Monday, March 30, 2020

Newsom order allows medical retirees and student nurses to join COVID-19 fight

Posted By on Mon, Mar 30, 2020 at 6:32 PM

Students in Cuesta College’s registered nursing program, whose academic years were just cut short by the onset of COVID-19, could soon be joining the fight against the virus.

Bracing for a surge in cases statewide, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order on March 30 to allow the temporary waiving of licensing requirements for student nurses and doctors as well as recently retired medical professionals.

The California Health Corps, as it’s called, could expand the state’s health care workforce by as many as 37,000, as officials prepare for the number of COVID-19 patients to outpace available medical facilities and workers.

“If you’re a nursing school student, a medical school student, we need you,” Newsom said in a March 30 press conference. “If you’ve just retired in the last few years, we need you.”

Newsom called on doctors, nurses, mental health experts, EMTs, pharmacists, phlebotomists, experts in respiratory care, technicians, and administrators to sign up for the California Health Corps.

Local health officials are making the same calls for help—and the community is responding.

According to the San Luis Obispo County Office of Emergency Services, as of March 30, more than 200 recently retired, part-time, or student health care workers have come forward to sign up to work.

The nursing students at Cuesta College are among them, according to college spokesperson Ritchie Bermudez. Bermudez told New Times that Cuesta students are “on the list” to help staff an alternative care facility that SLO County is constructing at the Cal Poly Rec Center, which will handle overflow COVID-19 patients.
‘WE NEED YOU’ Retired, part-time, and student doctors and nurses will help staff this overflow care facility currently under construction at the Cal Poly Rec Center to combat COVID-19. - IMAGE COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
  • IMAGE COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY PUBLIC HEALTH
  • ‘WE NEED YOU’ Retired, part-time, and student doctors and nurses will help staff this overflow care facility currently under construction at the Cal Poly Rec Center to combat COVID-19.

“They’re still sorting out the details,” Bermudez said, adding that it’s still unclear how many students would be eligible to work at the site.

The alternative care site at Cal Poly has the capacity to house 931 beds, and it will open in phases as necessary, according to the county, starting with a 165-bed “phase one” slated to open on April 8.

The facility is designed to be able to provide care for COVID-19 patients who are too sick to isolate at home but not sick enough to require acute hospital care, according to SLO County Public Health.

At a March 30 press briefing, SLO County Emergency Services Director Wade Horton said that the alternative site has adequate staffing and supplies for only its first phase.

“We believe we have the required staffing to start that first 165-bed facility, however if we need to expand it out, we need more people,” Horton said. “If you’re watching, please go to readyslo.org and sign up.”

Paso Robles projects at least $4 million in pandemic-related tax revenue losses

Posted By on Mon, Mar 30, 2020 at 1:52 PM

The COVID-19 pandemic will significantly impact Paso Robles’ general fund revenues, although it’s still too early to tell how badly.

Ryan Cornell, the city’s interim director of administrative services, compiled a fiscal analysis based on national averages and “best practices today” that he presented during the City Council’s March 27 virtual meeting. Cornell said that Oxford Economics, a global economic leader of forecasting and analysis, projects that tourism will decline in March and April and take the rest of the calendar year to rebound.
LONG-TERM UNKNOWNS Paso Robles is bracing for fiscal shortfalls due to the coronavirus. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY OF PASO ROBLES
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY OF PASO ROBLES
  • LONG-TERM UNKNOWNS Paso Robles is bracing for fiscal shortfalls due to the coronavirus.

The city’s three largest general fund revenue sources—sales tax, property taxes, and transient occupancy taxes (TOT)—comprise roughly 75 percent of the city’s general fund revenue. He said the shelter-at-home mandate issued by Gov. Gavin Newsom and SLO County, will have significant and immediate impacts on sales taxes, TOT, and fees for service.

According to the staff report, the mandate could also potentially impact property tax revenues over the next year or so, depending on trickle-down effects of non-essential businesses needing to stop operations. The auto and transportation industry, fuel services stations, restaurants, and hotels will be the most affected. Cornell said he hasn’t had an opportunity to examine the city’s other major revenue sources, such as community development charges for services and parks, recreation charges for services, and permits or licenses.

