REGION — At least 120 people addressed the San Diego County Board of Supervisors during a contentious 4 1/2-hour public hearing Tuesday night after county leaders and public health officials earlier this week recommended that all employers begin requiring COVID-19 vaccines for their employees or require weekly testing for the virus.
County employees unwilling or unable to receive the vaccine will be subject to weekly COVID-19 testing and are required to wear masks while indoors, according to the county officials.
At various times during the meeting, board Chair Nathan Fletcher reminded people not to be disruptive.
“We have a lot of folks who want to be heard today, and we want you to be heard,” Fletcher said. “But you don’t have the right to interrupt the comments of other individuals.”
As they had in June, the vast majority of the speakers took the board to task over policies such as mask and vaccine mandates and said they would remember those during the next election.
Many said a mask mandate was too hard on school children, while others said the county’s overall policies had forced businesses to close or violated people’s basic rights. More than a few wore T-shirts that read “Everyone Is Essential.”
Several speakers called for board members to be arrested or resign. Some speakers screamed at the board members.
A few individuals also called on county public health officer Dr. Wilma Wooten to resign.
A young girl, Olivia, 11, spoke about her difficulties at school with coronavirus restrictions.
“When I was on the school campus, there were ridiculous measures in place,” she said. “We could only walk in one direction around the school no matter how many people were in the hallway.”
Olivia continued, “I could barely hear my teacher through her mask. I couldn’t hug my friends or see their faces. It made me very sad to keep six feet away from them. It was hard to breathe in a mask. I often felt lightheaded and nauseous while wearing one. But it seemed like my teachers in my school didn’t care about my health. They wouldn’t even accept my medical exemption. And masks don’t even stop viruses from being transmitted.”
Audra Morgan, who has spoken against the county’s COVID policies at previous meetings, accused supervisors of violating their oaths.
“We’re coming after every single (expletive) one of you,” she told the board.
More than few accused supervisors of not being in the chamber during the meeting or ignoring them. Supervisors Terra Lawson-Remer and Nora Vargas left the chamber at some point and participated remotely during certain periods of the meeting.
According to his spokesman, Fletcher left the dais “to help make sure people who felt like they were left off the speaker list were signed-up and allowed to speak.”
Lawson-Remer’s spokesman said she had to leave the meeting for a certain period to care for her toddler.
Eli Komai, a San Diego resident, credited county staff members with doing a good job listening to what he and others had to say. “We’re not doing this for ourselves, we’re doing this for our community,” he added.
Another speaker asked, “How many rights are you going to take away before we look at the facts?”
Escondido resident Kevin Stevenson called in and said he had listened for nearly four hours to “unhinged death cultists.”
Stevenson thanked Fletcher, Vargas and Lawson-Remer for their efforts to protect the residents.
County resident Michelle Krug also praised Fletcher, Lawson-Remer and Vargas “for being real leaders, not just in this county but in the country,” in terms of COVID policies that protect residents.
Supervisor Joel Anderson said it was important to hear people’s voices on both sides of the issue.
“We had a lively debate today, and people came from long distances and waited a long time,” he added.
Supervisor Jim Desmond, who has been critical of certain county restrictions, thanked Fletcher for leading the meeting.
Desmond at one point also called out disruptive audience members. “You’re hurting your cause,” he added.
Desmond added that he encourages people to get the COVID-19 vaccine, but will also stand up for those who don’t want it.
“I’m completely against a mandated workplace vaccination. COVID is here to stay,” said Desmond, adding that residents will have to learn to live with the coronavirus and that the county needs to allow children to return to school, let businesses open and let people get back to work.
Lawson-Remer said she was grateful for the process that everyone’s voice to be heard. “This is why we have open government,” she added.
Following the hearing, the board unanimously approved allocating $104.8 million in federal and state Emergency Rental Assistance Program funds.
The money will be spent to continue a wastewater testing program at schools and childcare centers in connection to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The board also extended a contract for the Safer at School Early Alert System, a partnership with UC San Diego to test wastewater.
The board also voted to approve $4.6 million in funding from the California Department of Public Health to “establish, expand and sustain a public health workforce,” according to information on the county board meeting agenda.