SLO County’s irresponsible coronavirus plan

March 13, 2020

Director Penny Borenstein


I watched today’s San Luis Obispo County Health Department briefing with dismay. Director Penny Borenstein is leading this county down a dangerous path. She used the words, “I am going out on a limb,” regarding not closing schools down. Indeed she is. But, she is bringing all of us out on that limb with her.

Director Borenstein is using flawed logic in her assessments and is proving that she has a poor understanding of both epidemiology and statistics.

Director Borenstein is recommending schools stay open because global data about infection rates in children indicates that they account for only 2 percent of infections and exhibit mild symptoms, thus the risk to the children is low. However, children should be considered the most likely vector for the disease.

Because children exhibit the mildest symptoms from Covid-19 infection, and because testing resources are scarce and thus being allocated based on severity of symptoms and risk factors, children are the least likely to be tested. This is what is accounting for the skew in data towards low rates of infection. Since there is no endemic immunity to this disease, children are being infected with at least the same frequency as the rest of the population.

Furthermore, since children often do not practice the hygiene and social distancing habits being recommended, they are perhaps even more likely to become infected. Thus, because they exhibit the mildest symptoms, are the least likely to be tested, and practice the poorest hygiene, they have the highest likelihood of carrying undetected infection and spreading it both within the schools and within their homes. Any epidemiologist will tell you that for precisely these reasons children are like little viral reactors and a common disease vector.

Additionally, to be making the claim that we have no cases of Covid-19 in SLO County, making the risk low, and then using this as additional justification for keeping schools open is also flawed logic. To date, the County has only conducted 37 Covid-19 tests within a County whose population is over 234,000. This represents a sample size of  0.01%. To make any conclusions based on a sample size this small, especially when a large percentage of people with symptoms which do not conform to present testing criteria are being excluded from testing, is highly irresponsible.

The policies Director Borenstein has recommended, and by which the county, school districts, and colleges are basing their decisions, are highly flawed and setting this county up for a tsunami of patients at local hospitals. Our healthcare network will become quickly overwhelmed if we continue down this path.

I must recommend that the county replace Director Borenstein with a properly qualified incident commander to take over the county’s planning and response to this developing situation.

All resources should be devoted to limiting the spread of the virus by taking early and aggressive measures to restrict public movement and congregation, increasing the county’s testing capacity to allow for screening rather than simply testing of seriously/critically ill patients, and developing and supplying excess treatment capacity within the local community (perhaps a triage center at Camp San Luis Obispo).

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The sky is falling….The sky is falling!

If you’re so confident, flying the world is at a discount! Ciao!

I prefer “Measured” rather than “Irresponsible.” I would imagine that Dr. Borenstein has knowledge of more aspects of our County’s health vulnerabilities than most of us. I heard our County Health Officer repeat on several occasions “at this time”. For all we know the School Districts were given choices, rather than an order, and apparently all chose wisely. I am grateful to have Dr. Borenstein watching my family’s back. These kinds of decisions are not without significant, if not, untended consequences, needing to be based on more knowledge and thoughtfulness than to be held captive to fear. We all have good cause for concern and the right to be critical. While we can disagree, I would like to trust and hope that those of us who are responsible for making the hard decisions are worthy of our respect for what they are endeavoring to do.

Looks like the school closure issue is already a done deal.

Another upcoming issue that needs answering ASAP from Ms. Borenstein is quarantining of individuals who have tested positive or been exposed to them.

All hell broke loose in Missouri because the father of a positive woman under quarantine went to a school dance with his other daughter.

What communication does Ms. Borenstein plan to educate both the public and the quarantined individuals on the seriousness of the matter to make it effective? IANAL, but what laws are on the books to give quarantines legal teeth, including criminal penalties for their contravention?

What specific restrictions will be placed on quarantined individuals?

Who will be allowed onto their property? And will they have some notice of the quarantine?

I have spent lots and lots of time out at Camp SLO. There’s no building suitable for use as a large triage center. There’s no hospital or even a clinic. The Cal Guard has hospital units, but they’re not located here. There’s no hospital or clinic at Camp Roberts either. We simply don’t have a lot of Guard personnel here, even though there are two major Guard bases here. They’re both mostly empty at any given time. Sorry, but that won’t work.

A triage center is for testing and assessing, not treatment. It’s a way to keep the sick people away from the hospitals so that they can focus on critical patients. There doesnt need to be any buildings. Likely just tents, parking, and organization.

Doctor Borenstein is about as reassuring as Kevin Bacon was in Animal House: “All is well Remain Calm” screeched from the podium as people run around chaotically buying every available roll of toilet paper and case of bottled water..

If the Cohen Brothers ever make a comedic disaster movie I’m going to cast Dr. Borenstein as the public health official; she’d probably get an Academy Award nomination. “All is well, Remain calm, I am in charge”.

You’re a little late Nick. But in any case, this whole thing is so overblown…. and the media are responsible as the harbingers of doom. Disgraceful. The fatality numbers are minuscule compared to past endemic/epidemics that received scant media coverage, as well as annual fatalities from various means. Six months from now we’ll look at what a bunch of pussies we are…… as if Mars was attacking or a meteor was about to strike. Good grief. And I’m in the most vulnerable category. Chill. (But be sure to stock up on toilet paper!)

Slosum, in about a month please remember and reflect upon your post, and rethink whatever ideological biases you have, and poor news sources that you listened to that downplayed the threat.

The only virtue, coming from our pending COVID-19 experience, will be in educating ourselves, and dumping ideological belief systems and misplaced political loyalties.

A little on the dramatic side. People at large these days need to learn to manage anxiety better.

Nick Jenkins, I appreciate your opinion piece. What is your training in?

Yes, a story from about 3pm at the Trib says that they are indeed now closing all the public schools.

I cannot believe (actually I can) that our county health directory has such insufficient knowledge of how children pass along COVID-19 even if they do not get sick from it.

Forgive me, I’m confused. Didn’t I just read from they ARE closing schools down? I agree with a lot of the tenents of the piece in principle but I thought slo county schools were closing … maybe I missed something?