By Nina Sparling
Shasta County shot into a more restrictive tier of California’s reopening plan after confirming 167 new cases of COVID-19 over the weekend.
The spike in cases has been tied to two separate outbreaks in the county — at a megachurch’s college and at a senior care center, according to public health officials.
“This experience has happened statewide,” said Dr. Karen Ramstrom, the county health officer “It's not unique.”
At least 123 cases are connected to the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, a residential program run by Bethel Church, an 11,000 member megachurch in Redding. And an outbreak at the Windsor Redding Care Center, an assisted living facility, has infected 60 residents and 20 staff members, officials said. The county said at least seven people in that facility have died due to complications from the virus.
Dr. Ramstrom did not identify any specific failures on the part of the facility or county that led to the outbreak. She announced that another facility may also be on the verge of an outbreak in the county yesterday.
“It’s unfortunate to have both of these situations at the same time,” said Shasta County Supervisor Mary Rickert. “It's been a double loading, so to speak.”
There are 1,267 confirmed cases in the county, 131 of which are still active. The 7-day average test positivity rate is currently 6.9%, up from 2.4% about a month ago. Shasta County is averaging 12.8 new cases per day per 100,000 people. Both metrics are significantly above state averages, which are trending downwards.
Shasta County had been in the orange, or “moderate risk,” tier of the state’s reopening system. The tier allowed for many indoor businesses to open with certain modifications. Now, after regressing to the red, “significant risk” tier, county officials face reinstating restrictions in an increasingly challenging environment.
Restaurants, movie theaters, gyms, and places of worship will have to operate at a more limited capacity. Retail stores will, too.
There has been vocal resistance to abiding by statewide public health guidelines, like wearing masks and social distancing, in Shasta County since the early days of the pandemic. In May, County Supervisor Les Baugh got his haircut at a barbershop in Cottonwood long before Gov. Gavin Newsom had given the greenlight for salons to reopen.
He posted on Facebook about the choice that “No one can convince me that my thoughtful, intelligent barber is any less safe than restaurants cooking food and bringing it to the curb.”
Later that month, Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini allowed the Cottonwood Rodeo to continue. The largely outdoor event brought together about 1,800 people — few, if any, of them wore masks. Sheriff Magrini told the Redding Record Searchlight that his office is more focused on education than enforcement.
Much of the work of educating the public about the rules has fallen to the public health department. State agencies like CalOSHA and the California Department of Alcohol and Beverage Control have intervened with businesses failing to follow state and county mandates. The agencies both respond to complaints and perform standard inspections.
Some residents have taken to expressing their outrage over county and state restrictions in public forums. Carlos Zapata made national headlines in August when, refusing to wear a mask, he threatened that “good citizens are going to turn into real concerned and revolutionary citizens real soon."
Shasta County resident Richard Gallardo on Tuesday placed all five members of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors and the county counsel under citizen’s arrest. He claimed closed session discussions of the county COVID-19 response violate the Brown Act, which outlines rules for government transparency — including provisions for closed sessions in certain circumstances. The supervisors and counsel were quickly released.
The county will remain in the red tier for at least two weeks, said Robin Schurig, public health branch director. The California Department of Public Health updates the tier system every Tuesday after analyzing the most recent public health data.
Schurig expects to see Shasta County rise into the most severe purple tier next, indicating widespread risk.
“I’m not looking forward to it,” Supervisor Rickert said. “I do know it’s going to be a difficult couple of months ahead of us.”
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