OVN Editorial on OPINION page May 1: Considering lives and livelihoods

The Ojai Valley is winning the fight against the coronavirus with zero active cases, to date, but we are losing in the economic battle of our lives. All counties are being treated the same, regardless of the threat level they face. A total of 846,000 people in Ventura County are locked down, 151 people are currently diagnosed with COVID-19, and the countywide death rate is two people per 100,000.
Our valley economy has been largely left out of the federal stimulus packages so far. The city has not received state support. The Ojai Valley News has learned from our survey, in partnership with the city of Ojai and Ojai Valley Chamber of Commerce, and through other reports, of eight local businesses that have received funds from the Payment Protection Program. The experts agree that the longer we are shut down, the more severe our consequences.
This one-size-fits-all approach to public health and the huge error of not combining economic and medical expertise in policy-making is going to be felt in Ojai for many years. The health consequences of economic collapse are many — deferred and lost healthcare,  untreated heart disease, stroke and cancer, domestic violence and suicide to name a few.


With more than 30 million people now having filed for unemployment in the United States, we are poised atop a roller coaster looking down the track of a 10-year economic disaster — the worst in our lifetimes; let’s buckle up and do some damage control. The economy is shrinking at the fastest pace since the Great Depression.The death toll from this economic crisis is queuing up worldwide to be staggering. Here in our valley, we will face permanent unemployment, evictions, bankruptcies and closures.
Ojai City Manager James Vega sent a plea to Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday: “City revenues to fund local services are plummeting. The city of Ojai projects that these shortfalls will impact our city services including police, fire emergency management, and planning and housing. We suggest you support our city by asking your state representatives and the governor to:
“— Establish at least a $7 billion city revenue stabilization fund for direct aid to all cities to address the general revenue shortfall over the next two fiscal years.
“— Allocate a share of the state's $8.4 billion CARES Act funding for cities with populations under 500,000 to support COVID-19 expenses.
“— Create a COVID-19 financing vehicle that all cities can access to support immediate cash-flow needs.”


Without amendments to the governor’s six indicators to loosen restrictions, there appears to be no end in sight to the lockdown. Testing, contact tracing, isolating and supporting those who are positive or exposed are tall orders, given the failures of federal and state governments to provide testing. However, we are encouraged by the announcement that all Los Angeles residents can receive free tests. The second indicator — the ability to prevent infection in people at risk for more severe COVID-19 — is not completely possible without herd immunity or a vaccine.
There is a concern that Ventura County Public Health seems to be trying to shape public opinion as much as report the data. Why must we subtract “recovered” from “total cases” to get the active cases? Is it because, based on Wednesday’s reported numbers, 151 active cases looks like a low number in a county of 850,000? Public Health has been adjusting the information it provides to the public as the pandemic has progressed, so we recommend it do the subtraction to show the active cases in its daily report. Transparency and trust in government are key to members of the public making good choices during this crisis.
This week, county medical examiner Dr. Christopher Young told the Ojai Valley News about the five COVID-19 cases his office has handled thus far. He said that the 16th person who died in Ventura County — listed as COVID-19 positive from Simi Valley — was, at age 37, the youngest person thus far to succumb to COVID-19, with fentanyl intoxication listed as a comorbidity. He said that all 18 deaths in Ventura County have had a co-morbidity factor, aka, pre-existing health conditions. This explanation and description are helpful when considering the raw statistics.
In contrast to the medical examiner’s office is the unacceptable response to the Ojai Valley News’ public records requests to Ventura County Public Health. Rigoberto Vargas, director of Ventura County Public Health, has refused to provide information on the status of the seven cited COVID-19 cases in the Ojai Valley. He also refused to tell us in which cities the 18 deaths in our county occurred. (We learned from an Ojai Valley physician that no one who has died thus far from COVID-19 lived in the Ojai Valley.) The names in traffic fatalities are typically released within a day, but even the cities of residence of those who have died from COVID-19 are Ventura County Public Health secrets. This must change.


Herd immunity comes from a vaccine or when 60% of the population has been exposed and protection is achieved. We support mandatory stay-at-home orders for those at risk. Protection while we build herd immunity is key while a coordinated opening of the economy is planned in Ventura County.
Please call upon state and local officials to loosen restrictions with multi-agency coordination while still protecting the vulnerable; and urge them to create a stronger financial safety net during this crisis:
Gov. Gavin Newsom: 916-445-2841
State Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson: 916-651-4019
Assemblymember Monique Limon: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Ventura County Supervisor Steve Bennett: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
County Public Health Director Rigoberto Vargas: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Robert Levin: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Then Help our neighbors, if you are able:
FOOD Share Ventura County: www.foodshare.com.