Waiting Game

Rough road for county vaccine rollout

By Howard Schmidt
March 2021

For better or worse, the coronavirus inoculation process has been an opportunity for California’s county health departments to show their strengths and efficiencies. Unfortunately, it’s also been a time when counties may come up short.

With more COVID-19 vaccine doses becoming available, the California Department of Public Health placed individual counties in charge of their own vaccination rollouts. The state advised residents to look to their local county health departments for information. That put pressure on Sacramento County Public Health to ramp up to speed.

In the early going, local residents wanting to be vaccinated didn’t have an easy time. When shots first became available, vaccine supplies were limited due to weekly releases by the state. County Public Health officials were still working on plans.

Another challenge involved the prioritization of worker groups. Primary frontline health care staff and first responders were at the head of the line. But protocols became confused when Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the process would also be based on age eligibility.

Yolo County used up nearly all of its vaccine supply by mid-January. At the same time, Sac County still had 1,235 doses to administer. In Stockton, nearly 2,500 doses were given out over a weekend around that time.

Sacramento County Public Health Officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye describes the state allocation process as “unpredictable.” She asks for patience as her team navigates what she calls a “rapidly changing landscape of vaccination best practices and availability.”

While Kasirye received an early inoculation, the public must wait its turn for the needle.

Blame may fall upon the state, which has prioritized vaccines for “equitable distribution” to everyone in California who wants one. State authorities say there should be enough supplies to vaccinate most Californians in all 58 counties by summer.

Other counties have restricted vaccinations to residents only. Kasirye opened Sacramento’s process to anyone because many people work here but don’t live here.

Meantime, people rallied to the defense of Sac County Public Health in phone calls to the Board of Supervisors. Many calls cite heavy workload, the need for more resources and more contracted services in underserved communities. Some of the calls sounded orchestrated, given the consistency of their content.

The passage of a few weeks hasn’t cooled the anger generated by County Supervisor Phil Serna when he opened his personal Facebook page and typed the words, “If you are a supporter of Donald Trump, you’re dead to me. You don’t matter. You are irrelevant. You are a traitor. Hope that’s clear.” With that, Serna basically wrote off 259,405 Sacramento County residents (36 percent) who voted to re-elect the former president.

The Sacramento County Deputy Sheriffs’ Association found Serna’s comments derogatory. The group filed a discrimination complaint and requested an investigation by the county’s Equal Employment Opportunity Office.

The words written by Serna could impact labor negotiations with 1,500 deputies, sergeants and non-sworn sheriff’s personnel. Union president Kevin Mickelson, a publicly proud Trump supporter, is deeply involved in the negotiations. Serna will be expected to vote on any contract agreement, along with his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors.

The union contends the comments by Serna violate County Code 61, which states, “No person in the classified or unclassified service, or seeking admission thereto shall be … discriminated against because of his race, color, creed, sex, national origin, political affiliation, age or physical or mental handicap.”

Serna defends his comments. He says, “The complaint filed against me for exercising my First Amendment right to free speech on my personal Facebook page is entirely meritless, and I expect any investigation will bear that out.”

Kathleen Mastagni Storm is an attorney who represents the deputies’ union. She says Serna’s attempt to claim free speech protection won’t hold up. She contends he made the comments as a public figure, and his comments were “demeaning and discriminating against a segment of society and county employees he is charged with representing.”

Social media opinions from Serna are nothing new. He has posted many thoughts about county government, causing some senior staff to steer clear of him. They don’t want to become targets.

Howard Schmidt has worked on the federal, state and local levels of government, including 16 years for Sacramento County. He can be reached at howardschmidt218@aol.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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