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Napa County may use Napa Valley Expo for sick COVID-19 patients
Public Health

Napa County may use Napa Valley Expo for sick COVID-19 patients

From the Complete coronavirus coverage from the Napa Valley Register, St. Helena Star, and The Weekly Calistogan series
BottleRock 2014 (copy)

Instead of hosting BottleRock this May, as in this 2014 photo, Napa Valley Expo may provide shelter for COVID-19 patients.

Napa County plans to use buildings at the Napa Valley Expo fairgrounds in the city of Napa to help ease the possible COVID-19 hospital crunch.

County Risk and Emergency Services Manager Kerry John Whitney gave the news to the county Board of Supervisors at its Tuesday meeting. The county had to seek permission from the state, given that the state owns the Expo, which has closed due to shelter-at-home orders.

This alternative site will be for people who are too sick to go home and not sick enough to be at the hospital, county Public Health Officer Karen Relucio said. Capacity could be 200 beds.

Napa County Board of Supervisors chairperson Diane Dillon noted that residents may have seen on television a similar alternative site being set up at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. She wanted locals to know Napa County is making its own preparations, even without the regional media splash.

“We are doing all those things San Jose and San Francisco and all those other places are doing,” she said. “It’s just to a scale that fits.”

Napa County has yet to set up beds at the Expo site, given the local hospitalization peak isn’t expected for several weeks, or possibly even a few months.

The county has set up an isolation area in a building at Napa County Airport with 50 beds, though as of Tuesday they were empty. This is where COVID-19 patients from the homeless shelter, farmworker centers and other county-run congregate care facilities will be brought, if they don’t need hospitalization.

County officials said the California National Guard could help at the airport isolation building. Five or six members are helping at the food bank.

County Executive Officer Minh Tran said the National Guard does a lot of different things, including medical staffing. Local use will not be “the type that would cause alarm to the community, in terms of a military-type force.”

Napa County’s two hospitals – Queen of the Valley Medical Center and Adventist Health St. Helena – between them have about 160 beds. They can expand to 354 beds, Relucio said. They would have staffing for only 304 beds.

She addressed ways to help the hospitals besides the Expo alternative site. One is having more home care for the less acutely sick patients, using telemedicine and staff visits. Another is possibly consolidating outpatient clinic care, freeing up more medical staff for the hospitals.

As of Tuesday morning, the county had 23 COVID-19 cases and two current hospitalizations. The county has turned to a forecasting model also used by the state to help it prepare for what may come.

Having no social distancing could result in a peak of 1,289 patients needing hospitalization in early May. But Napa County has already issued a shelter-at-home order and is telling people in public to be at least six feet apart.

A degree of social distancing could reduce the peak to 708 patients in early June. Still better social distancing could reduce the peak to 314 around August, the latest models show.

Relicio said the county is assuming about a third of patients would go to Kaiser’s Vallejo hospital in Solano County. That is accounted for in the model.

The two local hospitals have 39 ventilators between them and are seeking more, Relucio said. Modeling shows a peak of 216 to 479 ventilators might be needed, depending on how well social distancing flattens the hospitalization curve.

Dillon said COVID-19 hospitalization peaks in different areas at different times frees up ventilators to be shared. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently sent 500 ventilators to the national stockpile because the statewide peak isn’t expected until mid-May, while places such as New York need them now.

Dillon and other county officials wanted the public to know that Napa County is working on its COVID-19 plans.

“We are preparing for the very worst,” Tran said. “But we are definitely hoping for the best.”

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

You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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