Credit: Markus Spiske/Unsplash

I can’t say for sure when the Independent’s executive editor felt the siren call to be Booster-in-Chief for Santa Barbara officialdom.

Many of his fans, myself included, were sad to see official malfeasance and misconduct, the inevitable byproduct of money and politics, mostly drop from his portfolio.

Sadder still — speaking for myself — is watching his cranky ire alight upon other media and reporters who continue to pound his old beat.

Last week, he devoted a half page of print to lambasting The Montecito Journal for two cover pieces about the County’s woeful response to the Covid epidemic, invoking a disingenuous premise.

I wrote one of them — a first person account of being denied a vaccine after waiting weeks for my confirmed appointment. But County Health officials, having learned that pharmacies were following state, federal and CDC guidance and vaccinating those 65 plus, ordered them to immediately cease or lose their licenses.

How did the County do this? They invoked their “discretionary power” to overrule state and federal mandates, insisting that vaccines be given only to those age 75 and over. They also refused to provide future notice to those who had been registered and demanded instant compliance. Scores of seniors (many with co-morbidities) were turned away at Dignity Health Center and pharmacies throughout the County. There were plenty of gut-wrenching scenes, including a wheelchair-bound man on oxygen being turned away at Ralph’s pharmacy for being only 74.

Yet, the same Health officials he described as a “Dream Team” declined to use their “discretionary power” to remove cannabis industry workers — an estimated 6,000 people according to the County’s 2019 figures, from being at the head of the line. Nor did the Board of Supervisors intervene.

Yup, Pot store employees (average age perhaps 25) and farm and greenhouse workers (average age 28) got to jump the vaccine queue into the First Tiers with doctors and surgeons, using the canard of medical marijuana. Vaccinating the cannabis industry ahead of the elderly, teachers, police and those with co-morbidities was not a problem. Other counties, however, yanked them from the queue. (Recently pressed on the matter, Public Health Director Van Do-Reynoso cited state guidance on medical marijuana then added she was “not aware” of cannabis workers getting shots, then qualified, “which doesn’t mean some have.”) In fact, many have. Just to confirm, I walked over to some of the pot farms in my neighborhood and chatted with departing employees, who confirmed they were given the okay for Covid vaccines “awhile ago.”

As noted in my piece, some seniors denied vaccines, later contracted Covid and are now in Cottage Hospital ICU. One has died.

One might reasonably ask,what qualifies as a bad judgment call or even negligence?

The SB immunologists and oncologists I spoke with said they had been advocating ranking by co-morbidities — rather solely by age — but were unable to sway health officials.

That said, I never wrote that SB Health officials be replaced by the estimable Thomas Tighe or Dr. Charity Dean.

Their names were proffered by an array of distressed SB medical doctors as good candidates for a Covid or Pandemic Czar.

Nor did I speak with either. If asked, my advice to both — who happen to live and work in health care in this County — would be not to make waves with the Supervisors. The current crop are hardly shy about retaliation. Just ask the vintners in Santa Ynez whose complaints to the County were rewarded by endless acres of open cannabis fields threatening their very existence; or the residents of Carpinteria (and all five districts) who filed thousands of odor complaints, resulting in the BOS ramping up even more cannabis permits, blanketing said communities with more skunk stench.

Moreover, the argument for a Covid Czar would seem to be a no-brainer as we find ourselves in the Age of Pandemics with virus mutations already happening and variants projected for years to come.

SB’s Director of Public Health is responsible for all county Health Care Centers, community health from tobacco to drug prevention, routine vaccinations, Environmental Health, water quality, animal control issues, and a wide panoply of regulatory programs. Likewise, for the Health Care Officer. The department employs over 500 people. In other words, it’s a huge portfolio — without COVID.

Battling COVD and future pandemics is a full time job. We need our own Dr. Fauci.

A.L. Bardach is a PEN-Award winning journalist and author/editor of four books.

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