“With this all being said, based on the information I have thus far, the city is looking at about a $4 to $6 million hit to the fiscal year 2019-20 budget. That’s close to a 10 to 15 percent hit in just three months of the year,” he said. “The city’s budget revenue is right about $46 million, so this is a significant impact on the revenue stream of the city.”

Despite the projected loss, Cornell said the city is better off than most as it has approximately $18.6 million in reserves and $6.6 million in its Section 115 Trust—an account to separate agency funds from general assets for the purpose of funding essential governmental functions—that can help supplement the city’s pension expense.

In an effort to reduce spending, the city has pushed the pause button on hiring personnel except for two positions that were already budgeted for: a police officer and dispatcher. Paso is also reviewing capital projects that can be delayed for the time being.

City Manager Tom Frutchey said the city has done just about everything it can do to make sure it’s spending every dollar as cost-effectively as possible.

“I can tell you and assure you our staff act as though the money they’re spending is like their personal money, in a sense that they don’t waste any of it,” Frutchey said.

Normally, Paso would adopt a detailed two-year budget where it can link long-term strategic plans with its financial planning process, but the current known state of effects from the virus doesn’t allow long-term planning. For now, the city has done what it can to address its funding shortfall without cutting back on essential services, according to city officials.

The City Council voted in favor of modifying its normal two-year budget process to a one-year budget for the fiscal year 2020-21. It will come back before council members in June. ∆

Friday, March 27, 2020

Locals team up to make masks for nurses in need

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2020 at 6:06 PM

You should never underestimate the power of a skill like sewing, and Nipomo resident Ellie Kelley is a perfect example why.

Kelley learned to sew when she was about 15. She eventually started making her own clothes for fun, which led to making prom dresses for friends, and then to a job at a clothing company, and eventually to making specialized maternity clothes later in life.

Now her love for sewing could save lives.

As medical professionals around the world work to fight the spread of coronavirus, hospitals across the U.S. are short on the N95 respirator face masks that help keep nurses, doctors, and other staff safe from contracting the contagious illness. The situation isn’t much better in SLO County.
A THREAD OF HOPE Locals are teaming up to make homemade masks for health care workers lacking personal protective equipment. - PHOTO COURTESY OF BIRCH FABRICS
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF BIRCH FABRICS
  • A THREAD OF HOPE Locals are teaming up to make homemade masks for health care workers lacking personal protective equipment.
“They don’t have enough masks to go around,” Kelley told New Times, “and we’re not even in the thick of it yet.”

A lot of nurses are reusing face masks for multiple days, wearing bandanas or scarves to work, or going without, Kelley said.

So when Kelley’s friend, a nurse at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton, told her about the shortages of masks locally, Kelley decided that she could pretty quickly make her own and donate them to the hospital.

She did some research, developed a pattern, and made 10 prototypes for nurses to try out. Although Twin Cities Community Hospital hasn’t agreed to accept homemade masks, a number of nurses at Twin Cities and Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria have signed on to use the masks, along with several local midwives and health care professionals outside of California.
The homemade masks aren’t as protective as N95 respirators, but studies show that two layers of cotton over the mouth and nose are fairly protective from airborne particles.

“It’s definitely better than nothing,” Kelley said.

With the help of a still growing group of local seamstresses, Kelley said she plans to pump out more than 200 masks before the end of March. Local businesses are helping, too. Miner’s Ace Hardware donated wire for the nose of the masks and Birch Fabrics in Paso Robles donated much-needed material.

Cynthia Mann, owner of Birch Fabrics, said that with businesses largely closed down, her own is taking a fairly substantial hit. She’s still filling some fabric orders online, but the brick-and-mortar store is closed. When she heard hospitals were in need of masks, she knew she could help. So far she’s donated more than 150 yards of fabric to sewing groups and seamstresses locally and across the nation.

“There’s not much else we can do and we really want to help as much as we can,” Mann said. “The feeling that there’s something that you actually can do is really motivating to people.”

