Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Less than a month after voting to continue remote meetings until September 30, Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors is ready to return to in-person meetings on August 10.
And although it won’t be ready to be implemented on that date, the option of call-in public commenting will be pursued.
Supervisors revised its remote meeting policy after discussing it during their July 20 meeting.
A majority voted to continue remote meetings last month but Board Chair Virginia Bass said there’s been “misunderstanding” and her intent was to revisit the decision and resume in-person meetings “much sooner” than late September.
Other supervisors were also ready to resume in-person meetings. The change in course comes at an inopportune time, as the county’s COVID case rate is accelerating upward, affecting both the vaccinated and unvaccinated.
Meeting in-person is part of an overall effort to restore the sense of normalcy that COVID-19 prevention measures disrupted.
But the pandemic isn’t over and neither is the local epidemic as cases rise in tandem with prevalence of new coronavirus variants.
Confused messaging on the continued effectiveness of vaccines and basic precautions like mask-wearing make reopening increasingly questionable.
But for now vaccination is a hedge against hospital surges and Supervisor Mike Wilson pushed for “a minimal policy” of asking meeting attendees to attest to their vaccination status and wear masks if they haven’t gotten shots.
Wilson added, “Asking that question will make it easier for everyone to feel safer.”
But during public comment, one caller said, “These masks, to me, are a sign of second-class citizenship.”
Thomas Mulder, who is a member of the county’s Planning Commission, said, “Asking people if they’re vaccinated or not is a violation of their rights.”
There was support for continuing to allow call-in commenting and McKinleyville resident Brian Mitchell, another member of the Planning Commission, related that his vaccinated family was recently exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19.
They reacted responsibly and self-isolated to avoid spreading the disease.
That scenario is becoming increasingly common and Mitchell believes it could interfere with holding meetings unless a teleconferencing option is available.
“As these numbers continue to rise, at least as high as they are, having the ability to still participate as a commission or committee members through Zoom is essential to have a full complement of members and having quorums,” he said.
County staff told supervisors that a “hybrid” of in-person and remote meeting participation will take time to put into place due to equipment purchasing, installation and testing.
Supervisor Rex Bohn made a motion to resume “pre-COVID-style” meetings on August 10 with a “possibility” of teleconferencing then or soon after. The motion also included having the board chair announce that unvaccinated attendees must wear masks at the start of each meeting.
Wilson asked that the words “pre-COVID-style” be removed from the motion. “We’re not post-COVID now,” he said. His request was agreed to.
Supervisor Steve Madrone was the only supervisor to vote against it, saying it’s uncertain whether staff will be ready for an August 10 return to meetings.
But it appears that supervisors will again have to modify their decision-making as the notion of casting off masks when vaccinated is outdated.
By the end of the week, Humboldt County Public Health issued a recommendation for all people, including vaccinated ones, to wear masks in indoor settings.