Jessica Cejnar Andrews / Tuesday, Sept. 21 @ 12:42 p.m. / COVID-19, Local Government

Crescent City Councilors Mull Opposition to State Vaccine Mandate; Public Health Officer Says If Local COVID Cases Continues Downward Trend, He May Retire Mask Order


A week into required COVID testing for Crescent City employees, Mayor Jason Greenough urged his colleagues formally oppose vaccine mandates.

Calling state public health orders that healthcare workers be fully inoculated against the novel coronavirus by Sept. 30 “a shot across the bow,” Greenough proposed voting on a resolution or sending a letter to California Governor Gavin Newsom and state legislators.

Greenough said he wanted to make sure they knew that the Crescent City Council wouldn’t extend a vaccine mandate to its own employees.

“This is affecting people in our community right now,” he said Monday. “There is currently a mandate in place for healthcare workers working at Sutter Coast Hospital and working at other healthcare facilities in our county and some of these people are having to either retire early or lose their job because they don’t have a choice. They have to get this vaccine because it’s being mandated from the State of California.”

However, Greenough’s colleague, Mayor Pro Tem Blake Inscore, said he spoke with Sutter Coast Hospital CEO Mitch Hanna, who said he’d rather Councilors not send a letter to state officials opposing the vaccine mandate.

“One of the things he said was that he very much appreciates how the state has come to support Sutter Coast Hospital during this surge — in both equipment as well as supplies and in personnel resources — and that he did not want to send a message to the state that somehow we were not appreciative or that we were unhappy with them,” Inscore said. “To me, that was the best place to go to ask about this issue. Go to the source that is most impacted to help guide what we might feel is the best response.”

The debate over vaccine mandates followed an optimistic report from Public Health Officer Dr. Aaron Stutz. According to Stutz, officials confirmed 48 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend and had one new reported case on Monday.

However, he said, since Del Norte County has had “well over 100 new cases per 100,000 population” over the last seven days, it’s still considered a high transmission zone under U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention criteria.

Del Norte County had 152 active COVID cases as of Monday, according to the county’s COVID-19 Information Hub. Thirteen people are at Sutter Coast Hospital due to COVID-19 complications, according to Stutz.

Stutz said if Del Norte County’s COVID-19 cases continue to decrease, he may retire his mask mandate.

“Right now we’re in a high transmission zone,” he said. “If we proceed through the substantial zone and into the moderate zone, that would influence my decision on that as well as the testing positivity rate, which is nebulous and less accurate than the number of new cases per day.”

On Tuesday, Hanna told the Wild Rivers Outpost that he doesn’t agree with vaccine mandates and believes in personal choice. He said he and other CEOs at small rural hospitals expressed that view to State Sen. Mike McGuire and Assemblyman Jim Wood about two weeks ago. But, Hanna said, they’re in the minority.

“The things that the state has done to support us during the pandemic have been very significant,” he told the Outpost. “At this late juncture, most of our employees have already gone and gotten the vaccine because they felt like they had to. To change things a week before it goes into effect, I don’t think it would necessarily the right thing to do.”

Most Sutter Coast Hospital employees are vaccinated against COVID-19 and those who aren’t have filed for religious or medical exemptions that are typically granted, Hanna said. Staff in the process of being vaccinated will also be granted more time to get that second dose, Hanna said.

Greenough said that while he respected Hanna’s opinion, he questioned if he was lobbying on behalf of his employees, particularly the percentage who indicated they don’t want to be inoculated against COVID-19.

“This is something that will affect people in our community, possibly a large number of people in our community, who will not be able to work at the end of the month because of the mandate set down by Sacramento,” he said.

Inscore, however, noted that healthcare networks, such as Sutter Health, have significant lobbying power in Sacramento and have supported vaccine requirements.

“If you’re going to have a mandate that affects a specific sector of society, the group that should be lobbying about that should be that sector,” Inscore said. “If there comes a point in time that the state or the governor begins sending out messages or implications that this is going to extend to our employees, then I think we need to step in as an employer. If the mandate was going to extend to just the general populous, then as those who represent the people of Crescent City, that’s the point in time I think we should step in and address those things.”

On Monday, City Manager Eric Wier said the mandatory testing program for city employees has been underway for about a week.

The city’s roughly 70 employees are able to get the test through the state-run Optum Serve site at Beachfront Park, he said. However, the Public Health Branch has also provided rapid tests to police officers and first responders working night shifts at no cost to the city, Wier said.

If other employees want to take a rapid test or a take-home test, they’re able to at their expense, Wier said.

Wier also addressed TAB & Associates owner Thomas Barnes, who continued to state that the city would lose productivity due to the time it takes to get tested.

Wier said he was tested for COVID twice last week, the second time dropping into the Optum Serve site without an appointment.

“I was back in the office in probably a total of 10 minutes from the time it took to drive there,” Wier said. “On the flip side, if you’re a carrier and you realize you have been carrying the virus and you have close contacts, you’re taking other employees out. We had this time and again with people exposed as a close contact and they’re now out for 14 days.”

According to the county’s COVID-19 Information Hub, Crescent City is preparing for yet another community briefing on the recent surge fueled by the more virulent Delta variant. That briefing will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday via Zoom. To submit questions, email publiccomment@crescentcity.org.


SHARE →

© 2021 Lost Coast Communications Contact: news@lostcoastoutpost.com.