get your attention at night so you will seek further information,” he said.

Plus, the 400-pound rotating sirens are solar-powered, so they would work during a PG&E public safety power shutoff. They store solar power in a battery, Canning said.

Illuminated Technologies offered to add eight more sites if the county chose, most along Lake Berryessa and one in Pope Valley. Canning said these sirens would reach another 10 percent of the population with emergency sirens.

Plus, the county would have improved telecommunications, with 4G service in areas that don’t get out of 2G. For some folks, “it’s going to be whiplash when they turn on their phones,” Canning said.

During public comments, Angwin resident Kellie Anderson asked why the county, if it is interested in sirens, doesn’t put out a request for proposals. She questioned why one particular firm should receive a red carpet to the Board of Supervisors.

“This is not something we’re asking for and it’s not something we want to spend any money on necessarily,” Public Works Director Steven Lederer later responded.

Canning, in response to Anderson, said he has no conflict-of-interest in being mayor of Calistoga and making a presentation for Illumination Technologies to the Board of Supervisors.

“Those of us who are electeds in small towns have to have day jobs,” Canning said. “This is my day job. I chose this day job because of the public benefit if offers, living in a community impacted by this.”

Supervisors and county officials had a range of concerns, from who would control the siren buttons to whether monopoles near roads might cause traffic problems or hinder county road widenings. In addition, the public has yet see details of the proposed siren locations.

All of that proved too much to cover in detail during a one session on a day when supervisors had a packed agenda. Illumination Technologies will return at a yet-to-be-determined Board of Supervisors meeting.

“I’m interested,” Board of Supervisors Chair Diane Dillon said. “But I think we need more knowledge.”

Illuminated Technologies has set up 4,800 telecommunication sites in various countries, Canning said. It isn’t a telecommunication company, but builds the infrastructure for a public safety benefit and then leases monopole space to companies such as AT&T, he said.

Trump: Reopen churches

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday labeled churches and other houses of worship as “essential” and called on governors nationwide to let them reopen this weekend even though some areas remain under coronavirus lockdown.

The president threatened to “override” governors who defy him, but it was unclear what authority he has to do so.

“Governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now — for this weekend,” Trump said at a hastily arranged press conference at the White House. Asked what authority Trump might have to supersede governors, White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany said she wouldn’t answer a theoretical question.

Trump has been pushing for the country to reopen as he tries to reverse an economic free fall playing out months before he faces reelection. White evangelical Christians have been among the president’s most loyal supporters, and the White House has been careful to attend to their concerns throughout the crisis.

Meanwhile, the United States says it wants the World Health Organization to start work “now” on a planned independent review of its coordinated international response to the COVID-19 outbreak, at a time the Trump administration has repeatedly criticized the agency and is threatening to cut off U.S. funding for it.

Adm. Brett Giroir, an assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, sent a letter to the U.N. health agency’s executive board meeting on Friday saying the United States believes the WHO can “immediately initiate” preparations such as bringing together independent health experts and setting up guidelines for the review.

“This review will ensure we have a complete and transparent understanding of the source, timeline of events, and decision-making process for the WHO’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Giroir, who is one of the board’s 34 international members. Giroir did not deliver that statement in person, but did briefly participate in the board’s first-ever “virtual” meeting.

Giroir alluded to a resolution passed Tuesday by the WHO’s assembly calling on Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to launch a “comprehensive evaluation” of the WHO-coordinated international response to the outbreak “at the earliest appropriate moment.”

Tedros, for his part, spoke to the board and pointed proudly to a long list of actions taken by WHO to respond to the outbreak — without directly alluding to the Trump administration pressure that was highlighted by Giroir.

Following Trump’s calls for reopening houses of worship, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines for communities of faith on how to safely reopen, including recommendations to limit the size of gatherings and consider holding services outdoors or in large, well-ventilated areas.

Public health agencies have generally advised people to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and encouraged Americans to remain 6 feet away from others when possible. Some parts of the country remain under some version of remain-at-home orders.

In-person religious services have been vectors for transmission of the virus. A person who attended a Mother’s Day service at a church in Northern California that defied the governor’s closure orders later tested positive, exposing more than 180 churchgoers. And a choir practice at a church in Washington state was labeled by the CDC as an early “superspreading” event.

But Trump on Friday stressed the importance of churches in many communities and said he was “identifying houses of worship — churches, synagogues and mosques — as essential places that provide essential services.”

“Some governors have deemed liquor stores and abortion clinics as essential” but not churches, he said. “It’s not right. So I’m correcting this injustice and calling houses of worship essential.”

“These are places that hold our society together and keep our people united,” he added.

Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, said faith leaders should be in touch with local health departments and can take steps to mitigate risks, including making sure those who are at high risk of severe complications remain protected.

“There’s a way for us to work together to have social distancing and safety for people so we decrease the amount of exposure that anyone would have to an asymptomatic,” she said.

A person familiar with the White House’s thinking who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations said Trump had called the news conference, which had not been on his public schedule, because he wanted to be the face of church reopenings, knowing how well it would play with his political base.

Churches around the country have filed legal challenges opposing virus closures. In Minnesota, after Democratic Gov. Tim Walz this week declined to lift restrictions on churches, Roman Catholic and some Lutheran leaders said they would defy his ban and resume worship services. They called the restrictions unconstitutional and unfair since restaurants, malls and bars were allowed limited reopening.