COVID-19

Mendocino County Public Health Officer and Local Business Owners Gather in a Town Hall to Discuss Alternatives to Vaccine Mandates 

Mendocino County Public Health Officer discussing pandemic protocols with community members [All images by Matt LaFever]

At 9:30 a.m. on Saturday, September 4, 2021, Mendocino County Public Health Officer Doctor Andy Coren and owners of Mendocino County restaurants and businesses met for an outdoor town hall in the parking lot of the Ukiah Valley Atheltic Club to hash out the growing conflict between local businesses and public health regarding potential vaccination mandates within restaurants.

Dr. Coren suggested to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that Public Health was considering requiring restaurant employees and vaccination screening for customers as they attempt to control the current surge. He told the Board of Supervisors they “protect employees and patrons without harming access to business or the community’s access to food.”

This announcement galvanized local business owners to propose an event in which public health and proprietors could dialogue about how pandemic protocols have affected their bottom lines and what they would be willing to do to further public health’s goals in mitigating viral spread.

Representatives of Stan’s Maple Cafe participating in the discussion

The two primary organizers of the event were Stephanie Dunken of Slam Dunk Pizza with locations in Ukiah and Willits as well as John and Lauren Strangio, owners of the Ukiah Valley Athletic Club.

Lauren Strangio put an all-call out to the Mendocino County business community earlier this week encouraging interested parties to present to Dr. Coren how the pandemic has affected their ways of life and the implications of having a vaccine mandate for employees and customers could have on staffing and income. Strangio made a point to state the conversation would “not be about vaccination status. We believe in everyone’s right to choose.” In her call to action, Strangio asked participants to “not make this political,” to “form all opinions with factual information, and “be respectful.”

Over a dozen local businesses attended the rally including, but not only: El Azteca, The Office, Slam Dunk Pizza, Hopland Taphouse, Golden Pig, Left Coast Seafood, Tastebuds, Thirsty Axe, Cultivo/Hanger 39, Schat’s Bakery, Maple Cafe, Ellis’ Muttl Hutt, Oco Time, Isis Pizza, Taco Bell, Mi Pueblito, Loose Caboose, El Mex, Cafe 77, Labels, Live, Radiant Yoga, Anytime Fitness, Stars, BeBos, Scoops, Body Glow, Mendo Training Center. and more.

The outdoor town hall was held in the parking lot of Ukiah Valley Athletic Club on South State Street with over 100 gathered, the majority of those attending held signs of the businesses they represented.

An assortment of business owners listening to the town hall

The town hall began with a series of speakers describing the pandemic’s effects on their income, their employees, and their ability to support their communities.

John Strangio began the meeting expressing his gratitude at the business community’s willingness to come together to dialogue with Dr. Coren about how Public Health and businesses could collaborate. He said, “I have not heard of anywhere else in the state that the public health officer gives his time and energy to understand what his community really wants.”

An assortment of business owners listen to the various speakers

Strangio also made clear that any shaming, shouting, rude, or disrespectful participation in the proceedings would not be allowed and reminded attendees the meeting was held on private property and if they chose to engage disrespectfully they would be asked to leave.

Slam Dunk’s Stephanie Dunken described a 1.5 million dollar loss in their business’s income and painted a striking image of a pizza parlor, long a place of the community of events and family fun, shuttered and dark after the pandemic protocols took effect. Dunken said she fears violence against her or her employees if they are required to screen customers for vaccines– “I ask for a vaccine card, and I get a gun in my face.”

Matthew Talbert of Left Coast Seafood gathered with a number of his employees on the stage and said he and his team attended today’s town hall “to create a greater solution.” Before instituting any sort of vaccination mandates on customers or staff, Talbert hoped “we exhausted all other alternative solutions that could achieve the same result.” Ultimately, Talbert said both local businesses and Public Health could “work together to help protect our community.”

Alex Ibrahim, the owner of Stars Restaurant in Ukiah, told the crowd he immigrated to the United States from Jordan seeking a “free country” and he said he hopes the US stays one. He said he spent $75,000 building the outdoor dining patio placating pandemic protocols. Ibrahim also presented data gathered from the State of New York that indicated only 1.42% of COVID-19 community spread was attributable to restaurants, yet “we were targeted more than any other sector,” he said.

Owners of Ukiah restaurant Tastebuds

A trio from Ukiah restaurant Tastebuds questioned how it was that big-box retailers like Costco and Home Depot were open to full capacity while local restaurants faced harsher protocols. 

