Virtual town hall addresses Nevada County’s COVID-19 concerns |

Virtual town hall addresses Nevada County’s COVID-19 concerns

Liz Kellar
Special to the Sierra Sun

County leaders and public health officials including Dr. Ken Cutler, Nevada County’s public health officer, County Executive Officer Alison Lehman, and Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital CEO Dr. Brian Evans were on hand — virtually — during a town hall meeting put together Thursday by YubaNet’s Pascale Fusshoeller.

The virtual town hall, held on Zoom and broadcast live on YouTube, drew over 1,700 viewers, Fusshoeller said. She organized the event to address questions and concerns from the community regarding COVID-19, including restrictions, resources and plans for the future.

Three months ago, no one had heard of the coronavirus, Cutler said, adding the number of confirmed cases in the United States now stands at 60,000, with 1,000 deaths.

Here in Nevada County, Cutler noted, there have been seven confirmed cases, four of which were acquired within the community, not during international travel.

And that’s a big concern, Cutler stressed — not in order to increase panic, but to continue to be proactive with safety measures.

“Social distancing — taking this extremely seriously is our most important tool,” he said.

Cutler noted that in a county with 100,000 residents, there are only 129 hospital beds, adding the primary goal is to protect people in the community and keep health care facilities from being overwhelmed.

Evans said the hospital has been scrambling to get ready for a possible surge in patients.

Sierra Nevada Memorial has 10 intensive care unit beds, he said, and typically could have two patients on ventilators in any given day. Nationally, hospitals have been asked to increase their capacity by 40%, he said, adding that Grass Valley has the physical space but not the staffing necessary.

Right now, the hospital has no patients who have tested positive for COVID-19. But Evans said he suspects that will change soon and staff has to prepare for that eventuality.


Both Cutler and Evans said testing has been an issue, but one the county is working on improving.

“It’s been an area of confusion and frustration,” Cutler acknowledged.

The capacity to test more people and the turnaround time for results are improving, Evans said. The hospital tested nearly 100 suspected cases during its inaugural drive-thru last week, with some results still pending.

“We will probably do this again,” Evans said of the drive-thru testing, adding that right now the hospital is prioritizing testing in cases where a diagnosis would make a clinical difference.

“Testing is not available for anyone who wants it,” Cutler said, emphasizing those “difficult” decisions will be made by health care professionals. Those with mild symptoms can stay at home and likely will not need to be tested, he said.

So far, Cutler said, patients with COVID-19 appear to be at their most contagious when they are symptomatic. Current guidelines suggest people who are infected should self-quarantine for at least seven days once they have symptoms, and wait three days after signs of fever or respiratory issues are better.

Contact a health care provider if symptoms worsen, and go to the emergency room for “crushing” chest pain and real shortness of breath, he added.

“Stay at home, stay calm, stay isolated as much as possible,” Cutler said.

Liz Kellar is a reported with The Union, a sister publication to the Sierra Sun. Contact her at 530-477-4236 or by email at

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