Merced County Times Newspaper
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UC PROFESSORS: Shelter In Place Orders Are Working

MERCED COUNTY SHERIFF: 'I will not be taking any enforcement action in this county for any of the COVID-19 violations'

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following OP/ED was written by a group of several UC professors in response to Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke’s recent letter to the State of California and statements that indicate he will not be taking any enforcement action in Merced County against those violating the statewide shelter in place orders.

 

‘Sheriff Warnke’s job is to protect the residents of Merced County, not to put the public in harm’s way by making a unilateral decision to ignore California’s robust COVID-19 response based on an unscientific opinion that runs counter to public health recommendations.’ 

 

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke issued a statement that he will not be taking any enforcement action in Merced County for violating the statewide shelter in place orders. This comes after a robust response from the Sheriff’s office in April to a church gathering in contravention of the public health measures and despite strong evidence that government orders to stay at home have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

We agree that law enforcement is not the best way to keep us safe from this pandemic. At the same time, the Sheriff’s statement runs the risk of putting the citizens of Merced County in danger, erodes the rule of law, and risks prolonging economic damage from the pandemic.

Merced County Sheriff Vern Warnke issued a statement that he will not be taking any enforcement action in Merced County for violating the statewide shelter in place orders. This comes after a robust response from the Sheriff’s office in April to a church gathering in contravention of the public health measures and despite strong evidence that government orders to stay at home have saved hundreds of thousands of lives.

We agree law enforcement is not the best way to keep residents safe from infection during a pandemic. At the same time, the Sheriff’s statement runs the risk of putting the citizens of Merced County in danger, erodes the rule of law, and risks prolonging economic damage from the pandemic.

Sheriff Warnke points to the serious financial concerns of the shelter in place orders, yet his statement that “Economic slaughter is what we are facing” downplays the human cost of a pandemic. To date, nearly 89,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19 (twice as many as died from the flu last season and more than died in the Vietnam war), and more than 1.5 million people have been sickened from it. 

Merced County residents are at high risk for severe cases of COVID-19 and premature death due to high rates of diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure in our community. These risks are even greater for people living in poverty and who are members of a racial or ethnic minority group. Moreover, there is a severe health care provider shortage in Merced County. We rank nearly last in the state with only 45.4 doctors per 100,000 residents, compared to 77 doctors per 100,000 residents in Los Angeles County. With few doctors and many high-risk residents in Merced County, we need to do all we can to protect our community from this pandemic.

Currently, there is no vaccine for COVID-19 and the most optimistic estimate is that we will have a vaccine in 18 months. COVID-19 is highly contagious and the death rate is 10 times higher than influenza. We should not compare COVID-19, as Sheriff Warnke has done, to a car crash or food poisoning. We can, however, highlight how we rely on the government to regulate and enforce life-saving measures for the public’s safety, such as wearing a seatbelt and inspecting restaurants for food safety. The government can similarly support measures that protect county residents from COVID-19 exposure such as requiring workplaces to implement safety protocols for their workers. 

Merced County is our workplace and our home, and we share the concern for Merced’s economic stability. The economic harms of this pandemic are serious and are best addressed through policies to expand the social safety net while also protecting residents from infection – not by putting us all at risk.

Lifting the restrictions too early and without a good plan in place will only prolong the economic damage and lead to a “second wave” of infection rate spikes, as seen in South Korea after re-opening. Residents will be afraid to go to work, dine out in restaurants, or shop in local stores if the infection and death rates spike. Schools may have to remain closed, preventing parents from returning to work. UC Merced and Merced College may be forced to postpone in-person classes for another semester, preventing thousands of students from returning to campus and prolonging the economic damage of the pandemic as absent students do not rent local apartments, fill local jobs, or spend money in local establishments.

When we do re-open, we need to do so in a careful way that reduces the risk of infection and ensures stability for local businesses and the economy. In particular, we need to avoid public mass gatherings (like the block party that occurred in the parking lot of an Atwater Save Mart over the weekend). Spikes in infections will keep employees and customers home, hurt businesses and potentially lead to reversing any progress we have made towards reopening. 

Warnke claims the Governor is making decisions solely on what “could happen.” Yes, protecting public health and safety, planning for the future and taking precautions against expected dangers is a core function of government. While no statistical prediction model is perfect, such models provide a necessary starting point for making important policy decisions about protecting the public’s health in the face of a new, fast-moving, and dangerous disease. The fact that Merced County has avoided a major outbreak so far is due in large part to the early and decisive actions taken by Governor Newsom and the county — actions based on scientific research about what could happen if we did not respond.

The truth is, Newsom’s decisions have saved lives: Recent evidence shows that California’s shelter-in-place order has averted tens of thousands of cases and saved more than a thousand lives. There is evidence that enforced social distancing works. For instance, a recent study found that places without government-imposed social distancing rules have spread the virus 35 times faster.

Warnke makes false and conspiratorial claims about Governor Newsom’s motives when he wrote that “this whole lock down was based upon [Governor Newsom] being able to have control over the citizens of this state.” Even worse, he went on to make additional outlandish statements like: “Governor Newsom’s motivation is to have the majority of the citizens (and illegal residents) dependant [sic] on governments [sic] assistance.” In a time of heightened political polarization at the national level, statements like this contribute to divisions closer to home. It is a reminder that some of our own local leaders are less interested in promoting the public’s health interests of the diverse community they serve than they are in voicing their own partisan political opinions. 