Ashleigh Plazola, both a co-owner of Ukiah’s Cultivo and Hanger 39 restaurants, as well as an intensive care unit nurse at Adventist Health nurse in Ukiah Valley, spoke to the conflict she navigates in both her community roles. She described seeing “both ends of the spectrum. I don’t want people to continue to die, but I don’t want my restaurant to close either, I don’t want to lose my employees, I don’t want to piss off my community.” Plazola described a resentment that she sensed has brewed between local health care workers and businesses. She reminded attendees “many of our hospital staff dine at your restaurants, purchase items from your stores” and called for unity. 

Regarding the COVID-19 surge and the realities health care workers face, she said “people do not feel this is a true pandemic because you do not see it.” She characterized the work of health care workers as “extremely difficult.” She explained,”“Doctors and nurses are getting COVID.” 

Mendocino County Public Health Officer speaking to the gathered business owners

When Dr. Andy Coren took the microphone, he first began by updating the attendees on what he called the “fourth wave” of COVID-19 fueled by the contagious Delta variant. When he asserted that the safety of the COVID-19 has been better monitored and surpassed the safety of every other vaccine, some attendees shouted “propaganda.”

Dr. Coren said the most significant body of data Public Health utilizes regarding local protocols is “ contact data and contact tracing.” That data gathering has been hindered, Dr. Coren said, because. “over half are hanging up on contact tracers. That lack of cooperation is hurting us in terms of the data.” 

Dr. Coren faced down comments, boos, and snark by a small but vocal portion of attendees as he gave Public Health’s reasoning behind putting in place stricter measures to control the fourth surge. Despite the disruptions, Dr. Coren celebrated the “Mendocino Citizen’s town hall” describing it as the “first time this has happened. I am honored to be a part of it.” 

He said, “I don’t like writing orders for people or communities. Suggestions are much more my style. It provides the give and take.”  

Dr. Coren went on to explain the focus on restaurants stemmed from empirical and theoretical data that places of dining are ripe for viral spread. He said the suggested protocols are based on two parts: “In order to protect our staff, I suggested that staff either vaccinate or test. For patrons, if they wish to eat inside we want to verify vaccination or allow those that do not verify to eat outside.”

He said that one of his main reasons for attending today’s town hall was to hear from business owners’ suggestions as to how Public Health can create protocols that both support business while mitigating viral spread.

John Strangio (left) asking an attendee (right) to leave after he kept referring to COVID-19 vaccines as the mark of the beast

As the town transitioned to a comment/question portion, a particularly irate attendee began to shout “666! The Mark of the Beast” which seemed to be a reference to the COVID-19 vaccine. Lauren Strangio shouted into the microphone the attendee’s presence was not welcome and “We need good feedback right now, not someone yelling. You are not helping us help our businesses.”

The comment/question period was punctuated by attendees who seemed to focus more on how pandemic protocols were an impediment on their freedom. Dr. Coren simply responded, “If you take advantage of those freedoms, you can end up hurting other people in the community.”

Alex Ibrahim of Stars Restaurant suggested Public Health work to procure more antigen rapid tests for local business owners so they can be utilized to diminish viral spread and reduce the cost on businesses.

He also said his business and others would be willing to display large posters/signage encouraging vaccinations and masks as a show of solidarity — instead of “mandating, educating,” he urged.

Laura Strangio concluded the Townhall hoping to “leave on a positive note” celebrating the dialogue that had occurred. She encouraged all local business owners to contact her if they had any specific suggestions to offer Dr. Coren and they would be passed on.

Stephanie Dunken, in the last call for solidarity, reminded employees that the Mendocino County community is “great at coming together during adversity. We need to work together and support each other.”

Categories: COVID-19, Uncategorized

27 replies »

  1. Unbelievable. So grateful to know which places of businesses to stay away from. I’ll just stay home and cook my own food, and continue to stay away from super spreader entities.

  2. There is so much of what happened that shows the sad state of current affairs. To have someone catcall at such a meeting is very non-productive. No matter your politics, we are all in this together. When I look at the polarization of our society over this, it seems that the county might be wise to allow all businesses to advertise their Covid rules. I would be fine if a company did not require masks or vaccination. Just so long as I knew who they were so, I could avoid them. On the flip side, the far-right would still show up at a private business that required masks, etc., and be a threat. It is so sad that every country in the world is ahead of the US to mitigate this virus. Over time with so many refusing the Vaccine, the virus will have far more opportunity to mutate, and likely we will never be back to normal. Meanwhile, business owners will slowly go out of business.

