Sutter County supervisors recently voted to end a local health emergency proclamation that was established last year by the Yuba-Sutter health officer regarding COVID-19.
Despite rescinding the public health officer’s emergency proclamation, supervisors decided to keep a countywide emergency declaration in place that was originally implemented by the board on March 10, 2020 — a decision that could keep federal and state funding channels open should additional monies be made available to help address the ongoing pandemic.
“I think we should’ve pulled this a long time ago,” said Supervisor Mike Ziegenmeyer during Tuesday’s meeting.
County Administrator Steve Smith said California has laws that require a political declaration or proclamation in order to exercise extraordinary powers to respond to emergencies. Declarations of emergency serve multiple purposes and may make the county eligible for certain funding sources such as emergency authorized federal or state grants — some funding sources require an emergency be declared for a jurisdiction to be eligible.
Another aspect of declaring an emergency, Smith said, is that it provides various immunities. If a local emergency is in effect, the entity that established it is not liable for any claim based upon the exercise or failure to exercise a discretionary function or duty. The immunities extend to volunteers and health care providers, which are relied upon in county events such as vaccination clinics.
Smith recommended the board keep the local health emergency in place for the time being.
“Governor (Gavin) Newsom has announced plans for lifting most restrictions by June 15, 2021. Regardless if that occurs, June may be a prudent time for staff to readdress this issue with the board if the board chooses to leave the current declarations in place,” Smith said in a staff report.
Supervisor Nick Micheli questioned if rescinding the declaration would present a legal liability for the county. County counsel advised that litigation was a possibility, though it would be extraordinary.
Supervisor Mat Conant said he’d hate to jeopardize potential funding from the federal or state government by rescinding the declaration, but on the other side of the coin he questioned how much longer the county could continue on its current path with certain businesses not allowed to operate, especially as more and more people have been vaccinated.
Ziegenmeyer said he’s tired of the state holding the county hostage by requiring the proclamation mechanism in order to receive certain funding like monies distributed through the federal CARES Act. He said he’d rather see funds coming in the form of tax revenues from local businesses rather than relying on the state. He also suggested the county end its current ordinance requiring masks in public.
Bains expressed concerns that rescinding the local health emergency would put small businesses in jeopardy of receiving state funds to help respond to the ongoing pandemic.
“I think we all feel the same way, but we need to make sure we do the right thing for small businesses and make sure to keep those funds available for them that are coming our way,” Bains said.
Board Chairman Dan Flores said it’s been a tough year for small business owners like himself, but he believes the county made mostly the right moves throughout the pandemic in protecting its citizens with the information and data that was available. He said the decision comes down to people’s freedoms and their ability to make choices.
Several community members also spoke in favor of the board rescinding the local health emergency.
In the end, the board voted unanimously to end the local health emergency at Tuesday’s meeting.
The latest action mirrors what Placer County officials did in September 2020, which ended the local COVID-19 health emergency and led to the county health officer’s resignation.
Yuba-Sutter Health Officer Dr. Phuong Luu said the action taken by Sutter County supervisors to rescind her local health emergency was within the board’s purview.
“As the health officer, I continue to strongly advise that the Yuba-Sutter community remain vigilant regarding this dangerous virus, get vaccinated if they are eligible, and maintain key tenets that we know work well to prevent transmission,” Luu said.