If you’d like to make a donation to help fund the fabric donation, call Cynthia Mann of Birch Fabrics at (415) 309-1901 or visit the website. If you’d like to help sew masks, Ellie Kelley is available at (805) 674-1307. You can also find a free mask pattern here. ∆

Local suppliers struggle to deliver food to Santa Maria-Bonita School District for student meals

Posted By on Fri, Mar 27, 2020 at 2:01 PM

Since implementing its breakfast and lunch distribution effort in the wake of COVID-19 school closures, the number of meals that Santa Maria-Bonita School District (SMBSD) serves has increased nearly every day, Public Information Officer Maggie White said. 
HIGH DEMAND The Santa Maria-Bonita School District gives out an increasing number of meals each day at its seven distribution sites, said Public Information Officer Maggie White. - PHOTO COURTESY OF SANTA MARIA-BONITA SCHOOL DISTRICT
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF SANTA MARIA-BONITA SCHOOL DISTRICT
  • HIGH DEMAND The Santa Maria-Bonita School District gives out an increasing number of meals each day at its seven distribution sites, said Public Information Officer Maggie White.

On March 26, the district served a total of 14,152 m eals from its seven distribution sites.

“We serve a million meals a year, so this is a well-oiled machine,” White said.
But amid local and statewide calls to social distance and self isolate, a few of the district’s suppliers are running low on delivery drivers, making some products harder to get, White said.

“[It’s] not that they don’t exist, but that distribution has been difficult,” White explained.

Les Clark, president of one of SMBSD’s key suppliers, The Berry Man Inc., told the Sun that his business is down to just 20 percent of their original delivery crew, and that they’ve lost 90 percent of their restaurant business since the outbreak.

White said that SMBSD is finding creative solutions to meet suppliers like The Berry Man halfway and keep up with the demand for food.

“Our food service department has really been trying to go straight to the source for food products,” White said.

The district is also directing deliveries to one central warehouse location, and then the food gets “disseminated out to the school sites that are actually making the meals,” White said. “A lot of our items right now are pre-packaged items so that it cuts down not only on the time, but it cuts down on the food handling. Everyone’s wearing gloves that handles the food, but that pre-packaged layer adds another layer of protection.”

White emphasized that the district is still receiving products from their typical suppliers, but that given the situation, the demand is difficult to keep up with.
“All of our very loyal distributors and companies that we work with are doing their best, but just like any industry right now, everybody’s kind of operating on a personnel shoestring,” White said.

For that reason, beginning at the start of this week, White said the district made the decision to consolidate their food distribution sites. Initially, the district was offering meals at every school— 20 total sites. Now they are down to seven sites: Miller Elementary School, Tunnel Elementary School, Rice Elementary School, El Camino Junior High School, Jimenez Elementary School, Fairlawn Elementary School, and Arellanes Elementary School.

Arellanes Elementary is located in Tanglewood, an area just outside Santa Maria city limits, White said. Virtually the only store available to get groceries in Tanglewood is a mini-mart, White said, making the district’s food efforts all the more vital for the small and somewhat isolated community.

White said that at this point, the district is encouraging any student— “whether they’re from our district or the high school district or wherever”— to come take advantage of the free breakfasts and lunches that are being offered.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Santa Barbara County firefighters quarantined after possible COVID-19 exposure

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 7:26 PM

Four Santa Barbara County firefighters who responded to a medical emergency on March 24 are in quarantine after the woman they assisted began exhibiting symptoms in line with COVID-19 after she arrived at the hospital.

The patient was tested for the virus, and is awaiting results that may take up to 48 hours. Fire Department Public Information Officer Captain Daniel Bertucelli said the firefighters will remain in quarantine until the patient’s test results come back. At that point, if the patient tests positive, the firefighters will also be tested.
EXPOSED: Santa Barbara County firefighters who assisted a woman displaying COVID-19 symptoms have been placed in quarantine. - STOCK PHOTO
  • STOCK PHOTO
  • EXPOSED: Santa Barbara County firefighters who assisted a woman displaying COVID-19 symptoms have been placed in quarantine.
Bertucelli said he couldn’t identify which region of the county this event took place, as that’s information the county Public Health Department releases.
During a press conference on March 25, Public Health Department Director Van Do-Reynoso said the county had 26 positive cases of COVID-19. Six of the cases are in Santa Maria, five in Orcutt, 10 in Santa Barbara, and five are in smaller communities in South County. Of the 26 cases, six people have fully recovered, 19 are recovering at home, and one remains hospitalized.

