Steve Mencher and Dr. Sundari Mase

LOOKING FOR ANSWERS — KRCB News Director Steve Mencher, left, speaks with Sonoma County's interim Public Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase during the Sonoma County Coronavirus Town Hall. Viewers sent in questions for the panel, which also featured Supervisor Susan Gorin and Christopher Godley, director of the Sonoma County Department of Emergency Management.

The Sonoma County Coronavirus Town Hall, held on March 11, brought together the Chairperson of the Board of Supervisors Susan Gorin, interim Public Health Officer Dr. Sundari Mase and Christopher Godley, director of the Sonoma County Department of Emergency Management. The town hall was broadcast by KRCB Public Media and facilitated by Steve Mencher, KRCB’s news director. It featured questions gathered by email and phone from Sonoma County citizens.

Here are the takeaways:

  • It is still unclear exactly how the virus spreads and how long it can survive on surfaces, and it is unclear whether a person has to be symptomatic to spread the virus. It is suspected that asymptomatic people can spread the virus, though likely at a lower rate than people who have symptoms. “We don’t know everything — it’s a novel virus after all — but we suspect the more time and the more symptomatic a person is, the more transmissions,” said Mase. “We know the virus can live on surfaces, and the time frame is from hours to days, with the median being about nine to 10 hours, and we need to look at places a lot of people frequent. It’s one of the reasons we’re telling people at risk to stay away from large gatherings, where we find large transmissions.”
  • Money/cash is not a hard surface, but could potentially be a vector of transmission.
  • A rumor about a doctor’s office being shut down by the county for exposure was debunked.
  • Starting today, “surveillance testing” will begin at four different medical facilities at different locations around the county (north, south, east and west). At each of these facilities, 20 people who show up with symptoms of coronavirus or flu will be tested. “Within four or five days, we’re going to have tested 80 to 100 people and then we will be able to answer the question of ‘Is there COVID-19 happening in our community that we haven't picked up on?’ and that’s going to be very important to inform our policy in terms our guidance about mass gatherings and other activities,” Mase said. Until now, only 40 individuals out of the county population of 500,000 have been tested. However, no one at the meeting believed that on-demand testing would be available any time soon.
  • Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has, as of this week, approved a new testing protocol that will reduce testing turnaround time from three days to one. Testing consist of a nasal swab and a throat swab, tested together for the genetic material of COVID-19.
  • There were several questions regarding the availability of testing, since national shortages have been making headlines. Though local commercial labs are now offering testing in alongside hospitals and public health facilities, Godley didn’t quite answer the question as to whether the county could get 1,000 or 5,000 test kits if needed.  “The joy of having those established (emergency) networks is we are able to reach out to stakeholders and can make those requests for resources like lab kits and protective equipment,” he said, without saying those requests would definitely be fulfilled.
  • The panel reiterated their recommendation that anyone over the age of 60 strongly consider not attending events with 50 or more people.
  • Godley stated that the county isn’t able to confirm or deny information about people or health care workers being quarantined because of privacy laws.
  • Commitment to local undocumented individuals receiving medical care was reiterated several times. “We encourage anyone to seek medical treatment,” Gorin said. “You will receive care.” Similarly, there are ongoing discussions about things like putting a moratorium on evictions so that people who are having financial impacts from shut downs don’t lose their living situation.
  • Similarly, the panel stated the governor had said that testing and treatment would be at no cost and that the president and Congress were said to be working with insurance companies to make testing and treatment free.
  •  “Practice caution and use your common sense until we have that level of emergency,” concluded Gorin.

Watch the town hall at and questions received after the town hall or that weren’t able to be covered on air will be answered in the following week. 

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