Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – As dealing with COVID-19 becomes increasingly wearisome, the county’s alternately lauded and reviled health officer, Dr. Teresa Frankovich, will take a lesser role to “make good on some promises to my family.”
Frankovich announced her resignation as health officer on September 2, in a letter to county residents.
She read it aloud the next day during a media availability video (see page 9), saying that the COVID-19 pandemic changed her job from “the very part time one I stepped into back in late January to one which is more than full time.”
The change in Frankovich’s job situation involved more than work hours. Frustration over the prolonged interruption of social life has led to sometimes bitter resentment.
A backlash over restrictions on youth sports emerged during the Sept. 1 Board of Supervisors meeting.
In the media availability video, a submitted question from the North Coast Journal noted that Frankovich was “the focus of some especially vitriolic public comments” at the meeting and she was asked if her decision was influenced by “any such comments from and exchanges with members of the public.”
“Well, certainly it is not pleasant to listen to that nature of comments and I am supportive of civil discourse, and we have not always had that,” Frankovich replied. “However, no bully at a meeting is going to make me leave this position. It really is a decision that’s based on family need and looking at the projected term of this event and the time needed to meet the response – that’s it.”
The board meeting’s public commentary was also mentioned by the Lost Coast Outpost, which also observed that “local public health officers throughout the country have been subject to intense political pressure for their efforts to manage the pandemic.”
Frankovich was asked about the level of support for her work from elected officials and the public.
She said that she felt supported “overwhelmingly” while allowing that “obviously there are moments where you do not and obviously there are some strain points and disagreements that occur along the way.”
The Politics of Science: The most difficult part of COVID-19 response has “simply been the way that politics have intruded into science,” Frankovich said, adding that it’s been challenging to “navigate that using the best information we have to move our community forward through this but having to do so in an era that has become rather divisive.”
She believes “a more cohesive approach benefits all of us in our local community and across the country and so I’m hoping that somewhere in the course of this pandemic we find that balance.”
One of the most controversial aspects of Frankovich’s work included her unsuccessful attempt to delay the start of classes and student housing at Humboldt State University (HSU).
She was asked if the public airing of testy email exchanges with HSU President Tom Jackson, Jr. – in which Frankovich was subjected to what she said were “insinuations of racism” – affected her decision in any way.
Frankovich acknowledged that he had described the exchanges as “disheartening” but said they didn’t figure into her resigning.
Into the Dark
The edgy public comments during the Board of Supervisors meeting included self-described “public meeting enthusiast” Kent Sawatzky referring to Frankovich as “Dr. Franko-whatever,” blaming her for supposed shutdown-related suicides and the county’s four COVID-19 deaths, and telling her, “Can you tell I don’t like you and I don’t like what you’re doing here and I wish you’d just leave and a lot of people feel that way.”
On local and state health orders, another commenter told supervisors, “Instead of bearing down on our community, remember – you are public servants, not dictators.”
Supervisor Mike Wilson warned against divisive rhetoric and described the critical comments as “pretty dark stuff.”
The county is making progress with disease control, having moved from a high risk designation to moderate risk and Board Chair Estelle Fennell vouched for unity.
“The whole country, in fact our world, is hurting right now – confused and dealing with very, very demanding situations,” she said. “But we’re going to get nowhere with division, we’re going to get nowhere with being negative and going into, as Supervisor Wilson said, a dark place.”
With its disease control efforts, the county is actually in “a pretty darned good place,” she continued, particularly when compared to other counties such as “our neighbor to the south, Mendocino, with which we are very often lumped together.”
She added, “We’re doing a really good job and let’s just work together on this.”
Staying home: Frankovich’s resignation doesn’t mark a total departure. She will be the county’s acting health officer, sharing work with Deputy Health Officer Josh Ennis, until a new officer is hired.
She said she’ll continue to interact with local media in the regular video series and after a new officer takes over, will “support that role.”
In the week leading up to Frankovich’s announcement, the county confirmed 36 new cases of COVID-19. That’s an increase from the 25 cases confirmed the previous week but is still below the high risk threshold.
Twelve more cases were logged, six per day, on Sept. 3 and Sept. 4. Under a new state system, a weekly average of 60 cases could move the county into the high risk category.
Frankovich’s work has been praised by many, including members of the Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Billy Honsal.
Those who wish she would “just leave” will be disappointed. She ended her resignation letter by saying, “Humboldt is my home.”