Q&A: Plumas County Public Health On Low COVID-19 Case Numbers, Ongoing Testing

Jun 23, 2020

Rural Plumas County has seen very few COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic. As of Tuesday, only six cases had been confirmed there. 

NSPR’s Andre Byik recently spoke with Lori Beatley, public information officer in Plumas County, to ask what the low case numbers may mean, and what officials hope to learn about the virus as mass testing is conducted in the county. 

Here are highlights from their conversation. You can also listen at the top of the page.

Interview Highlights

On whether there is community spread in Plumas County

At this point, we don't feel that there's any community spread. However, like anything else, it can change very quickly, which is why we continue to encourage people to follow the mitigating practices of face coverings and hand washing and social and physical distancing. So at this point, we don't see it here — the community spread. But with a lot of people coming into Plumas County and a lot of residents traveling outside of Plumas County, it can change, which is why the mass testing is important to help us know where we're at. 

On mass testing events in the county

At this time we have been using a company called Verily that's been contracted with the state to conduct mass testing throughout various counties in the state. So we have utilized them and this is the third mass testing we've done. However, we know that the state is not going to be able to continue this type of activity, they will not be able to sustain it. So Plumas County has been working with our three health care facilities in Plumas County. We've been working with Seneca Healthcare District, Eastern Plumas Healthcare, as well as Plumas Health Hospital District, PHD. We've been working with those three to come up and to do mass testing in Plumas County and we will be hopefully starting that mid-July. I know he Eastern Plumas Healthcare, they just did a mass testing today in Portola. And that went very well. 

On today’s mass testing vent

It was hot, for sure. It was very warm today. But it went very well. It's kind of staggered out. So they registered people who wanted to be tested for free in the community or wherever they're from, but Eastern Plumas Healthcare was willing to do that. At this point, they registered 40. This is their first mass testing, so they wanted to ensure that they could work the kinks out for future mass testings as well. It was a good event. There was a lot of people who are very thankful for it and wanted to be tested. And were happy to have it. It was very easy. It was as a drive-thru, so no one had to be out of their vehicles. It was very safe. Everybody was wearing masks, even while being tested. 

On who the mass testing is for

The mass testing tends to be a little bit more for asymptomatic. We do encourage those who do have symptoms, to actually go to a healthcare provider. Contact your health care provider, and then get a test. However, if somebody does have symptoms, then yes, they would test at the mass testing as well. But they're really just to get an idea — one of the surveillance tools that the state as well as the county uses to help gauge what the virus is doing in the community. And so that's why these mass testings are are important for us. 

Here in Plumas County, they can go contact their health care provider, so all three hospitals are doing testing and have been doing testing from the very beginning and have been testing aggressively. Plumas Hospital District — they just did some targeted testing as well and I know that they are looking at some mass testings, as we all are, so we're just finalizing that information. Because we want to bring the testing to other areas as well, not just Quincy. So we are looking at going to Chester hopefully the second week of July. We'll be working with Seneca Healthcare District. And I know that Eastern Plumas Healthcare District will also be doing a mass testing in Graeagle next week. 

On whether public health is concerned about tourism

Yes, of course it's a concern. Anytime we have a lot of movement, that means that the virus can have a lot of movement. So we are concerned but we also understand that it's inevitable. So that's why we are encouraging people who are coming from outside the community, as well as our own residents who are traveling outside the community and coming back, just to have safe practices. 

And so what we're asking is, again, face coverings. I know it's state mandated. But even before that, we did have our own health officer issue an order for face coverings while in public. Continuing the hand washing is very important, as well as maintaining physical distancing and sometimes that can be very difficult. But those are one of the key ways in order to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in any community. 

On enforcement of mitigation practices

At this time, we're just really trying to educate the public as well as businesses on the importance and the reason why these are being implemented at a state level as well as a local level. So at this time, we don't necessarily have the resources to enforce, especially the state mandated face covering. So we are really just encouraging the public to be wise in their decisions. And to think about others. It's uncomfortable, the way the face covering, especially as it gets hotter, and if you're working, and we do understand the difficulties of it, so it's not that we don't understand, but we do understand that wearing face coverings does make a difference in the spread of COVID-19. 

On how isolation impacts the health of rural county residents

Rural communities, I think we don't always have the resources that some of the urban and larger communities have and therefore so being kind of spread out, we don't have the public transportation. So it has affected our community, especially I would say, you know, not just our elder, our high risk population who are seniors, but also our youth, in the fact that, you know, not having school, not having youth sports or other activities to be able to engage in has made a difference with them. I know that some of our youth programs are trying to start up again and are trying to meet with our youth, whether it's through Zoom, or on a much smaller level, in order to start engaging our youth in activities.

On resources for youth activities in the county

I know that Plumas County Behavioral Health has a really good site regarding some of those things that may be available, as well as the school district has been making a very much a big effort and providing information to our parents and youth regarding what is available in our community as things start to open up. 

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview.