The sheriff up in Sonoma County would like everyone to know that he stands for freedom, and he's frankly tired of all this science mumbo jumbo that's keeping him from getting a haircut, or whatever.
Sonoma County Sheriff Mark Essick took to Facebook on Thursday to declare that he and his department would not be enforcing the county's public health orders any longer, because like the anti-mask and anti-sheltering protesters around the country, he sees the orders as "significant restrictions on our freedoms" rather than cautious guidelines aimed at the public good.
"Over the last few weeks, I have heard from many people expressing concern with the perceived overreach of the Sonoma County Public Health Orders and their inconsistencies with our neighboring counties and Governor Newsom’s Public Health orders," Essick writes. "Over the last 10 weeks we have learned a lot and made significant progress. The curve has been flattened; hospitals were not overrun with patients; we have dramatically increased testing which verified the infection rate in Sonoma County is under control and decreasing. Yet we continue to see successive Public Health Orders that contain inconsistent restrictions on business and personal activities without explanation."
Essick is calling for a move to a "risk-based system" and a "move beyond blanket orders that are crushing our community." As such, he announced "I can no longer in good conscience continue to enforce Sonoma County Public Health Orders, without explanation, that criminalize otherwise lawful business and personal behavior."
Like many people around the Bay Area, Essick expresses his frustration with the "lack of transparency" when it comes to the county health department's decision making around which businesses get to reopen when. On Thursday, many San Franciscans expressed some similar frustrations about a new timeline that allows churches to resume religious services in two weeks, but does not allow outdoor exercise without a mask "within 30 feet" of another person.
Essick claims that he tried multiple times to get explanations from the health department about its decisions, to no avail.
As of Friday, Sonoma County has recorded 531 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and only 4 deaths.
County health officer Dr. Sundari Mase just announced last week that she would be holding off on allowing things like indoor retail sales after a recent rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. Mase cited a rise in workplace infections in the county, and "a few more hospitalizations that make us worried that we might be seeing more COVID in our vulnerable populations."
Neighboring Napa County, which has about one-fourth of the population of Sonoma County and has has seen about one-fifth as many COVID cases to date, reopened its restaurants for on-site and indoor dining last week, while Sonoma County is only allowing outdoor dining.
Dr. Mase has struck her own course In mid-April, Mase made headlines becoming the first health officer in the Bay Area to make mask-wearing mandatory in public spaces.
As Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane tells the Chronicle today, she and her colleagues on the Board of Supervisors were "mystified" by Essick's stand against the public health officer.
"I really want to ask him what motivated him to do this and why he didn’t talk to us. We need to talk about what is in the best interest of our community, bottom line," Zane said. "Elected officials, we have to compromise, we have to put our ego aside, and make decisions that are in the best interest of the people we represent."
Update: As of Friday afternoon, ABC7 reported that Essick had reversed his decision, but on Facebook, the department wrote its own update saying, "Contrary to other reports the Sheriff is not reversing his position."