Coronavirus Roundup: Shelter in place extended statewide. Public health official diagnosed. $1 milli
MARCH 23 — Confirmed coronavirus cases in Marin have more than quadrupled in the past week, from nine to 39 — including Marin’s public health officer, Dr. Matt Willis — as the U.S. total surged by nearly 10 times to 33,000 cases and Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded the Bay Area’s enforceable shelter-in-place order to the entire state.
Marin: 39 confirmed cases, 0 deaths, per the Marin Department of Health and Human Services as of March 22. Up from nine cases the previous week.
California: 1,733 confirmed cases, 27 deaths — not including passengers on the Grand Princess cruise that docked in Oakland — per the California Department of Public Health as of 2 p.m. March 22. Up from 335 cases, six deaths the previous week.
U.S.: 33,404 cases, 400 deaths, per the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as of 4 p.m. March 22. Up from about 3,500 cases and 68 deaths the previous week.
World: 332,930 cases and 14,150 deaths, per the World Health Organization as of 2 a.m. March 23. Up from roughly 175,000 cases and 6,700 deaths the previous week.
Willis announced in a video message early March 23 that he had been diagnosed with COVID-19 the previous day and has been self-quarantined away from his family since he first became symptomatic late last week.
“My case is further proof that COVID-19 is with us,” he said. “While my symptoms are now mild, as most people’s will be, we also know that for many, especially our elders, this same illness can be life threatening.”
Newsom expands shelter-in-place
Newsom’s California order, which went into place at 12:01 a.m. March 20 and impacts 40 million residents, mimics the mandate put in place across the Bay Area earlier last week, though Newsom’s statewide directive is open-ended and will potentially last beyond the April 7 end to the regional shutdown.
Broadly, residents are not allowed to leave home except for essential purposes, such as for groceries, prescriptions and health care, and to commute to jobs deemed essential under penalty of a misdemeanor violation.
Health officials have said getting outdoors for fresh air and exercise is acceptable as long as physical distancing is practiced.
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Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said March 20 that Americans will most likely have to stay at home and practice physical distancing for “at least several weeks.”
“I cannot see that all of a sudden, next week or two weeks from now it’s going to be over,” he said in a “Today” show interview.
The same day, Fauci separately acknowledged there still aren’t enough tests to meet demand.
Local cancellations, postponements
Tiburon Mayor Alice Fredericks said March 19 the town will postpone its week of April events planned to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Earth Day and reschedule them for a warm month when more families can participate.
The Tiburon Peninsula Chamber of Commerce announced it is postponing the 38th annual Tiburon Wine Festival, originally scheduled for May 16 at Point Tiburon Plaza. The chamber is now looking at holding the fundraising event in August or September. Those who have purchased tickets may use them on the rescheduled date. Refunds are also being offered, but Eventbrite’s ticketing fees are nonrefundable.
The Belvedere-Tiburon Landmarks Society announced March 18 it is closing the landmarks under its care — Tiburon’s Railroad & Ferry Depot Museum at Shoreline Park, Old St. Hilary’s Landmark and the Art & Garden Center, as well as the China Cabin in Belvedere. Society officials say the earliest the venues would reopen is May 1.
Landmarks also hosts a concert series at Old St. Hilary’s, but the next scheduled performance, set for April 5, has been canceled. Ticketholders for “Acoustic Guitars in the Round” — featuring Eric Schoenberg, Steve Baughman and Teja Gerken — can turn their purchase into a donation or receive a refund. Landmarks archivist Dave Gotz, who coordinates the series, said the show may be rescheduled for May 3, as choral group Musea canceled its scheduled performance that day.
Marin relief effort
The county announced March 19 it is planning a partnership with the nonprofit Marin Community Foundation to create a $1 million fund to assist vulnerable populations.
According to a press release, the fund will be allocated over the next two months to the county’s nonprofit “community partners” and will focus on emergency rental assistance for low-income residents; feeding low-income families; expanding meals for seniors; mobile Wi-Fi access for low-income students; and child care for health-care workers and emergency responders.
The proposal is being taken to the Marin Board of Supervisors for review and approval at its March 24 meeting, after The Ark’s press deadline; supervisors were to participate by teleconference, and the meeting was to be be livestreamed.
Donations can already be made via arkn.ws/MCFCOVIDfund.
Emergency tenant protections in Marin
Also at the supervisors’ March 24 meeting, the board was to consider approval of a resolution that would prevent residents and business owners from being evicted because of a sudden loss of income due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The draft resolution states that if a residential tenant or commercial small-business leaseholder has not made a payment that was due on or after March 18, the landlord cannot evict if the tenant provides notice within 30 days after the rent was due that they are unable to pay because of financial impacts related to the pandemic.
Those impacts would include a substantial loss of household income because of a business closure, a loss of work hours or wages, layoffs or extraordinary out-of-pocket medical expenses.
A tenant would have up to six months to pay rent before losing their housing or commercial property.
The March 19 announcement came the day after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development authorized the Federal Housing Administration to implement an immediate foreclosure and eviction moratorium for owners of single-family homes with administration-insured mortgages for the next 60 days.
Ferries, buses and bridges
Effective March 23, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, which operates the Tiburon commuter ferry, has slashed about half of its weekday trips to the San Francisco Ferry Building, offering two morning rides into the city and two evening rides back to the peninsula, and no weekend service.
Blue & Gold Fleet, which used to operate the weekday commute trips and now runs tourism boats between Tiburon and San Francisco’s Pier 41, has suspended all operations during the Bay Area and statewide shelter-in-place order.
