The old lesson that, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” is not in the memories of the Stanislaus County Supervisors. As a result, they’ve made decisions that indirectly resulted in loss of life and illnesses that might have been prevented.
On May 7, 2020, the Board of Supervisors deliberately sought to override California Governor Gavin Newsom’s recommendations for controlling the Corona pandemic by applying for a variance in reopening requirements.
When the supervisors made the decision to let bars reopen later that month, they supported the right of citizens to get drunk in public places or party over the right of everyone else to live in a community free of disease. The Board overlooked its obligation to use best practices to protect the public from a virus sometimes fatal to older citizens and that sends younger folks to the emergency room.
With the decision to reopen bars, Stanislaus County’s Health Director, Dr. Julie Vaishampayan, was demoted from a health officer to a politician. As an epidemiologist, she knows how viruses spread. But her bosses on the Board of Supervisors said that they wanted the bars reopened. Her job depends on the goodwill of the Board, so she had to give them political cover by issuing an okay to reopen the bars.
The decision to reopen was made before all Covid-19 testing centers were operational. The testing center for Modesto’s west side opened after bars were given the okay to reopen. Thus, the Board made the reopening decision without data from the entire county.
The justification for the reopening appears in the Board of Supervisor’s Meeting records.
The Board cannot legitimately use Doctor Vaishampayan as political cover to justify the decision to reopen because they ignored recommendations of scientists at the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and thwarted the will of the governor. Had enough public testing been done? Was contact tracing in place? The spike in Covid-19 cases that quickly followed the reopening was predictable.
The Board of Supervisors compounded the reopening error by refusing to close the bars after reports of higher numbers of cases came in. Ken Carlson reported these facts in the June 30, edition of the Modesto Bee, “Stanislaus County not closing bars to reduce spread of coronavirus.”
The Board of Supervisors gave Stanislaus County Sheriff Jeff Dirkse permission to overlook Covid-19 related orders by the governor.
The Board has asserted that the County could easily handle any Covid 19 caseload. On May 25, 2020, Supervisor Terry Withrow posted a comment on my article in The Valley Citizen accusing me of making, “such statements as to cause panic,” and inaccurately asserted that there, “are multiple test sites in all corners of the County,” when a testing site in West Modesto was still being set up at the time. Let me remind the supervisor that there is a difference between panic and precaution.
The Supervisor also offered assurances that there would never be a shortage of hospital beds because the County has “purchased 110 beds” for “overflow use” at “the old County hospital.” Those beds are not in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of an operating hospital.
Less than two months after the Supervisor posted his comment, the July 22nd issue of the Modesto Bee reported that no Intensive Care Unit beds are presently available in Stanislaus County hospitals; they are full of critically ill patients. According to the Los Angeles Times, 6984 citizens have tested positive and 77 are dead in Stanislaus County as of July 22nd.
How long must citizens most vulnerable have to stay at home to avoid the virus? How many more months will citizens need to stay home and businesses stay closed because of the decisions of the Board and because of the inconsiderate behavior of bar patrons and others who refuse to wear facemasks in public?
Some citizens are quick to demand their rights, but ignore their obligation to protect the well-being of their fellow citizens. The Stanislaus County Board of Supervisors served as an enabler for the irresponsible.
Using Defective Data to Make Bad Decisions
Ken Carlson reported in the Wednesday, July 8, 2020 edition of the Modesto Bee that while the Stanislaus County Health Services Agency reported total Covid-19 cases at 2760, the State of California site showed 3,777 positive cases, a difference of 1017.
The discrepancy indicates gross negligence in the monitoring of cases. How can good public health decisions be made in the absence of accurate and reliable data? How can citizens assess personal risk with flawed data? The Board not only had inadequate data to reopen, but defective data, too.
The Board of Supervisors is ultimately responsible for providing inadequate resources to the health department to compile accurate data. The July 22nd Los Angeles Times reported that the County did not correct the problem of flawed data until Thursday, July 16, when the discrepancy had grown to 1400 cases!
When the public discovered the existence of over 1000 more cases than what had been reported earlier, how many citizens realized that the risk of contagion had been grossly understated? How many citizens would not have ventured out had they known how pervasive the virus has become? How many citizens became sick because they were not aware of the magnitude of risk?
The Board of Supervisors appears not to value science. If they did, they would have followed CDC guidelines and adhered strictly to Governor Newsom’s recommendations, both based on science. But they chose to follow the defective suggestions of a misguided president, a science denier.
The Board authorized the premature reopening supposedly for the benefit of the local economy. As a consequence of the worst decision in county history, the economic damage will be more severe when the community is shut down for a second time.
The entire Board of Supervisors appears unfit to hold public office. They don’t understand that every citizen has a right to live in a healthy community to the extent that science makes this possible. Absent contrition, acceptance of responsibility, public apologies and improved performance from now on, the failure of each supervisor to take simple actions to protect the public makes their replacement an imperative at the next election.