December 17, 2020 – It did not have to be this way. I never thought I would be sharing a moment of silence for over 30 Nevada County Residents the week before Christmas. The impacts are almost beyond comprehension but we must recognize the gravity of where we are now. When the COVID-19 virus first entered the U.S. in March, the government could have enacted measures to reduce the impact. Careful implementation of laws or mandates could have combined with personal responsibility and some financial assistance to reduce the spread of the virus in the U.S., in California, and in Nevada County. Even without federal intervention, locally, we could have all decided to trust science and follow all the medical advice from the experts.
While this Governor has made mistakes, in the absence of federal leadership, he has taken proactive steps to combat the virus. He has relied on public health officials to institute public health mandates, provided the County with $10 million in assistance, and has helped to improve testing capabilities across the state, including Nevada County. Some public officials in the North state have seen the mandates as government overreach, even as our small businesses benefit from these resources. Regardless of one’s opinion of mandates, right now it is vital to follow public health guidance to keep our County safe.
Our endless discussions about supporting small businesses and non-profits have presumed that we must decide between the health of the local economy and the health of the public. This is a false presumption. While I am proud that the County put millions of the CARES Act funding back into our key institutions and dozens of businesses, and that staff have gone above and beyond to help keep our downtowns safe and alive, this is only a stop-gap effort. Most County residents do not own a downtown business. They commute, are retired, stay at home parents or students living at home. They are grocery clerks, car repair people, landscape professionals, carpenters, and electricians, or are living under the radar doing cash jobs where they can find them. For many of these workers, there has been little relief beyond short-lived unemployment help. Other industrial countries have demonstrated a path forward by supporting workers, as well as businesses. Unfortunately, it appears we will not have financial help until the Senate does their part to pass the HEROES Act or some other short-term relief package. In the meantime, our only option is to dampen the disease locally so they can go back to work and children can safely attend school.
There is an answer to both the shut-downs and the public health crisis we are in, and it is the same answer. It is to take personal responsibility for ourselves and those we live with by following scientifically sound Public Health guidance. We take personal responsibility by implementing fire safe actions in Nevada County every fire season, understanding that by protecting ourselves, we are keeping our neighbors safe, and that by helping our neighbor, we are protecting ourselves.
If we ignore this simple advice, we will see business go through a continuous cycle of scale-backs and shut-downs, and we will see more people get sick, overwhelm our hospitals and clinics, and die. If we want business to thrive and employees to get back to work, we must reduce exposure to and infection from the virus. It is that simple. We don’t have a disease that requires expensive protective solutions. This disease has a protective cost of a simple two and a half dollar mask and we have known this to be true for months.
Unfortunately, not everyone in this county is showing personal responsibility and our infection rates grow more alarming as hospital staff statewide is close to a breaking point. In the absence of personal responsibility, enforcement of mandates is needed. Hearing my fellow elected officials, both local and State, confirm that they do not support enforcement of the mandates is appalling. The vast majority of our businesses are working hard and spending capital to do the right thing. They deserve better than to have their elected officials oppose consequences to those who are taking an illegal and unfair business advantage. They deserve to be supported for their efforts. The very small, but loud, number of businesses and people who are not complying and are working to undermine health advice are stepping on the necks of the vast number of businesses protecting their employees and customers. Recently a Union poll revealed 82% of readers supported wearing a mask.
Ideally, of course, there would be no mandate, and no enforcement. Common sense and critical thinking would be all that is needed to respect the actual experts in the medical world, and to think beyond our own comfort. Following experts in epidemiology, infectious disease, and public health, is our best and clearest path forward.
All we had to do was follow the public health mandate to have 100% public mask wearing, distancing and hand-washing, and our businesses would be open and thriving, with adaptation, today.
Where is the personal responsibility, a concept both political parties claim to believe in? Caring for others as much as you care for yourself and your loved ones, is a concept in all major religions and most spiritual practices. During this holiday season, I urge us all to reflect on that simple message.
It didn’t have to be this way, and still doesn’t. Let’s be bigger than ourselves and protect this community every day.
District I Supervisor Heidi Hall is the current Chair of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors.