Fresno · Highlight

When does the coronavirus emergency end? Fresno Co. debates the question.

Is Fresno County headed toward mission creep in the coronavirus pandemic?

Two Fresno County Supervisors argue the answer is yes and are set to debate rescinding the County’s proclamation of emergency surrounding the coronavirus – issued last March – during Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

Meanwhile, the county’s two top public health officials are internally preaching to preserve the status quo, citing concerns about perception of repealing the emergency declaration .

Supervisors Nathan Magsig and Steve Brandau have proposed pulling the declaration, citing duplicative government orders and the need to begin the transition back to standard operations.

“When it becomes apparent that we are no longer operating within emergency conditions, [emergency declarations] need to be repealed or rescinded as soon as practical,” Magsig said.

Local emergency orders and declarations in the early aughts of the pandemic carried considerable weight and were determinative for local governments receiving coronavirus relief funds from the State of California, along with relief passing through Sacramento from the Federal government.

Magsig mused if those same benefits were at stake.

“I asked a key question: is there any benefit by having this state of emergency in place?” Magsig said Monday afternoon. “After conducting some research, I was unable to find a benefit to having a separate state of emergency on the local level.”

Brandau echoed the notion that emergency declarations greatly expand the scope of activity and power undertaken by local government.

The determining factor of how long it should last, he argues, is often shifted away from publicly-accountable officials.

“The government claims and exerts additional powers during emergencies,” Brandau said. “And those emergencies end when the bureaucrats tell us it’s over with.”

He argued that the elected representatives should make key determinations of the County’s posture toward coronavirus rather than closely tail the views of public health officials.

“There are those that are answering to constituents,” Brandau said of his colleagues on the Board. “And bureaucrats who are not accountable to anyone.”

Magsig argued that, beyond outliving its usefulness, the declaration doesn’t truly reflect the present conditions at this stage in the pandemic.

Case-in-point? The state of vaccines.

“Currently, there is no vaccine or specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19,” the first introductory clause reads.

Thirteen months later, the county has rolled out three different vaccines with access available to any person aged 16 or older, Magsig said.

“The original resolution in March talked about having no vaccines at the time, we’ve got vaccines that have shown to have 90 percent efficacy,” the eastern Fresno County Supervisor said. “We have hospitals that are not currently impacted, and we’ve been given considerable financial relief via the Federal government.

Internally, Fresno County’s Interim Public Health Officer, Dr. Rais Vohra, and its Public Health Director, David Pomaville, are pushing back on the proposal from Magsig and Brandau.

In an email to top County brass, Vohra asserted that “the optics of lifting the proclamation at this time will generate complacency that would undo a lot of hard work in getting where we are.”

Pomaville, in his own email, contended that the local health care system was “running at capacity.”

He added that that the “the State will keep its order in place, changing the status in Fresno County will simply be confusing to the public.”

The County’s proclamation is only accessible via the Board of Supervisors’ legislative database, and is not published on the Fresno County Public Health Department’s coronavirus portal.

Alex Tavlian
Alex Tavlian is the Executive Editor of The San Joaquin Valley Sun and Executive Director of Valley Future Foundation. You can reach Alex at alex.tavlian@sjvsun.com.