Bertucelli said the department is taking extra steps during this pandemic to try and keep firefighters safe when responding to calls. First responders are wearing mouth and eye protection equipment when entering a home, as well as gowns if necessary.

Also, instead of all four firefighters who respond to medical emergencies entering the home at once, a single paramedic contacts the patient first until they feel it’s necessary for the others to join them. Bertucelli said the incident on March 24 took place outdoors, so all responders were in contact with the patient immediately.

In another incident involving county first responders, on March 17 the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office announced 12 employees, including custody deputies and medical contractors, were directed to self-isolate in their homes after being around another employee who later tested positive for COVID-19.

During a press conference on March 24, Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown announced numerous ways his office is trying to limit the spread of the virus through the county jail, including releasing some low-level offenders up to 30 days earlier than their release date. So far, he said, his office has lowered the jail population by about 3 to 4 percent.

“We have taken meaningful and significant steps to reduce our jailhouse population and to keep the virus out of our jail,” Brown said. ∆

Downtown SLO business owner starts petition calling for rent and mortgage payment freezes

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 5:58 PM

Like so many other local business owners in the past week, Maryalice Hamilton was forced to shutter her downtown clothing store, Blackwater, in San Luis Obispo following COVID-19 orders affecting non-essential businesses.

“After you’ve been in business 15 years, you always feel like your business is essential,” Hamilton told New Times.
FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER
  • FILE PHOTO BY STEVE E. MILLER

While Hamilton has shifted her focus to online sales for now, not all shops are well-suited for that, she said. And even with an online presence, Hamilton and other store owners still have one burning question on their minds: “How am I going to pay the rent the first of the month?”

“We’ve got one week until this crisis hits a major head,” Hamilton said. “When rent and mortgage payments are due, shit’s going to hit the fan.”

After conferring with other business owners, Hamilton decided she should launch an online petition demanding that SLO County institute a freeze on rent and mortgage payments.

SLO County has passed an emergency moratorium on evictions, but Hamilton and others feel as though that doesn’t go far enough.

“The problem with that is it doesn’t put a hold on any accumulating debt that’s occurred while you can’t be evicted,” she said. “Without that freeze, then you start owing them an accumulated debt each month that you can’t afford to pay the rent.”

As of 5 p.m. on March 25, the petition had 5,212 signatures.

Hamilton said she’s received almost universally positive feedback from the petition, and she’s reached out to city leaders and contacted local state and congressional offices to alert them of her cause.

“I really don’t know the whole political process; I’m just trying to get the ball rolling here,” she said.

SLO County and city officials didn’t immediately return a request for comment about the petition.

On March 25, California took a step forward on mortgages when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a deal with major banks JP Morgan Chase, Citi, US Bank, and Wells Fargo, and about 200 credit unions and state banks, to allow a 90-day grace period for mortgage payments.

In cities like San Francisco, county supervisors have begun calling for rent freezes.

Hamilton believes both are needed to successfully navigate the economic shutdown.

“We’re all in the same boat,” she said. “It’s just how are we all going to get through this crisis as a community working together, so nobody is eventually evicted three months down the road,” she said.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Bus rides in SLO and Morro Bay are now free

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2020 at 7:07 PM

There’s not a whole lot of positivity coming out of the coronavirus outbreak, but here’s one good thing: Bus rides in San Luis Obispo or Morro Bay will be free of charge for the duration of the coronavirus emergency.

SLO Transit announced that as of March 23, its bus rides will be free to all riders until further notice. It’s common practice for transit systems to offer free rides during times of crisis, and according to SLO Transit Manager Gamaliel Anguiano, the move will make public transportation more accessible to those facing financial hardship while also discouraging behavior that might further the spread of coronavirus.

“We understand that public transit plays a vital role in helping specific community members get to and from home and essential services,” Anguiano told New Times.

PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY OF SLO
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF THE CITY OF SLO
With a statewide “shelter-at-home” in place, non-essential businesses across the state and throughout San Luis Obispo are closed or significantly limiting operations. Unemployment rates are spiking, and Anguiano said that while a single ride on a city bus typically costs only $1.50, anything helps in trying economic times.

