SLO County health officials accused of overstepping their authority


After years of COVID restrictions, San Luis County residents are returning to fairs, concerts and indoor dining. Yet many local seniors are still isolated for months at a time.

People no longer need to wear masks on planes or quarantine following exposure to COVID, while the lives of many living in assisted living facilities still closely resemble early 2020.

County health officials have given direction to those operating independent living facilities to quarantine residents for 14 days after an employee or fellow resident tests positive for COVID. The county then again tests the residents, and if anyone tests positive, the quarantine is extended another 14 days.

These regular lockdowns result in higher costs for facilities and increased issues with depression with seniors ordered to stay isolated in their apartments. During quarantines, rather than joining their neighbors for meals in a common dining room, staffers bring meals in take-out containers to the residents’ apartments.

Amid complaints of heavy-handed county COVID restrictions, in Feb. 2022, County Administrative Officer Wade Horton and County Health Director Dr. Penny Borenstein agreed to drop the county state of emergency, powers the SLO County Board of Supervisors granted the pair to help manage the COVID crisis.

After that time, Borenstein was required to follow state mandates and recommendations.

However, after the state lowered restrictions for residential living facilities, the county continued to promote lengthy quarantines.

CalCoastNews asked the county to provide copies of state regulations county staff said they were following regarding COVID restrictions at assisted living facilities. The county provided CalCoastNews state COVID rules for skilled nursing facilities, adult day programs, homeless shelters and senior resident facilities — of which only the last one was relevant.

While county health officials claimed the state required or recommended 14-day lockdowns following exposure, those rules ended on May 13, according to the state document regarding assisted living facilities.

Currently, the state recommends against quarantining vaccinated residents unless they test positive or have symptoms of COVID. In addition, the 14-day lockdowns for infected or non-vaccinated exposed residents was lowered to seven to 10 days.

“Residents who are boosted, or have completed their primary series but are not yet
booster eligible, and residents who have had COVID-19 in the prior 90 days, who have
had close contact with someone with COVID-19 infection and remain asymptomatic do
not need to be quarantined, restricted to their room,” according to California Department of Social Services.

County officials contend they are following state guidelines, though they are relying on their own “interpretation.”