CVIndependent

Fri09182020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Gina Nestande is the mayor of Palm Desert. She wants Gov. Gavin Newsom to open things up and let us all get back to work. She expressed this opinion in a piece published online yesterday—a piece that has gotten a fair amount of attention since.

Sounds fairly straight forward, right? Nope. No no no no.

Let’s break things down a bit, shall we?

Before we get into the specifics of Ms. Nestande’s argument, I want to talk a little bit about the forum she used to make it. If you haven’t already, please, click on this link. Look around just a little. Take it all in.

I hadn’t heard much about FlashReport.org before this, and I must say, I have become an instant fan. I am not sure what my favorite part is. The the circa-2005 HTML design? The section unironically headlined “Oversight of Czar Newsom”? The tile ad toward the top left of the page for a state Assembly candidate … from 2016?

But I digress; let’s look at Nestande’s actual argument. In both the original piece and a subsequent TV interview, Nestande makes several fascinating points, including the fact that we could eliminate 40,000 car-accident deaths per year “if we mandated that cars be built with one-foot bumpers all around the outside and fitted with a roll bar cage on the inside, with a maximum speed of 40 miles per hour.”

And then there’s this: “We reacted to the ‘worst case” scenarios in which hospitals would run out of beds and ventilators, placing up to 2.2 million lives in jeopardy. In reality, as of April 18, there have been just over 38,000 deaths. The data is clear that this doomsday scenario is not taking place and it is time to pivot.” (Only one problem here: She fails to acknowledge the possibility that the doomsday scenario isn’t taking place because of shelter-in-place orders.)

The main crux of her argument, however, is that because of the Stanford study—the first one showing that, based on antibody tests, a lot more people may have already been infected with COVID-19 than initially believed—we now know the virus really is not that dangerous. You know, despite the overwhelmed hospitals in China and Italy and New York and etc.

“We now know that we can mitigate the disease by focusing on the elderly and those with obesity. Other populations can and should go back to work,” she writes, citing another study.

Ah, if only things were this simple.

First: Regular readers of this space know that all studies need to be taken, as the saying goes, with a gigantic grain of salt. That obesity study—while it is backed up by anecdotal evidence, and may very well be proven true—“is preliminary, and not peer reviewed,” according to The New York Times.

Second: That Stanford study Nestande speaks so glowingly about is also preliminary, and not peer reviewed—and so far, the reviews peers are giving it are NOT GOOD. A lot of stats nerds—I say that lovingly, being one (on an amateur basis) myself—are calling into question the figures and conclusions of the study.

Then there’s the interpretation of the results themselves, even if we assume they’re accurate. Check out this, from the San Jose Mercury News:

Santa Clara County Executive Dr. Jeff Smith remains steadfast in his interpretation of the study’s findings: It suggests that asymptomatic people spread the virus, and that more than 95% of the population remains susceptible to infection.

“That all means that there is more risk than we initially were aware of,” said Smith, lamenting how some are using the study to challenge Bay Area health officials’ unprecedented stay-home orders.

Look, I want things to be open again, safely, as much as anyone. But when Gina Nestande claims that we can open things back up again because, more or less, Stanford scientists said we could, she’s either being dumb, or she’s being disingenuous. You decide.

Today’s links:

The Los Angeles Times has done a fantastic yet sad piece on the conditions at the infamous Oasis Mobile Home Park in Thermal, where clean drinking water is hard to come by—and the farmworker residents are living in fear.

• The county has allowed golf courses to reopen for limited use. However, Palm Springs has not. The city will ponder the issue, and other issues involving outdoor activities, at a meeting on Thursday.

• I actually have mixed feelings about this one: Facebook has confirmed it is removing some posts regarding protests against stay-at-home orders.

• A new analysis shows that much of the loan money from the first stimulus bill went to publicly traded companies—NOT small businesses. Grrrrrr.

• This interesting opinion piece posted by NPR looks at the future of cities in a post-COVID-19 world.

The New York Times Magazine looks at efforts—past, present and future—to stop pandemics before they get started. One word on why we’re in the mess we’re in right now: Money.

• Local visual artists, take note: Desert X is offering grants of $1,000 to some Southern California artists in need.

• The city of La Quinta is offering $1.5 million in loans to small businesses.

The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases has recommended against the drug combination—hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin—touted by the president.

• Please be careful when doing unusual things with bleach. Poison control calls are on the rise.

• And now for something completely different: The New York Post sets out to answer the question (via Australian doctors, because, why the hell not) that nobody was asking: Can the coronavirus be spread via farts?

• Enough of this nonsense. Let’s all go watch Stanley Tucci make a negroni.

That’s enough for today. If you want to take part in our Adopt a Small Business program, the deadline for our May print issue is Thursday morningOur Coloring Book is selling like (sanitarily packaged, takeout-ordered) hotcakes; get yours here. (We’ll be sending out the digital links tomorrow!) Wash your hands. Wear a mask when you absolutely must go out. More tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Back in October, a mulch fire ignited at the Sun Valley Recycling Center near Thermal, on land owned by the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians. The smoke plagued schools and neighborhoods for several weeks, creating health concerns for thousands of residents in the eastern Coachella Valley.

Communities and school boards called for help—and one of the organizations that answered that call was the recently expanded Desert Healthcare District, led by newly elected Board President Leticia De Lara, and Chief Executive Officer Conrado Barzaga.

