The city of Napa is switching back to virtual public meetings in response to the recent rise in COVID-19 cases, predominately caused by the more-infectious omicron variant of the virus.
City manager Steve Potter said in an interview that Napa City Council, city Planning Commission and redistricting meetings — all of which can attract a sizable crowd — will be held virtually at least through Feb. 8. The next scheduled City Council meeting is on Jan. 18.
“The logic behind it is community, council, and staff health and safety because omicron is showing to be a very transmissible virus,” Potter said.
Commissions other than the Planning Commission have the option of holding meetings virtually — some never returned to in-person meetings — but may still hold in-person meetings if desired, according to Potter.
“They might meet in person because there’s typically only a small group of people to accommodate in council chambers,” Potter said.
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The change is on top of a few other internal changes the city’s made in response to the recent COVID-19 surge. Internal staff meetings are being held virtually, Potter said, and city staff members, if possible and appropriate, are working from home.
The city is also working to have Providence Queen of the Valley come in to provide booster shots for city employees, Potter said. City facilities and public services remain open for business.
The city’s safety response is also connected to a high number of staff vacancies and the impact COVID-19 exposures among city staff and resulting quarantine periods could have on city operations.
“We’re still down quite a few employees,” Potter said. “We haven’t been able to hire back everybody that we would like to or fill all the positions that we would like.”
The city transitioned to in-person public meetings, after switching to virtual meetings early in the pandemic, with the July 20, 2021 City Council meeting. In-person public services were reopened around that time as well.
But that was during a period of time when California had essentially opened back up. COVID-19 cases were falling and vaccination rates were rising.
The city of Napa considered possible safety adjustments in response to a surge in COVID-19 cases caused predominately by the delta variant of the virus in August. But the city ultimately didn’t take action to, for instance, return to virtual meetings or mandate COVID-19 vaccinations among employees.
California’s confirmed COVID-19 cases have risen nearly 500% in the past two weeks and hospitalizations have doubled since Christmas, according to previous Register reporting.
Case rates have been increasing rapidly in Napa County as well. The county reported 880 new cases from Dec. 31 2021 to Jan. 6, a 113% rise over the 413 cases reported the previous week.
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You can reach Edward Booth at (707) 256-2213.