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Amid parent criticism, supes side with health officer decision to keep schools closed

Napa County supervisors affirmed their support for county Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Relucio on Tuesday after a group of parents lambasted her for not reopening some schools during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Relucio appeared before the Napa County Board of Supervisors to give an update on Covid-19 and the county, which has had one of the lowest case totals in the greater Bay Area since mid-March.

However, the county’s relatively low number of cases, 1,074 as of Monday, obscures that the county’s case total doubled from 480 to 960 in just 26 days during the month of July, according to Napa County Public Health data.

Jesse Garnier/SFBay SFBay Covid-19 dashboard highlighting Napa County cases by day as of Monday, Aug. 10, 2020.

That quick rise in cases landed Napa County on the state’s coronavirus watchlist, which prevents businesses like salons and gyms from operating indoors and also prevents schools from holding in-person classes until their county is off the list for 14 days.

While school districts can apply for local waivers if they meet a handful of conditions outlined by the state, Relucio has said she’s concerned about the inequity of such requests only coming from private schools, a sticking point for several people who spoke at the meeting.

Regina Bailey, who introduced herself as a Napa resident and a mother of five, said:

“What’s inequitable is a health officer factoring politics into her decision-making and permitting the gross negligence of (teacher) unions to impact the education of thousands of non-public school students.”

Several speakers cited New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s recent announcement that the state would allow schools to begin the fall semester with in-person instruction as justification that both the state and Relucio should approve waiver requests from schools, regardless of whether they are private or not.

Some speakers also suggested that state public health officials and Gov. Gavin Newsom are kowtowing to teachers’ unions in prohibiting in-person classes in much of the state.

Leah Simon, a mother of two students at St. Apollinaris Catholic School said:

“We’re not in Sacramento, we’re in Napa County. Politics should never come into play when we’re dealing with our children.”

Google Maps Some Napa County parents, including some with students at St. Apollinaris Catholic School in Napa, Calif., are upset that Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Relucio has not authorized reopening of some schools amid a spike in Covid-19 cases.

Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza defended Relucio, arguing that New York’s stage of the pandemic is not analogous to California’s and that the health officer is basing her decisions off the local conditions at hand.

Pedroza said:

“I think you have to make sure we’re working with the same set of facts. When you look at New York, they’ve had in the past seven days an increase of 4,500 cases. In the state of California, 45,000 cases.”

Relucio noted that the county is dealing with a recent glitch in the state’s coronavirus monitoring system that resulted in a backlog of nearly 300,000 cases.

While the state has fixed the issue and caught up on the backlogged cases, local jurisdictions are still applying the data from recent weeks to their metrics tracking the virus’ local spread.

The state also prevented any of the 38 counties on the state watchlist from being removed until the tracking system issues could be rectified.

Relucio said:

“I understand that kids need their education for intellectual and socioemotional development. This is a very difficult decision and I’m not doing this willy nilly.”

Napa County is currently hitting all but one benchmark required to fall off the watchlist. State public health officials require a county to have a case rate of fewer than 100 cases per 100,000 people; Napa County has 176.1, with the caveat that cases could be underreported, Relucio said.

Supervisor Ryan Gregory said that while he has been frustrated at the state’s focus on case rate per 100,000 residents as a reopening metric, he echoed his colleagues’ support for Relucio and suggested the need for a “full-court press” to bring that metric into compliance.

Gregory said:

“I’m not happy about it but, in my view, it’s really all we have, it’s the only thing we have right now in our control.”

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