“There were funds (accessible to the DHCD) that were identified for clean air and to address some of the air-quality issues related to the fires that were burning in the east valley last October,” De Lara said during a recent phone interview. “Our CEO, Conrado, was able to identify these funds and some partners who could bring some immediate health-care resources to the residents, including Borrego Health, Clinicas de Salud del Pueblo, federally qualified health clinics, the Coachella Valley Unified School District and the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians tribe. Also, (Barzaga) was able to identify some funds that were set aside to address issues like this in the future, and (allow potential responders) to avoid the chaos that resulted … (by facilitating) their coordination.”

This would not have been possible a couple of years ago: In November 2018, Coachella Valley residents voted to expand the Desert Healthcare District beyond its original, antiquated Cook Street boundary, all the way to the eastern end of the valley. Since then, seven districts were re-drawn and approved by the DHCD board, and directors were put in place for each. As 2019 drew to a close, the DHCD was starting to make its supportive influence felt in these historically underserved east valley communities.

In another recent dangerous health-related incident that drew substantial attention, the management of the Oasis Mobile Home Park in Thermal proved to be incapable of supplying reliable access to clean drinking water for its nearly 2,000 residents; the drinking water drawn from wells on the property, also owned by the Torres Martinez Desert Cahuilla Indians, was found to contain unacceptably high levels of arsenic. Immediate attempts to import clean water proved insufficient.

“At our December meeting, we allocated some funding to be used in partnership with the county of Riverside to address some of the water-quality issues affecting the mobile home park in the Thermal area,” De Lara said. “And we also funded a request from Martha’s Village back in October. So, those are some examples of what’s already been accomplished” in the expansion territory.

The arrival of the DHCD as a new funding option in the east valley is welcomed by established nonprofit health service providers working with east valley residents, including the Coachella Valley Volunteers in Medicine (CVVIM).

“It’s nice to see new things happening,” said Doug Morin, the executive director of CVVIM, in a phone interview. “There’s about $300,000 for east valley funding. So, when you consider all the (health-care-related) charities serving residents in the east valley, (the funding) is limited, but anything is better than nothing.”

Morin said he had just submitted an application for a $50,000 grant to be used to defray the costs of the east valley patient services his nonprofit provides. He hopes his proposal will get approved by the DHCD board in February. However, when compared to the roughly $120,000 annual grant that CVVIM has received from the DHCD to serve its west valley population, the geographic discrepancy in available support becomes apparent.

De Lara said the disparity comes from the fact that funding going toward efforts within the previous DHCD boundaries is not being reduced to fund efforts in the expanded portion.

“We’re continuing to provide the same level of funding for the west valley. … We are continuing to address homelessness and (work) for a regional solution,” she said. “We believe that in the west valley, there are some major gaps in services (for the homeless).”

According to the June 30, 2018, audited financial statements, the total outlay of funds to west valley grant recipients was $5,076,039 for fiscal year 2018, the last full fiscal year prior to the expansion eastward. However, efforts by the DHCD to raise comparable funds to support east valley service grants are foundering. Given this reality, it’s impossible for the grant levels to reach parity across the valley without cutting the grants to providers serving west valley residents. However, as De Lara indicated, that is not a likely scenario for the DHCD board to pursue.  

Morin sees his CVVIM as somewhat unique among Coachella Valley health-care service nonprofits, because it has served residents at both ends of the valley for years. He said the distinction and disparity between funding levels for the original DHCD territory and the new expanded territory is obvious and challenging.

“Their max funding request (for the recent proposal he submitted to serve east valley patients of his clinic) was $50,000, which is what I requested,” he said. “They don’t have that restriction on the west valley, because, of course, they have more funds for the west valley.”

How can the DHCD address this funding imbalance?

“I think we’re realizing that there’s going to be a need to include other partners,” De Lara said. “Sharing costs on some of these long-term visions, I think, is important. Also, there’s the potential to bring in dollars from the state and federal governments by communicating to them in a much better way, through our assessments and studies, where the gaps are, and how they can help us. We can put together a really strong, compelling case statement for some funding. I think the potential to bring in grants that add to our current resources is a very promising possibility for funding.”

In the past, DHCD representatives have approached Riverside County and the state government about various tax strategies designed to generate the new revenues necessary to fund the annexed east valley needs. However, that outreach has so far proved fruitless.

“The possibility of going to the voters or the county for some assessment is something that we have not discussed, so I wouldn’t feel comfortable saying where we’re at on that, because we’re nowhere,” she said. “But in the last board meeting (of 2019), we actually approved two positions to take the lead on exploring funds and grants to help support the work that we’re going to be doing on behavioral health. So I think that we’ll start with grants to try to generate more revenue.”

Despite the immediate challenges presented by the revenue shortfall, De Lara said she sees a bright future for her organization’s ability to enable much-needed quality health care through its grantee nonprofits.

“We have to think strategically,” De Lara said. “We have to think incrementally, and we have to think partnerships. I think that’s how we’ll be approaching the mass of the needs that we (face) now because of the additional area, as well as the district we had before. We’re one Coachella Valley. We’re one district, and we have to keep asking, ‘Are we advancing toward our mission, and are we doing it in a fair way, a smart way and collaboratively?’”

While Morin said the funding disparity is problematic, he praised the efforts the DHCD is making.

“They’re a great foundation,” Morin said. “They’re very transparent about everything that they do, and I like their plan of this ‘One Coachella Valley.’ Their (east valley) impact will be felt immediately, once we receive those (requested grant) funds. Even though I may wish that (those funds) were more, it’s a start. … Sources of funding in the east valley are somewhat limited, so this is valuable. It’s important for us, and it will allow a number of agencies to provide more services. So they’re out there doing their own fundraising, and hopefully, over the years, the amount of funding available to the east valley will increase, and that’s a good thing.”

Published in Local Issues