Health officer recommends local governments continue holding public meetings remotely

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Yolo County’s health officer has recommended that local government boards, commissions and councils continue to meet remotely given the continued danger of COVID-19.

“In light of the ongoing public health emergency related to COVID-19 and the high level of community transmission of the virus that causes COVID-19, the Yolo County public health officer recommends that public bodies continue to meet remotely to the extent possible,” according to a letter from Dr. Aimee Sisson to the Board of Supervisors dated Sept. 22.

Local government agencies throughout the state have been meeting via Zoom or other platforms since March 2020 when Gov. Gavin Newsom issued an executive order authorizing remote public meetings during the pandemic.

The Yolo County Board of Supervisors has held only remote meetings since then.

Under a bill signed into law earlier this month, they can continue to do so.

AB 361 allows virtual board meetings to continue until Jan. 1, 2024. In order to meet remotely, government agencies must make findings every 30 days that the existing state of emergency continues to directly impact the ability of the members to meet safely in person, or state and local officials continue to impose or recommend measures to promote social distancing.

In her letter to the board, Sisson cited two key factors in keeping public meetings remote:

* The continued threat of COVID-19 to the community. “As of Sept. 22, the current case rate is 24.1 cases per 100,000 residents per day,” Sisson said. “This case rate is considered ‘high’ under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s framework for assessing community COVID-19 transmission.”

* The unique characteristics of public governmental meetings, including the increased mixing associated with bringing together people from across the community, the need to enable those who are immunocompromised or unvaccinated to be able to safely continue to fully participate in public governmental meetings, and the challenges of ensuring compliance with safety requirements and recommendations at such meetings.

Sisson said meetings that cannot feasibly be held virtually should be held outdoors when possible, or indoors only in small groups with face coverings, maximum physical distance between participants, use of a portable HEPA filter and shortened meeting times.

The health officer said she will continue to evaluate conditions and will notify government agencies when there is no longer a threat involved in meeting in person.

Many thought that threat was diminished back in late spring and early summer before the Delta variant fueled a surge of cases locally.

At that time the Board of Supervisors was planning to hold its first in-person meeting in late August or early September. But that plan was put on hold as community transmission of COVID-19 exploded again.

The Winters City Council and Winters Joint Unified School Board meetings are currently the two local government meetings being held in a hybrid model with both in-person and a virtual option through Zoom.

The majority of the other City commission and committee meetings continue to remain in the virtual format. Details for each of them can be found on the City of Winters or the Winters JUSD websites.

Crystal Apilado contributed to this article.

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