COPA's Actions In Response To COVID-19

by Jack Herbig

COPA’s Breaking the Chain Team
The COVID-19 virus is biological material whose “mission” is to reproduce. It inhabits a person and reproduces. That infected person then expels tiny particles into the air when they exhale, sneeze, cough, talk, or sing. Exhaling these particles starts before a person knows that they are infected, before they have any symptoms, before they feel sick. These virus particles can then infect family members, friends, and coworkers who whom they come in contact.

In Monterey County this chain of infection has happened over 9000 times; COPA’s goal is to break this chain wherever we can. There are things that individuals can do to limit the spread, and we are teaching people how to do that, but it also makes a big difference how our community and our government responds to this threat.

Since the shutdown in March, COPA leaders have talked to hundreds of people about their experience with the virus and about the changes it has caused in their lives, in their employment, and in their children’s education.  We have met with County Supervisors, the Director of Monterey County Health Department, the Director of Public Health, teachers, school superintendents, physicians, and contact tracers. We have met with leaders from COPA’s 6 sister organizations across California who are working on this same issue. We have participated in Zoom seminars with nationally known scholars, public health experts, economists, and elected officials.

COVID-19 Civic Academies
We have committed to hosting civic academies on Zoom that teach at least 500 people how the virus is spread and how to protect their families. The first of these was held on August 13th, attended by 60 people from San Pablo Apostol Episcopal Church in Seaside, San Pablo Episcopal Church in Salinas,  St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in King City, and 5 people from St. Mary’s. We teach about the resources that are available to help infected people and their close contacts to quarantine for 10 – 14 days. We also hold small group discussions so that people can learn from each other’s experiences and see that they are not alone.

I am retired; I live in Monterey where the infection rate is 3 per thousand. In Pacific Grove the infection rate is 2 per thousand. If I want to understand the impact of the virus on peoples’ lives in Monterey County, I need to talk to people from Seaside where the infection rate is 13 per thousand, or Greenfield where it is 40 per thousand, or Salinas where it is 105 per thousand. I need to talk to people who are not retired, and people who can’t work from home, and people who don’t have health insurance. Civic Academies create the space where the people who are most directly affected by the virus can learn and share their experiences. They also create an opportunity for St. Mary’s parishioners and members other COPA congregations that are more protected to learn about our neighbors. These civic academies are bi-lingual events that bring together a rich mix of people from all over Monterey and Santa Cruz Counties.

Meetings with Public Officials
Short of having wide distribution of a highly effective vaccine, we have learned that the best strategy for limiting the spread of the virus is to quickly identify and isolate infected people, trace their close contacts, and get those contacts into quarantine until it can be determined if they are infected. Typically it takes several days until you can get a COVID test. If you test positive, it usually takes 3 days before you get back your test results. Then it takes an additional 3 days until that information gets to the County Health Department and a case investigator tries to interview you about who has been in close contact with you during the last week or so.  If you test negative for COVID, you will be informed by US Mail, which usually takes 5 or 6 days from the time of your test for the information to reach you. If the reason you got tested is because you think you were exposed to an infected person, you should have been quarantining at home, forgoing your income, and possibly making your employer angry, until you get a negative test result. Since people can be infectious, prior to feeling sick, or having any symptoms, it is important that this testing/tracing/isolation process happen as quickly as possible.

We are continuing to meet with County officials. At this point we are focused on three issues:

  1. How the contact tracing system is operating and how it could be more effective.
  2. Whether a single County COVID Hotline with a clear and consistent message would be more effective in helping to limit spread of the virus than the multiple hotlines of varying quality that currently exist.
  3. How to provide financial and other kinds of support to people who have been told to isolate themselves, making it possible for them to comply.

St. Mary’s Walking Together Ministry is a founding member of COPA, a broad-based organization made up of 28 member institutions. COPA can reach lots of people and provide trusted information. That is very important right now, but our participation in COPA also gives us the power to ask more of local decision makers, which is also critically needed if we are to rein in the pandemic.

If you are interested in attending one of these Zoom Civic Academies or for further information contact Jack Herbig, (831)649-3087,