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Frustration growing with SJ health department
Monday marked the 38th day the Manteca Emergency Operations Center has been up and running at the city council chambers.

Making sure they keep as many of Manteca’s 85,000 residents as possible from becoming exposed to COVID-19 and keeping city services operating is ultimately the responsibility of Miranda Lutzow in her dual role as director of the local Emergency Operations Center and as interim city manager.

Decisions by Lutzow led to the Manteca EOC being activated March 6 — almost a week ahead of Bay Area cities — to monitor the rapidly unfolding pandemic. Manteca was also the first city  in San Joaquin County to recommend social distancing when Lutzow formally declared a local emergency on March 13. That declaration was blessed by the City Council three days later.

 Lutzow ‘s decision was based on two significant factors. Manteca has a huge percentage of its workforce that commutes daily to Santa Clara County where COVID-19 cases were popping up every day. Even more worrisome for Lutzow was the fact Manteca is home to a large number of first responders such as firefighters and law enforcement that work not only in Santa Clara County but other inner Bay Area counties that were in the path of the spreading pandemic. As such men and women who had a higher chance of getting infected were returning home each day to Manteca.

On Monday, Lutzow and the rest of the nearly dozen city personnel representing each city department that make up the Manteca EOC team were meeting face-to-face — with social distancing of six feet or more — while wearing masks in the City Council chambers that serves as the command center.

In the early few days of the crisis, Lutzow was at the command center daily. But as it got up and running — thanks in part by a decision by her to send nine key city personnel to the California Specialty Training Institute when the most other cities sent was three — Lutzow “got out of the way” and empowered the command team led by Battalion Chief Dave Marques of the Manteca Fire Department to do what was needed.

Lutzow stays plugged in via technology and constant communication but as things have unfolded now is physically in the command center perhaps once a week when everyone is brought together. By late March the city had harnessed technology to the point that most of the time one person is manning the EOC from 8 a.m. into the evening while others work remotely from their offices.  The EOC is monitored 24/7.

The task Monday was designed to bring what part of the 385-member municipal staff back to work that weren’t classified initially as absolutely essential to keep water flowing, toilets flushing, and make solid collection rounds in addition to police and fire personnel as well as others deemed essential by the governor such as building inspectors to support construction. A number were also working from home.


City assuming emergency

could continue until

at least July 1

Lutzow has made it mandatory for city employees to wear masks while in offices that — for the most part — will remain closed to the general public. The masks are intended to keep someone who is infected but who has not developed symptoms or who may never get sick from passing on the coronavirus.

Those working in places such as police records that can’t avoid being in contact with the public, will wear appropriate face masks.

Lutzow Monday said the city is moving forward on the assumption that the local emergency could continue until July 1 or longer.

She added that the city will mirror whatever steps Gov. Gavin Newsom will take eventually to “reopen the economy.”

Going forward the EOC staff is prepping for a number of possible scenarios. Included is the real possibility Manteca could find itself dealing with a deliberate PG&E power outage for three to five days if wildfire conditions in the Sierra crop up that would prompt PG&E to de-energize the transmission line that literally slices through the city less than 100 yards from the EOC command center while the pandemic is still underway.

Based on demographics and aggressive social distancing moves, San Joaquin County health officials have indicated that one day hospitalizations will peak in San Joaquin County at 299 on May 30.

But what that modeling really translates into for Manteca and the rest of the county is being tightly held by San Joaquin’s top health official — Dr. Maggie Park.  First responders in Manteca as well as elsewhere in the county have expressed a high level of frustration with how they are being kept out of the loop.

They noted details that are critical to decisions to reopen businesses such as the number of tests being administered and how many are negative are not being posted on the San Joaquin County health department wesbite or shared with first responders as is being done in most other counties.

They have offered city facilities for possibly overflow hospitals by have not heard back from the health department.

The city is trying to get the addresses of persons that have tested positive for COVID-19 as first responders have access to in other counties so police and fire can take steps to be further protected responding to calls. The county has refused to make such information available.

Manteca also has been pressing to get its first responders tested with little luck getting help from the county.

“It is extremely important we keep our first responders healthy,” Lutzow said.

Failure to do so could create a situation where a large chunk of the police force or fire department could be quarantined or become severely sick compromising the city’s ability to protect the health and safety of its 85,000 residents.

The Manteca EOC — unlike the health department that seemingly operates on keeping information under tight wraps to the public and even first responders on the frontlines — believes robust communication is the key to building public trust and securing the best possible outcome.

That is the rationale behind Lutzow communicating periodically with the city’s 385 employees via Zoom.

Police Lieutenant Stephen Schluer noted that instead of information getting filtered down through a chain of command that city employees not only hear directly from the highest decision maker but ask questions in real time.

And if they don’t feel comfortable doing so on Zoom, city employees have been encouraged to email Lutzow directly with questions and concerns.


 To contact Dennis Wyatt, email