County brings in outside expert to assess Covid response – Palo Alto Daily Post

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BY DAVE PRICE
Daily Post Editor

It is encouraging that the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, the five-member panel that includes Joe Simitian of Palo Alto, has hired an outside consultant to investigate the county health department’s handling of the Covid pandemic. .

I requested an external independent investigation on May 7, 2021 and again this year on July 27. But I thought my suggestion was ignored because government officials don’t like to reveal their mistakes.

So this request for an outside expert to investigate the county’s Covid response is the right move.

Undoubtedly, the county’s response has been controversial.

On the one hand, you have people who had jobs that allowed them to stay at home, and when they ventured outside, they wore a mask or two and gloves. This group has generally supported the county’s approach to the pandemic.

Then we had others who felt that the county had overstepped the bounds. They felt that schools were closed for too long, at the behest of teachers’ unions who appeared to be in charge of school boards. They were upset that churches were closed while national retailers such as Costco and Home Depot remained open.

Restaurants have been hit hard. The state restaurant association estimates that one in three restaurants have closed permanently. It’s a lot of people who have lost everything.

Yet county health officials didn’t listen when a November 2020 New York State Health Department study showed restaurants and bars accounted for just 1.43% of cases. of Covid in this state. This study begged the question, “What is the science that has supported the mass restaurant closures in Santa Clara County?” »

What about “science”?

When Dr. Sara Cody, the county’s chief public health officer, introduced a new restriction, she never provided “the science” to back it up.

Unfortunately, Santa Clara County, despite all its restrictions, had a higher per capita death rate than any other county in the Bay Area.

The death rate was higher even though the county imposed significantly higher fines on businesses than other counties and, by closing churches, drew the wrath of the United States Supreme Court. Twice. Of the 3,243 counties in the United States, Santa Clara County has the distinction of having been disciplined twice by the Supreme Court for extreme Covid regulations.

Death matters too much

Rarely did the county acknowledge its mistakes. A rare admission came on the eve of the 2021 Independence Day holiday, when stories are released by government agencies in the hope that no one will notice. The county admitted it gave a daily death count 23% higher than it would have if it had followed the definitions used by other counties. It seemed Cody and his associates had been promoting the numbers to fuel the hysteria.

In addition to all of this, the outside investigator should examine how the county was distributing vaccines. Why did it take months for the first dose to be distributed to so many residents? Maybe the county is not competent to do this job and it would be better that this task be entrusted to the fire department? Or pharmacies and medical practices?

The report must be objective

While I’m glad the county commissioned such a report, I wonder if it will be objective. Santa Barbara County hired a consultant to do such a report and – surprise, surprise – the consultant said, “The dedication and professionalism of county staff – 2,200 employees who chipped away in one way or another. other – cannot be overstated,” the local newspaper reported. there, The Independent.

Government officials always congratulate themselves and their employees. In October 2021, the same five-member Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors awarded $2,500 “hero pay” bonuses to all county employees for their work during the pandemic — even though the employee worked from home the entire time. It cost $76 million.

At the time, I asked, “How did they earn this bonus?” Why was a paper-pressed bureaucrat who stayed at home as deserving of the bounty as a Valley Med ER worker who had to physically attend to Covid patients every day?

The investigation, called an after-action report, was requested by supervisor Susan Ellenberg, and the rest of the board unanimously approved it on Tuesday. The county is paying CNA Corporation, a company that specializes in evaluating government responses to disasters, $243,610 for the report.

Changing Authority

One of the issues the consultant will examine is decision-making authority in the event of an emergency. Under state law, once supervisors declared an emergency, the county’s director of public health, Dr. Cody, was vested with broad powers to impose restrictions and give other types of orders.

I think she was placed in an unfair situation. Dr. Cody was trained to be a doctor. Yet she was asked to be an economist, public school administrator and logistics coordinator.

I wonder if at some point she yelled at her boss, Jeff Smith, “Damn Jeff, I’m a doctor, not a politician,” to borrow a phrase from Star Trek’s Dr. McCoy.

Due to state law, its decisions were made without the benefit of public hearings, where concerned citizens could voice their opinions on the proposed restrictions.

I don’t think the county can do much about this setup. But this led to Cody receiving a lot of unfair criticism.

“I know I spent a lot of time in the first year of this now two-and-a-half-year challenge trying to explain how it came about that a previously relatively unknown public health officer had sweeping authority, and why it was appropriate – in the opinion of state legislators – to ensure that decisions were made based on medical expertise and public health expertise, rather than on the basis of considerations ” political,” as some might describe it,” Simitian said at Tuesday’s meeting. “It’s a difficult tension to manage.”

I hope the report helps improve the county’s response the next time we have a pandemic or similar emergency.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is price@padailypost.com.

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