Through its usual fares, SLO Transit is able to recover about 20 percent of its operating costs each year as required by the state. Some of that funding could be lost through the new fare-free model, but Anguiano said he isn’t worried.
The transit system has already significantly pulled back its operations by reducing hours and running fewer routes. During the college school year, Anguiano said he sometimes has 15 drivers working each shift. That’s dropped to about four to six for now.

Those changes are partly in response to lower ridership. With so many community members working from home and schools closed down, Anguiano said current ridership is about 75 percent less than it would normally be at this time of year.

“We view this actually as a positive in this scenario because people are only taking essential trips,” he said, which means people are taking social distancing seriously.

Public transit systems, which are often crowded and used by hoards of people every day, are always a concern during epidemics and pandemics like the COVID-19 outbreak. SLO Transit intensified its cleaning procedures in early March and has been encouraging its riders to use buses only for absolutely necessary trips and to practice social distancing while aboard.

The fare-free model is also in line with social distancing, Anguiano said. Bus drivers won’t have to take cash, tokens, or tickets, and won’t have to get too close to any passengers.

Morro Bay is also offering free bus rides until further notice.

805UndocuFund reactivates to provide financial assistance to undocumented Central Coast residents affected by COVID-19

Posted By on Tue, Mar 24, 2020 at 3:09 PM

In response to the increased community spread of COVID-19, Future Leaders of America (FLA) announced Tuesday that the 805 UndocuFund will reactivate to provide financial support for undocumented individuals and families.

The joint venture between FLA, Mixteco/Indigenous Community Organizing Project (MICOP), and the Central Coast Alliance United for a Sustainable Economy (CAUSE) was originally established in 2018 in response to the Thomas Fire and subsequent Montecito mudslide. Because these natural disasters resulted in the closure of hotels, restaurants, and other service-based industries, the people working these jobs found themselves out of work. This included many undocumented individuals, who FLA Executive Director Eder Gaona-Macedo called the “backbone of the local service industry.”

With the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Santa Barbara County on the rise, Gaona-Macedo told the Sun that undocumented people are again facing the stress of service sector closures—this time, on a much larger scale.
FUNDING THE FORGOTTEN Local nonprofits restarted a financial assistance program to help undocumented immigrants who have lost jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak but aren't included in federal or state relief packages. "Lou" is an undocumented immigrant who's name wasn't used to protect his identity. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FUNDING THE FORGOTTEN Local nonprofits restarted a financial assistance program to help undocumented immigrants who have lost jobs due to the coronavirus outbreak but aren't included in federal or state relief packages. "Lou" is an undocumented immigrant who's name wasn't used to protect his identity.
“Because those disasters were happening in South County, we kept it focused down in West County Ventura and South Santa Barbara County,” Gaona-Macedo said of the fund’s history. “But given the sheer fact that COVID-19 is transcending ages, races, incomes, we just felt it was necessary to also be serving all of Santa Barbara County.”

Any undocumented person in Santa Barbara County is eligible to apply for the fund, Gaona-Macedo said. Those who have experienced financial stress as a result of COVID-19 are particularly encouraged to apply.

“It’s case-by-case,” Gaona-Macedo said of the fund’s capacity. “We’re definitely going to support undocumented workers who have no access to any type of support. Those are going to be a priority.”

Gaona-Macedo said that though the federal government continues to discuss potential financial relief for American citizens, these proposed stimulus packages often leave out undocumented people.

“They’re talking about sending cash grants to families,” Gaona-Macedo said. “For the most part, undocumented workers tend not to fit under that.”

The UndocuFund raised $2.5 million since its 2018 inception and provided financial assistance to 1,700 families in the past, Gaona-Macedo said. But with COVID-19 on the rise, right now is a critical time for the community to fundraise and support the fund. Donations can be made through the fund’s website at 805undocufund.org.

“There’s also other things folks can do, including talking to individuals and spreading resources,” Gaona-Macedo said. “There are a lot of resources out there that may not be accessible to undocumented families.”

Monday, March 23, 2020

Santa Barbara County supervisors to vote on eviction moratorium

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2020 at 5:22 PM

As thousands of people deal with a loss of wages related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is weighing a measure that could provide them with some breathing room.

