Mad River Union
HUMBOLDT – Reflecting greater confusion over the local status of the pandemic, Humboldt County’s Board of Supervisors has approved a mixed bag of COVID-19 policies in a series of split votes.
Actions taken at the June 29 supervisors meeting were preceded by debates on the extent and necessity of disease prevention.
Up for approval were policies on masking and other rules for county offices as in-person work resumes following the state’s June 15 reopening.
State regulations for workplaces were issued on June 17 and give employers various options on setting rules for precautions like masking.
Supervisors considered two options – requiring that all departmental employees wear masks or only requiring masks for unvaccinated workers.
With the latter option, employees’ vaccination status would have to be documented through so-called self-attestation forms, or written employee statements on their vaccination status.
There’s general confusion about the continued need for masks and Supervisor Rex Bohn had doubts about universal masking requirements.
“I thought the seventeenth was supposed to open doors but it sounds like it’s slammin’ more doors,” he said. “I want to know how many people we’re gonna put up here at security to tell people they have to have a mask on.”
Bohn added that he “figured there was gonna be a reward as we get more people vaccinated.”
County Health Officer Dr. Ian Hoffman said the county is “well beyond” the phase of potential hospital overloading but added that precautions still “help reduce risk.”
Supervisor Mike Wilson commented on the gulf between those who are vaccinated and those who aren’t. He said having different requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated workers will be exceedingly complex and bureaucratic.
“Ninety-nine percent of what we’re doing here is protecting unvaccinated people from other unvaccinated people,” he said, adding that the logistical burdens represent “a direct cost associated with our lower rate of vaccination.”
Wilson added that requiring masks is increasingly becoming more difficult and “culturally, we’re having a really difficult time with this.”
The debate continued and a motion was made and rescinded, but supervisors finally approved a policy that allows to self-declared vaccinated workers to go maskless. It was a 3-2 vote, with Wilson and Supervisor Steve Madrone dissenting.
There was similar disagreement over a policy on mask requirements for visitors to county offices.
Highlighting the mixed messaging on precautions, Madrone vouched for consistency. “I think we’re already seeing, out in the public, tremendous confusion as to who does and who doesn’t need the mask, etcetera,” he said.
He added that without blanket requirements, masks aren’t seen as essential accessories and people will claim to be vaccinated to avoid wearing them or to gain entry if they’ve forgotten them.
“The more inconsistent we get, the more we’re gonna see that stuff happening,” said Madrone.
Further debate ensued as supervisors considered the masking requirement for visitors. County human resources staff recommended a universal requirement but a majority of supervisors voted for voluntary masking, with Madrone and Wilson again dissenting.
A policy allowing department heads and employees to negotiate teleworking was approved in another split vote, this time with Bohn and Supervisor Michelle Bushnell dissenting.
In a final 3-2 vote, supervisors voted to continue holding their meetings online until September 30 pending state or other direction. Again, Bohn and Bushnell were in the minority voting against it.
During a June 30 news conference, Dr. Hoffman vouched for the outcomes. “Public health made it very clear what those options were and I fully support the county and the Board of Supervisors in their decision,” he said.
But the county’s Planning Commission wants to resume in-person meetings. “It’s time – this whole Zooming thing is a joke,” said Commission Chair Alan Bongio at the July 1 commission meeting.
Planning Director John Ford offered to write a memo to supervisors indicating the commission’s desire to resume regular meetings.
He got the go-ahead, with Commissioner Mike Newman noting that the Eureka City Council is resuming in-person meetings.
“So I don’t why the supervisors said ‘no’ and are delaying it more – it makes no sense with the direction the state of California is going,” he said.
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