So far, there have been no changes to Golden Gate Transit’s Route 8 commute bus between Tiburon and San Francisco’s Financial District, and no changes to Marin Transit’s Route 219 shuttles that traverse Tiburon Boulevard and the Redwood Highway frontage road.
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In addition, Caltrans and the Bay Area Toll Authority announced March 20 the temporary suspension of cash toll collection at the region’s seven state-owned toll bridges, including the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, until further notice. The regionally owned and operated Golden Gate Bridge began its move to all-electronic tolls in 2012 and eliminated all toll takers in 2013.
Don’t flush those ‘flushable’ wipes
The rush on toilet paper has led even more residents to turn to so-called “flushable” sanitary wipes — wipes that aren’t flushable despite labeling claims.
Officials at Sanitary District No. 5 of Marin, which serves Belvedere and the southern half of Tiburon, says the wipes are causing blockages since the toilet-paper shortages began, with at least one wipe clog resulting in a pump failure and another leading to a street overflow.
District manager Tony Rubio, along with counterpart Johnny Tucker at the Richardson Bay Sanitary District, which services northern Tiburon, say human waste and toilet paper are the only substances that should ever go down the loo.
Despite prominent labeling claiming otherwise, Rubio says no wipes are flushable because they don’t break down quickly enough to void their threat to block the pipes — even if they meet Federal Trade Commission testing requirements.
His assertion is backed up by Consumer Reports, which found in a 2014 test that none of the labeled-flushable wipes had broken down after 10 full minutes of agitation in water. Another 10 minutes in a Kitchen Aid mixer failed to have any effect, either. Those brands included Charmin Freshmates, Scott Naturals and Cottonelle FreshCare, which all make claims of being sewer-safe.
Toilet paper, on the other hand, disintegrated in 8 seconds.
When fibrous items like wipes and hair go down the toilet, it’s easy for them to get hung up on snags or tree roots that have penetrated the sewer lines, starting with the line that extends from the home to the street.
Once that happens, the wipes and other debris narrow the pipeline and have a tendency to catch other wipes and debris that come after. Eventually, that can result in a blockage, which will push sewer flow back up inside a home or onto a front yard.
Sewer backups can cost thousands of dollars in damage to the interior of a home, but if they occur outside and the untreated waste makes its way to a storm drain, it can escape into San Francisco Bay and pollute its waters. If the sewer district determines a homeowner is to blame, the homeowner could be responsible for any penalties charged by the Bay Area Water Quality Control Board, a state agency, or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
Toilet paper shortage, but no water shortage
With bottled water flying off shelves, the Marin Municipal Water District announced March 19 that water services will continue uninterrupted.
The majority of the district’s water comes from its protected Mount Tamalpais watershed and is treated, tested and monitored to ensure there are no viruses or pathogens.
“The district is well prepared and will continue to provide safe, reliable drinking water for all of our customers,” district board President Jack Gibson said in a press statement.
Spokeswoman Jeanne Mariani-Belding said the district “has plans in place to ensure that, under any scenario, customers will continue to be provided with safe, high-quality drinking water” and that its continuity plan has contingencies in place for staffing shortages and other strains on resources.
New CDC data shows that some 38 percent of patients who are sick enough to be hospitalized are ages 20-54. The CDC report included no information on underlying health conditions of patients of any age.
According to a research letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine, data compiled by investigators with the CDC, National Institutes of Health, the University of California at Los Angeles and Princeton University states the virus is detectable as an aerosol for up to three hours, on copper for up to four hours, cardboard for up to 24 hours, and plastic and stainless steel for up to three days. The studies highlight the need to practice hygienic measures such as hand-washing — even after touchless-delivery service or retrieving takeout food — and practicing considerable physical distancing even when outdoors.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration, in an emergency authorization, has approved a “bedside” COVID-19 test that can turn around results in as little as 45 minutes. Produced by Sunnyvale’s Cepheid, the test is the first that can be used by health-care providers that does not have to be sent out to a lab for processing.
There remains no vaccine and no treatment for a COVID-19 infection. Several existing, repurposed drugs are in trials for use to fight the disease, while a global effort to develop a vaccine is underway. Oxford University is set to begin trials on animals this week; Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute started trials for Moderna’s vaccine last week; and CanSino Biologics won approval in China to start human trials. Several more are in pre-clinical phases. Health experts still expect a vaccine won’t be ready inside 18 months.
The CDC unveiled its coronavirus self-checker, a chatbot to help people make decisions about seeking appropriate medical care, via arkn.ws/cdc-test-info.
Covered California, the health-insurance marketplace created under the federal Affordable Care Act, has opened a special enrollment period in response to the pandemic. Any resident who has lost a job or work hours because of business closures may sign up for health insurance through the marketplace. State officials are expecting hundreds of thousands of California residents to seek coverage due to job loss.
The federal Families First Coronavirus Response Act allows, with exceptions for certain small and very large businesses, two weeks’ paid coronavirus-related sick leave or to care for family member with the virus, as well as 12 weeks’ paid sick leave to care for a child while school is closed. Businesses will be reimbursed within three months through a payroll-tax credit.
The U.S. has suspended all nonessential travel across its borders with Canada and the U.S.
The filing deadline for U.S. tax returns has been moved from April 15 to July 15.
The second installment of California property taxes are still due April 10. State officials say the scheduled revenue is required to fund critical county services, schools and local financial obligations but the state “can waive penalties, costs or other charges resulting from tax delinquency due to reasonable causes and circumstances related to this crisis.”
Kevin Hessel is The Ark’s executive editor. Reach him at 415-435-2652, on Twitter at @thearknewspaper and on Facebook at fb.me/thearknewspaper. Tiburon reporter Deirdre McCrohan contributed to this report.