Imperial County resident Jarred Reeves points at Imperial County Public Health Officer Dr. Stephen Munday during a discussion on the local health order requiring indoor masking. Reeves was taking exception with a comment made by Munday over mask mandate enforcement, which Munday referred to the “carrot and a stick” approach, during the Imperial County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 28. | VIDEO CAPTURE
Despite two weeks of heated comment from the public aimed at the Imperial County Board of Supervisors and public health officials, the county board voted to keep the universal masking order amid a continued rise in COVID cases.
The unanimous vote on Tuesday, Sept. 28, did come with the proviso that the decision will be revisited periodically and when there is a definitive downward trend in cases.
The current Imperial County health order requiring indoor masking no matter vaccination status was set to expire Sept. 30. A new health order will take effect after that.
“I know it was really hard because businesses had to close, people’s livelihoods were affected, kids had to stay home,” Imperial County Health Officer Dr. Stephen Munday explained to the public. “It was really awful to watch all that. And to work every single day and feel like you’re beating your head against a wall to try and beat a virus that just wouldn’t going (sic) away.”
The universal masking order, Munday said, is really about getting to the point of letting people go about their lives.
“We’re not doing it because we want to tell people what to do,” he added. “We’re doing it because we believe it will keep people safe.”
As of Sept. 28, there have been 29,141 cases of COVID-19 in Imperial County, not including the prison populations, as well as 756 deaths, county Public Health Director Janette Angulo said. She added there has also been an increase in cases since the beginning of July, when the case rate was 3.27 cases per 100,000 residents, which is now at 20.42 cases per 100,000.
Despite what appeared to be a slight decrease in COVID cases last week, the percentages and case rates are rising again. On Sept. 28, there were 444 active cases and a positivity rate of 7 percent for the week. On Thursday, Sept. 23, there were 370 active cases and 6 percent positivity. One more death has been added to statistics in that time as well.
A crowd formed at the county board meeting Tuesday to protest the masking mandate, including David Gaston.
“I was smart enough to send my daughter to Phoenix, because there’s freedom there. There’s no damn freedom here,” Gaston said. “You keep taking it away, little by little, bit by bit. … You guys wait, ’cause I tell you what, when the vaccine mandate comes out … you guys are taking our freedom. Damn you guys.”
Brawley resident Tyler Sutter also spoke at the meeting, saying he has found masks can’t even keep mosquitoes out of his mouth, so how does it keep a virus with much smaller particles out.
“Commonsense would say it doesn’t work,” Sutter said. “What I’m asking is that you give us the choice. … Give me the choice to do what’s right for my kids, my family and myself.”
The discussion went on for an hour on Sept. 28, about the same amount of time that members of the public came before the county board on Sept. 21 with many of the same concerns, saying many of the same things, some spouting unsubstantiated information that continues to be disproved by the larger medical community.
Some county supervisors did not mince words in their response as much of the discussion from the public that veered into state school masking mandates and issues over vaccination orders.
In direct response to Gaston, who spoke of being the “new dirty Jew” regarding a “vaccine passport” and swallowed sensors allowing a person to be tracked, Supervisor Ryan Kelley reminded the crowd that they are not here to talk vaccine mandates and masks in schools because those are things being required outside the county’s purview and authority.
Vice Chairman of the Board Jesus Escobar was harsher with his words.
“We follow what the community wants us to follow, and in this case, a majority of the community wants us to be protected,” Escobar said. “Whether we agree on it or we don’t agree on it is a completely separate matter, and that’s where the division lies.
“Some people are looking at their own fiefdom, which happens to be their family, as am I. I need to protect my family, which not only consists of five people, one of whom is going through chemotherapy,” Escobar continued. “My family is 180,000-plus, which is the people I represent in the county of Imperial. And I do respect each and every one of those people, including yourselves when I make a decision. And when that decision means saving lives, you know where I’m going to be at. Very simple.”
He added, “I’m not willing to sacrifice one life when it comes to being uncomfortable.”
Supervisor Luis Plancarte made the motion to continue universal masking.
“Faith will bring us back to the church. Programs can bring our businesses back in time. We can make up education,” Plancarte said. “Of all these groups and organizations that approached me, I could find a way to bring them back. There was only one group I could not find ways to bring back, and all I had to do was find ways to lease or buy refrigerators to put the bodies in. Rent helicopters to try to ship hundreds of people out of here to try and keep them alive.
“That’s what I don’t want to see again. Because that is one I can’t bring you back from. As a community we all need to think of the greater good,” he said. “I am going to do anything we can to protect the 180,000 constituents.”
When asked about enforcement of the mask mandate at one point in the meeting, Public Health’s Angulo said that enforcement is up to law enforcement agencies. While the Public Health Department has received complaints and calls from businesses asking for technical assistance, “that is not our role,” she said.
The Public Health Department’s role is to educate, Munday said.
“Unfortunately, sometimes you need a carrot and a stick, but we really are here to help,” he said. “So, if we heard of an issue, we would go and provide information.”
The “carrot and a stick” comment did not sit well with Jarred Reeves.
“Don’t ever threaten a free American with a stick, buddy,” Reeves told Munday, which stood across from him at the opposite microphone. “You don’t have that damn right. Your mandates and all that only work if we allow it to. Your masks only work if they use them right, but to threaten somebody with a carrot and a stick? You’re way out of line.”
Of course, the phrase “carrot and stick” is a common metaphor for a system of reward and punishment to induce a desired behavior.
Vaccine, Variant Update
Public’s Health most recent variant report issued on Monday, Sept. 27, has dropped all other COVID variant tracking aside from B.1.617.2, or what the public knows as the Delta variant.
According to the report, an update in the government reporting process now lists Delta and its lineage as the only variant of concern. Some 364 instances of the variant have been genome sequenced by the state public health lab the county works with.
Of the 364 instances, 299 instance appear in the age range of 0 to 49 — 91 cases between 0 and 17 and 208 cases in age group 18 to 49.
The first age group contains the largest group that cannot be vaccinated (0-11) and the 18-49 age group contained the second-largest group of unvaccinated individuals (5,457, or 6.9 percent; 76.7 percent are fully vaccinated and 16.4 percent are partially vaccinated). The largest unvaccinated group is seniors 65 and older (5,617 individuals; 68.5 percent are fully vaccinated and 12 percent partially vaccinated).