The Shasta County Board of Supervisors voted 3-2 Tuesday to keep meeting virtually as long as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise. The move was the latest to expose community tension over the county response to the pandemic.
Many residents saw the vote as an opportunity to comment on how the county has been managing the COVID-19 pandemic, and what steps it should take, or not take, in the future.
A vocal contingent expressed outrage about the decision to hold virtual meetings, concerned it would limit their ability to participate in the democratic process. Many argued the switch was not warranted as a public health measure, despite unabated community spread of the virus in the county.
“You have these positions to listen to what the people that you represent are asking for,” said Claire Winson, a Shasta County resident who spoke during public comment. “You cannot do that without public comment. And you cannot do that in the case of not meeting [in person].”
Many of the people to criticize the move doubt the facts about COVID-19, refuse to wear masks, and want to see the county reopen businesses. Their comments ranged from concerns about representation to aggressive suggestions about how their neighbors and elected officials manage their personal safety.
“This board is not your savior nor medical provider,” said a woman who identified herself by first name only, Laurie. “If you are afraid of having a death experience, I respectfully ask people to start getting grief counseling.”
Others described their support for the Board continuing virtual meetings, and would like to see the county do more to make sure everyone follows the rules. The county is averaging 125 new cases and one new death each day over the past week.
For some, the risks of COVID-19 are not abstract, and they see the value in following public health guidelines intended to slow the spread of the virus and protect people. Michelle Klimesh owns a small business in Redding on the brink of survival. She said she had to lay off 43 workers and isn’t sure how her business will weather the financial loss of the past several months. But more important to her is protecting the health of her community.
“I’ve had three people, one friend, and a cousin and a work colleague, all three dead from COVID,” she said in public comment.
Another caller pleaded with the Board and other county officials to take enforcement of the already existing rules more seriously. Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini has refused to enforce state guidelines about business closures. Instead, he has opted to take an educational approach. Some feel that is insufficient.
“I want us to all wear masks and I don't want there to be any exceptions,” said a caller named Taylor, who only provided her first name. “Stores and businesses that are not complying to the mandates need to be cited and shut down.”
After the meeting, Supervisor Les Baugh, one of the no votes, posted about his disapproval of the decision on Facebook, writing “Governing by distance just isn’t working. You’re not getting what you’ve paid for... in person representation.”
Community members who oppose virtual meetings echoed his concerns in several local Facebook groups dedicated to reopening businesses. A post with text “When did the health of our Board take priority over the rights of the people?” was widely circulated.
The Board will continue to meet virtually as long as the county remains in the most restrictive purple tier of the statewide Blueprint for Safer Economy. As part of the 11-county Northern California region, it isn't under the state's regional stay-at-home order.
CapRadio provides a trusted source of news because of you. As a nonprofit organization, donations from people like you sustain the journalism that allows us to discover stories that are important to our audience. If you believe in what we do and support our mission, please donate today.