From handcrafted creations to the commercially produced, Imperial Valley residents show off their custom face coverings used to prevent the spread of COVID-19 when going out into public places. | M. VALADEZ PHOTO ILLUSTRATION COURTESY PHOTOS
CALEXICO — Although not all the issues were specific to COVID-19, Calexico police and fire officials shared with the community some of the concerns and problems they have been experiencing since the measures to stamp out the pandemic began in mid-March, including drug usage and behavioral health issues.
Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo, during a presentation to the Calexico City Council on Sept. 2, shared that since COVID-19 caused major changes in the community, his department has seen an increase in calls related to mental-health issues, and more recently, drug overdoses, problems that he said may or may not be directly related to the coronavirus.
Gerardo described the mental health “crisis” brought on by COVID-19 as “overwhelming.”
“Again, I think it’s all due to COVID. People aren’t going out there and exercising, and they’re having crisis mental-health problems,” he said.
The chief implied that by staying indoors and keeping physically detached, people have seen existing behavioral health concerns exacerbated.
To that end, even though it is part of state-mandated police officer training, Gerardo told the council that his officers would be taking eight-hour continuing education courses on their off-time in “crisis intervention and de-escalation.”
Meanwhile, in the last couple of weeks, Calexico police and other Valley agencies say they have seen an uptick in drug overdose cases.
“I don’t know if it’s COVID-related or if there’s just a bad batch of drugs out there,” Gerardo said, but in Calexico there were two or three drug ODs in recent weeks. While not saying these were the specific causes, Gerardo noted the proliferation of “Xanny bars,” or what he called Xanax-laced brownies or cookies.
Xanny bars is also the term for the bar-shaped pill itself, so it wasn’t entirely clear which he was referring to.
In more directly-related COVID-19 matters, Calexico Fire Chief Diego Favila gave council members and the community a briefing on the state’s new color-coded system for opening up, which replaced the state’s Roadmap to Recovery that involved Stages 1 through 4.
The new system was introduced by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Aug. 28 and puts California counties into categories ranging from the worst (“purple”) to the best (“yellow”).
Favila said when he first saw that Imperial County had been placed in purple, which signifies “widespread” COVID transmissions, he was taken aback, thinking conditions were improving locally.
“But then I realized, 38 of 58 counties are also in tier 1 (purple),” he said.
After purple, he said there is red for “substantial spread,” orange for “moderate spread,” and yellow for “minimal spread.”
“The Governor didn’t even establish a green as he did not expect to be at a pre-pandemic stage anytime soon,” Favila said.
The fire chief communicated that Calexico, like the rest of the county, was beginning to re-open many long-closed businesses and allow some level of operations and gatherings to resume at controlled levels.
“We’re re-opening businesses obviously, but we’re doing it in a phased (in) and safe manner,” Favila said.
Early in the presentation, he took a moment to thank city employees for their essential work, to thank first responders for putting themselves in harm’s way, and he even thanked first-responders’ families for their support.
He summed up his presentation by asking the community to “stay vigilant, stay disciplined,” and continue to wear their masks, practice physical distancing and wash and their hands.
Gerardo also reminded the community and council members that while health orders have been revised, the basics of social distancing and wearing facial coverings remain.
Several council members asked follow-up questions, including council member Morris Reisen wanted to know the formula for re-opening retail stores in Calexico.
Gerardo told him that many stores were re-opening throughout the city and that business owners were being very cooperative. He said the limit is opening to 25 percent capacity in many cases, and so far, merchants were adhering to that.
Council member Lewis Pacheco wanted to know about parties and gatherings, saying he continues to see large groups gather in garages to watch sporting events and party.
Gerardo warned that is still not allowed and that groups numbering 20 to 25 or more will be broken up. He said police recently responded to a party where over 100 people were in attendance that had to be broken up and the homeowners issued a warning citation.