EL CENTRO — As word spreads about the easing of restrictions, such as social distancing guidelines, there is not yet an unrestricted all-clear signal, local officials stressed April 24 at El Centro’s fifth special meeting regarding COVID-19.
The meeting was held in the city council chambers.
Lifting of stay-at-home orders will not occur immediately nor embrace a complete lack of adherence to recent guidelines, warned Janette Angulo, county Public Health director.
“Wider-spread testing by the state is in the planning stage and will ramp up in two weeks but with more testing we’ll see more positive results,” she explained.
Along with COVID-19 tests, there is increasing testing of anti-bodies, molecular structures that trigger an immune response. But this is not a diagnostic test, emphasized Angulo.
“Presence of antibodies does not mean a lack of COVID–you need a confirmation test,” she advised. “Don’t let your guard down because a few hours later you can get infected if you’re careless.”
Angulo added the need to stay at home remains, especially if sick, and that people should only leave for essentials such as food and medication, continue to stay at least six feet away from others, wash hands frequently and wear a face mask.
“Are we ready to completely re-open?” she asked. “We’re not going back to pre-COVID. Modification will be done in a phased approach.”
ECRMC Recovers From Fire
El Centro Regional Medical Center is open for all services and clinics after the minor April 22 fire, explained Adolphe Edward, chief executive officer. Its statistics remain the same with 22 percent of those tested accounting for positive cases, he said. The hospital has 22 ventilators with another five arriving soon.
Edward cautioned against using drive-by testing because there are some unscrupulous groups using the crisis to obtain Medicare or Medicaid cards and perpetrate identity theft.
Physician Christian Tomaszewski, El Centro Regional chief medical officer, cautioned not to put off health care visits because of a fear of COVID-19.
“Be assured, you can come to the emergency room in safety if you experience chest pain or numbness in your arms,” said Tomaszewski. “Don’t fall victim to spurious COVID-19 cures (injecting disinfectants). COVID-19 is still out there and could come back with a storm in the fall. So be aware as we ease social distancing.”
Gouging Not Found
The police department continues to investigate price gouging complaints, Chief Brian Johnson said. However, he noted the crisis has necessitated incremental prices increases.
“More encouraging, domestic violence cases have had a seven percent drop,” said Johnson. “But for those who experience tension because of stay-at-home policies we urge you to seek help as the county website lists appropriate services. We also have seen a significant uptick in speeding since the highways have become less crowded. But local police and the CHP (California Highway Patrol) are out there and will prosecute violators.”
Meanwhile, out of more than a 1,000 county homeless no COVID-19 positive cases have been identified, said Veronica Rodriguez, county Social Services director.
Earlier in April a voucher system was established to help the homeless get into several local motels. To date, 172 were provided vouchers and 22 obtained housing in private households.
Public Health has offered to provide a mobile facility so homeless can access services and Social Services coordinated with Spread the Love Charity to provide mobile hand washing stations, showers, hand sanitizers and face masks, Rodriguez added.
Lifeline for Business
The El Centro Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau is micro-casting webinars in which members may get help from the Small Business Administration and other agencies due to reduced business activity because of the pandemic, noted Anne Irigoyan, chamber president.
She urged businesses to adhere to governmental guidelines and balance commerce with safety.
“There’s so much fear out there–COVID is overwhelming. But our goal is to teach the community to not fear our businesses,” said Irigoyan. “In my business, (Ametza LLC) we’re able to stay six feet apart and I’m confident our chamber members are doing the same. The new normal may last a little longer but we’ll all persevere.”
The pandemic has had an even greater impact on those with food insecurity, explained Sara Griffen, Imperial Valley Food Bank executive director. There was a 12-percent increase in requests for food during March. The agency distributes at nine sites across the county through Catholic Charities, Salvation Army and House of Hope, among others.
“We’re serving more in El Centro than elsewhere, 39 percent,” said Griffen. “In March we fed 26,000. We encourage those who are food insecure to contact our food counselor to see if they are eligible and phone (760) 370-0966.”