Riverside County supervisors voted unanimously Tuesday to direct the Executive Office to coordinate with neighboring counties in presenting a unified request to the governor to revise or drop the state’s current color-coded coronavirus tier system.
“Our residents and communities have suffered devastating impacts (from the public health lockdowns),” said Supervisor Karen Spiegel, who introduced the proposal. “We’ve all made collective sacrifices … And every time we get to where we’re doing well and moving forward, it changes again. Together, we can create a dependable and predictable framework, (which) does not destroy lives but helps build them up.”
In her call to action, Spiegel said “entire industries are at a standstill” under the state’s current approach to evaluating virus containment and applying regulations.
Residents who spoke prior to board consideration of the proposal expressed ire over what they saw as the governor’s and California Department of Public Health’s uneven treatment of the county, its businesses and wage earners.
“The state’s system is set up for failure,” said gym owner Adam Evans. “Everyone keeps going backward, all of the counties.”
He and several other speakers said they had lost friends recently to suicide after more than seven months in lockdown status, without work.
“Governor Gavin Newsom is a terrorist. How many lives has he ruined?” said Sara Stevens, a religious freedom advocate and wife of a military veteran. “Don’t put freedom in jeopardy. Please do the right thing.”
A young man named Isaiah said it felt as if “we’re being switched on and off like a light.”
“The county is in a game of cat-and-mouse with Gavin Newsom. We really need to open up,” he said.
The board’s new directive is for retiring CEO George Johnson, or incoming Interim CEO Juan Perez, to “engage” officials in Imperial, Los Angeles, Orange, San Bernardino, San Diego and Ventura counties in forming a partnership focused on addressing what Spiegel calls defects in the tier structure.
Newsom announced the color-coded scheme in August to replace the multi-phase public health de-regulation strategy originally established at the end of April.
The tier plan has four color bands — purple, red, orange and yellow — that reflect how a county is managing coronavirus impacts. Riverside County had moved into the “red” tier in the third week of September, removing barriers for some businesses and houses of worship to resume indoor operations with capacity limitations.
However, on Oct. 20, the CDPH directed that the county return to the most restrictive “purple” tier, prohibiting indoor functions, except for most big box retailers, or risk fines. CDPH administrators made the decision based largely on low COVID-19 testing volumes, without any corresponding notable upswing in infection rates.
Spiegel was the foremost critic of the CDPH’s reclassification, remarking immediately after the board was informed of the change that “enough is enough. We’ve got to find a way to step forward without hurting people.”
According to the supervisor, all counties should be entitled to a “consistent, predictable and reasonably achievable structure in order to reopen our economy and society in a safe way.”
She stressed that certain metrics, including hospital capacity, should be restored as main criteria for reopening. The county’s COVID-positive hospitalizations are now at or below levels reported in April. The peak was in mid-July.
Spiegel pointed out that Southern California comprises 60% of the state’s population.
“There is strength in numbers. We can push for the same positive change, and hopefully have that happen,” the supervisor said.
She doubted Los Angeles County would join the effort but felt confident most of the other counties would sign onto the “Southern California coalition,” presenting a “coordinated, unified platform” to which the governor and CDPH will pay attention.
“There has been an unequal application (of the tier criteria),” Supervisor Jeff Hewitt said. “It’s completely arbitrary and unacceptable.”
Board Chairman Manuel Perez did not appear enthusiastic about the proposal but got behind it, saying, “I don’t see no issue with this,” then adding, “it’s important to stick with the science” behind the state’s requirements.
Supervisor Kevin Jeffries questioned that opinion, replying, “so fast-food restaurants and liquor stores are deemed essential but houses of worship and some businesses are not? That’s not science.”
Spiegel also questioned the authenticity of the science behind the lockdown justification.
“There are scientists who will wholly dispute what is going on here in California,” she said. “There are people in the field who have different perspectives, and I think that’s what we’re missing now.”
The board approved a self-directed reopening plan on Oct. 6, but the timetable originally included in the plan for allowing businesses to fully open was removed on a 4-1 vote because it would have conflicted with state mandates.