July 10, 2020
To Our Board of Supervisors,
The Sonoma County Democratic Party recognizes the difficulties faced by all local and state elected officials in responding to the pandemic without the leadership and support of the federal government.
We believe the Board of Supervisors is acting in good faith and shares our common goal of reducing the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Sonoma County over a sufficient period of time that the economy can be reopened in a safe and sustainable manner.
Nevertheless, we are deeply concerned that recent decisions and public statements by the Board of Supervisors undermine the primacy of science in the formation of policy to fight the spread of the virus in the county. The Board’s suggestions that the opinions of elected officials, their constituents, the business community, individuals, or other interest groups should influence the decisions of public health officials threaten the health and safety of the people of Sonoma County.
SCDP District 1 Member Mike Smith, a retired Registered Nurse, has put forth these concerns and proposed a path forward in the attached letter. We support his analysis and conclusions.
Pat Sabo, Chair
Sonoma County Democratic Party (707) 575-3209
LETTER TO THE BOARD OF SUPERVISORS
Submitted by Mike Smith, Member, District 1, Sonoma County Democratic Party
Recent decisions and public statements by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors undermine the primacy of science in the formation of policy to fight the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Sonoma County. The board’s suggestions that the opinions of elected officials, their constituents, the business community, individuals, or other interest groups should influence the decisions of public health officials threaten the health and safety of the people of Sonoma County.
The refusal of Sheriff Essick to enforce the county’s stay at home public health order was irresponsible and demonstrated a blatant disregard for the health of our communities and disrespect for the expertise and leadership of our public health officer. His complete disregard for the rule of law perhaps deserves a censure rather than a pat on the back.
Instead, Chairperson Susan Gorin chose to meet with the sheriff to resolve the conflict without the county’s public health officer. This decision to partner with the sheriff ignores his outrageous behavior, including his declaration “I’m not going to enforce that f—king order,” his assertions that “he could not in good conscience enforce orders that impose significant restrictions on our freedoms” echoing the recent sentiments of Vice President Pence, and his ad hominem unsubstantiated accusation that the public health officer was “ignoring the suffering of individuals and families crushed by this despair of lost income and work.”
Chairperson Gorin’s decision to exclude the public health officer from the meeting seems oblivious to the fact that Governor Newsom delegated the public health officer, and not the sheriff or the BOS, to make decisions about reopening the economy.
According to the press, the chairperson and the sheriff appeared at the June 1 meeting “metaphorically“ hand in hand “to release their joint statement in which they announced “the county was dedicated to a risk-based approach to economic reopening that would allow more businesses to operate under safeguards rather than blanket bans on certain sectors” and “better align the county with the state guidelines.”
In a later interview Sheriff Essick proclaimed, “I worked with our other elected officials and we reached a compromise, one we all feel good about, one that we all felt we could stand behind 100%.”
Other board members joined in with comments.
Supervisor Gore recommended that Public Health Officer Mase familiarize herself with “the egos, tendencies and personalities of elected officials and business groups.”
Supervisor Rabbit stated he “shared Essick’s interest in seeking better ways to curb the spread of the coronavirus while helping businesses get back on their feet.” He said that elected officials need to be “constantly questioning the decision-making process to make sure they are ‘doing the right thing.’”
The next day, during the June 2 meeting, a fusillade of personal and professional criticism was directed at Mase, in what appeared to be an orchestrated attempt to discredit her and drive her out of office. Similar verbal assaults and threats against public health officers have recently occurred across California, leading one to resign.
To her credit, board member Linda Hopkins rose to Mase’s defense and challenged the comments as being “unnecessarily personal” and “the kinds of attacks you regularly see against women in power and particularly women of color.”
Nevertheless, the board chose to postpone the extension of the public health officer’s contract and to instead schedule a closed-door performance review, which given the circumstances was hardly a vote of confidence.
The chairperson and the sheriff’s joint statement, comments by board members, and the sheriff’s actions undermine the authority of the public health officer and confuse the people of Sonoma County by implying there are viable alternatives to a data-driven, scientific approach to reducing the spread of the virus and successfully reopening the economy.
The Path Forward
The BOS should look to what has worked to curb the spread of the virus in the United States, the European Union and throughout the world, in order to better inform their decisions, enhance their contributions to the control of the spread of the virus and effectively participate in a timely and sustainable reopening of the economy.
The only real success story in the United States was the victory over the exponential spread of the virus in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. Their strategy, developed by New York Governor Cuomo, is based on a purely data-driven scientific approach. The three states developed a unified program that educated the public about the nature of the virus, identified what metrics would determine their decision-making, and informed the public what they must do to control the virus.
The BOS should emulate the three states’ strategy by informing the public that the determination of when and how to open the economy will be made by the public health officer based on objective indicators such as the transmission rate of infections, the rate of positivity, the number of infections per 100,000 people, the number of ICU beds which translates into the number of ventilators, the availability of doctors, nurses and technicians, the supply of protective gear and other technology such as dialysis machines — and not the opinions of elected officials, or pressure from the business community, individuals and other interest groups.