At its March 24 meeting, the board will vote on an urgency ordinance that would temporarily prohibit any evictions involving people who have lost income or taken on substantial medical expenses because of COVID-19. To take effect, the ordinance requires the approval of four out of five supervisors.
ON HOLD The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is looking at an eviction moratorium ordinance to prevent those who can't pay rent because of the coronavirus from being kicked out of their homes. - FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • FILE PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • ON HOLD The Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors is looking at an eviction moratorium ordinance to prevent those who can't pay rent because of the coronavirus from being kicked out of their homes.
The item was placed on the board’s agenda for its March 24 meeting at the request of 1st District Supervisor Das Williams and 2nd District Supervisor Gregg Hart, according to a news release from their offices.

“We must avoid the creation of a great public health emergency that would result from subjecting families to homelessness,” Hart and Williams said in the release. “It is imperative we do everything possible to make sure people are safe and secure in their homes and that we prevent eviction.”

According to a staff report for the item, under this ordinance, tenants would still be required to pay rent and landlords would still maintain the ability to recover rent that’s due to them in the future. But this measure would prevent landlords from evicting tenants during the pandemic.

The ordinance would remain in effect until the end of May or until the county terminates its local health emergency proclamation, which was announced on March 12. As of March 23, 18 people in the county had tested positive for COVID-19, while 229 people have tested negative and 245 results are pending.

The vote on this ordinance comes about a week after Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order on March 16 that made it easier for local governments to pass these types of eviction moratoriums.

“People shouldn’t lose or be forced out of their homes because of the spread of COVID-19,” Newsom said in a news release. “Over the next few weeks, everyone will have to make sacrifices, but a place to live shouldn’t be one of them.”

The board’s meeting begins at 9 a.m. and can be watched on the county’s YouTube page, on its website, or on local cable. Because of Newsom’s statewide “stay at home” order, in-person participation is not allowed. For an update on the story, pick up a copy of the Santa Maria Sun on March 26, or visit santamariasun.com. ∆

Pismo Preserve closes to keep public safe during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted By on Mon, Mar 23, 2020 at 1:40 PM

After monitoring visitor use, The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County announced on March 23 that it will close the Pismo Preserve until further notice. 
PRETTY BUT CLOSED After careful consideration, the Land Conservancy of SLO County is temporarily closing the Pismo Preserve to the public to keep visitors safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. - PHOTO BY RACHELLE RAMIREZ
  • PHOTO BY RACHELLE RAMIREZ
  • PRETTY BUT CLOSED After careful consideration, the Land Conservancy of SLO County is temporarily closing the Pismo Preserve to the public to keep visitors safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Executive Director Kaila Dettman told New Times that the conservancy has been tracking the executive orders, restrictions, and guidelines from local and state agencies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order that all individuals within the state shelter-at-home, a lot of residents are opting to spend more time outdoors. But even when people are outside, the California Department of Public Health, among other state agencies, recommends that individuals maintain social distance and stay at least 6 feet away from one another.

“The bottom line is it’s a really popular place. The single track trails in many locations are pretty narrow and it can be hard for people to pass each other without coming near each other,” she said.

That was one consideration that led to the organization’s determination to close the preserve.

The conservancy has been working with the city of Pismo Beach to monitor visitor use at the preserve, which opened to the public for the first time in January. Dettman said she drove through the parking lot of the Pismo Preserve a couple of times on March 22. It was packed.

“If it was light use, it would be pretty easy to justify [it being] low risk,” Dettman said.

She said there was a lot of congestion in the parking lot, people coming and going, and using the restroom facilities. 

“Even though most people were trying to abide by social distancing, it’s hard to do,” she said.

Monitoring efforts also showed the conservancy who was visiting the preserve. They found that the preserve was a regional outdoor recreation area attracting people from all over the county. So the decision to close it was not made lightly, Dettman said, and the organization is very sad to shut down public access to the preserve.

“But believe that we have a responsibility to help slow or stop the spread [of COVID-19] so we’re trying to do our part to do that. The trails will be there when this all passes,” she said.

In the meantime, the conservancy still encourages people to get outside but do it near their own homes—a walk around the block or a bike ride through your neighborhood, for example.

Conservancy staff will continue to monitor news and recommendations regarding the virus closely and will reopen the Pismo Preserve when it is safe to do so, likely when the shelter-at-home orders are lifted. ∆

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