Sheriff Warnke is elected to uphold the law, not to interpret the Constitution. It is thus very concerning when he writes “My decision is based on the Constitutional Rights afforded our citizens and I as the Constitutional Law Enforcement Authority in Merced County, I am here to uphold them.” Let’s leave the interpretation of the Constitution to federal judges, who thus far have not found the shelter-in-place order to violate the Constitution.

Sheriff Warnke’s job is to protect the residents of Merced County, not to put the public in harm’s way by making a unilateral decision to ignore California’s robust COVID-19 response based on an unscientific opinion that runs counter to public health recommendations. His partisan opinions cannot ignore or change the facts that California just reported the second deadliest day ever and that one Central Valley county’s death rate is second only to Los Angeles. The physical health of our residents ties directly to the economic health of our community. Re-opening too early without a coherent plan puts both in danger. 

We call upon the Sheriff to revoke his statement and implore Merced County residents not to take public health advice from the Sheriff. Instead, listen to the medical and public health professionals whose message is singular: Stay Home. Save Lives.

 

David Ardell, Associate Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, University of California, Merced
Arturo Durazo, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of California, San Francisco
Marcos E. García-Ojeda, Associate Teaching Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology, UC Merced
Tanya Golash-Boza, Professor of Sociology and Chair of Public Health, University of California, Merced
Sidra Goldman-Mellor, Assistant Professor of Public Health, University of California, Merced
Laura Hamilton, Professor and Chair of Sociology, University of California, Merced
Denise D. Payán, Assistant Professor of Public Health, University of California, Merced
Suzanne Sindi, Associate Professor of Applied Mathematics, University of California, Merced
David Strubbe, Assistant Professor of Physics, University of California, Merced
Zulema Valdez, Professor of Sociology, University of California, Merced
Greg Wright, Assistant Professor of Economics, University of California, Merced
Maria-Elena Young, Assistant Professor of Public Health, University of California, Merced

 

 

‘Remember that the people elected a governor, not an emperor.’

– Sheriff Vern Warnke

A MESSAGE FROM SHERIFF WARNKE

(Posted on the Facebook page of the Merced County Sheriff’s Office)

When this Pandemic first came to light and our nation took the stance to “shelter in place” I was skeptical but supported any effort to protect our citizens from this disease. This included having to deal with a local church pastor who defied his order. As time marched on, it became very apparent that decisions were being made on what “could happen” but hasn’t come close to the “predictions” that are being fed to our citizens. “We are going to peak within the next two weeks!” This has been the battle cry for two months. I even went so far as to secure equipment to house all the bodies that were to overrun my county due to COVID based on what was being reported out of the Governor’s Office. Guess what, it still hasn’t occurred. You know what “could happen” each day? Car crashes, airplane crashes, food poisoning, LE getting ambushed, and I could keep going!! But we as citizens continue to face these “could happens” each day. The world is a very dangerous place and we face it daily knowing the risks. But here in America, we decide what chances to take based on any risk factor and that includes going to work as a cop for the last 41 years. The Constitution gives us that right. I doubt that the Governor would ever take a job where the dangers are as constant as they are in my CHOSEN profession. But I, along with millions of men and women do this every day knowing the risks. Nobody has the right to dictate what risks I’m going to take when I leave my house and this includes an elected governor. If I go to a business and I feel that the risk is to high, I can make a choice whether or not to do business there. And this includes getting a haircut or getting a routine dental checkup.

When Governor Newsom took to the airwaves and then singled out a county because they didn’t follow his orders and treated them differently, it became obvious to me that this whole lock down was based upon him being able to have control over the citizens of this state. He is treating this state’s counties as he has claimed to be treated by the President in the very recent past. That statement also pointed out that different counties have different issues and should be treated independently and not covered under one blanket. That statement is a fact whether or not there is a pandemic. He is using the Public Health director as his authority in an attempt to maintain control over the citizens based solely on what “could happen” keeping in mind that the PH Director reports directly to him. Governor Newsom now threatens the different local jurisdictions regarding funding if they don’t follow his orders. Didn’t he sue the President for holding funding due to him defying the President’s orders? Our current situation is reflective of a short statement I recently read that seems to fit here; “If the barn yard were to hold an election, the cows, chickens, pigs and horses would vote for the hand that feeds them. Even though that same hand will eventually lead them to slaughter” Hmmm. That’s what is happening here in this state and possibly other states. Economic slaughter is what we are facing because of his continuous behavior to keep this nation’s greatest state economy from thriving. The majority of the citizens are on the verge of a state wide revolt because they are losing the possibility to regain their businesses because of the tremendous financial loss they suffered. I truly believe that Governor Newsom’s motivation is to have the majority of the citizens (and illegal residents) dependant on governments assistance so he could maintain this control once this “pandemic” is declared over. This is being caused based upon a crisis he himself has caused in this state based on a declared pandemic on a virus that should have been dealt on a completely different level. The CURE should not be worse than the disease.

So, the answer you are looking for is this. I WILL NOT be taking any enforcement action in this county for any of the COVID-19 “violations”. As the Governor has also directed the Sheriff’s to release felons onto our streets and LE in general to completely disregard the safety of our citizens by not allowing most felons from even being booked but then wants us in LE to arrest people for standing closer than 6 feet or worshiping their religious beliefs in a building. My decision is based on the Constitutional Rights afforded our citizens and I as the Constitutional Law Enforcement Authority in Merced County, I am here to uphold them. The citizens themselves can make informed decisions on how to proceed and protect their lives and livelihood and not the Governor of a state. Remember that the people elected a governor, not an emperor.

 

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