    • Masks do not work and are symbolism for politics. There is nothing good about masking. Its sick and needs to go away.

  3. I want Coren brought to justice! This mad man has no place in this community. What he is proposing are human rights violations. We are staying away from these vaccines because they are unsafe and honestly we don’t need them. Its our decision and is our right. Oh and by the way, vaccinated people are spreading the rona around like crazy its just that the county has a way of lying about it and not counting it as a vaccinated case until the point when they are considered fully vaccinated.

    As a matter of fact I want the whole Mendocino County health department to just go away and all tried in court. They are disgusting with all their lies and are grossly lacking in all areas of common sense and what the public is telling them. Mendocino County could not have picked a worse health officer. Doohan maybe a close second. I am furious that the community to has ver bad people like this in charge working against us. This is SICK!

    Wake up people! History is repeating itself!

    • Hi Ho Silver,

      Quick question if vaccinated and unvaccinated can spread Covid isn’t wearing a mask better than not wearing one? You know like when folks use condoms to try and not catch an STD?

      If masks don’t work, why do Dr.’s wear them in surgery’s??

      What is your expert advice on tamping this virus down so that we all can get back to normal???

      Thank you and have a fantastic day!

      • Curious Monkey- I applaud your questions and tone. This is the civil dialogue that is worthy of fostering! Ho Silver, I present a challenge: take this questions on good faith and answer them to the best of your ability.

      • While it may be a little too late in responding.
        One suggestion which is quite interesting is how one’s own metabolism has a great effect on ICU/hospital admission(s).

        From the CDC.
        More than 900,000 adult COVID-19 hospitalizations occurred in the United States between the beginning of the pandemic and November 18, 2020. Models estimate that 271,800 (30.2%) of these hospitalizations were attributed to obesity.

        https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/obesity-and-covid-19.html

        I’ve researched published medical studies in regards to individuals who have received the vaccine in both COVID as well as H1N1 (and others) and it seems that the efficacy is still concerning when individual maintain an abnormally high BMI. So perhaps opting for a more healthy lifestyle should be mandated as well. Examinations/reviews of people’s shopping carts at the local grocery store or contact tracers going door to door to perform ‘weigh ins’ should be considered down the road. Since one’s personal choice of what they stuff down their gullet may inhibit my ability to receive proper medical care since resources can become unavailable to those who happen to be burdening the system due to their obesity by up to 30%.

      • blah blah blah. Stop looking for excuses, and do the right thing by getting vaccinated. Your family, friends and fellow citizens will thank you.

  4. “When he asserted that the safety of the COVID-19 has been better monitored and surpassed the safety of every other vaccine,”

    What a crock. Not off to a good start here, Doc. The data clearly shows it has caused more problems in the 8 months since its rollout than all the other vaccines combined for all the years such things have been monitored. It would be great if we could have a respectful, fact-based discussion. But first you need to be familiar with the facts.

    Dr. Coren looks like a walking co-morbidity himself.

  5. I am not a fan of Dr. Coren.

    He is making up his own health protocols rather than following established and well researched guidelines put forth by California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and Center for Disease Control (CDC). These agencies have given more serious considerations to weight of consequence than podunk (sorry, but simple fact) Mendo could possibly accomplish.

    Masks are becoming less effective for two reasons: Soaring viral load of Delta, and aerosolized transmission. Do still they help? Yes. Indoors. Though nowhere near as much as vaccination.

    But it is important to recognize that while our friend the Lorax (we all know one) was correct, being “sharpish and bossy” led to ruin ultimately. Mutual respect is EARNED not given or taken.

  6. Matt, it is clear you saw civility and collaboration at Saturday’s gathering. The responses posted here paint another picture. The attacks, personal and professional, on Dr. Coren are appalling. As public health officer, he showed up to address the concerned people. He should be applauded, and not mocked. Finally, I noted in the news coverage that one of the organizers declared she is afraid someone “would put a gun in her face” if her business had to require proof of vaccination for entry. Really? Is this the kind of patron you seek to curry? Trust me, I won’t be bringing my family or visitors there. I don’t want to around people who might put a gun to our faces.

  7. Arrest and convict anyone refusing the vaccine of reckless endangerment. You radically unsafe behavior is a danger.

    • The right to be left alone far outweighs getting a shot of an unknown substance, at least a druggie knows what he is shootin. on the 9 11 memorial on tv. the only people wearing masks were politicians, remember love thy self , before others.

  8. larry davis …
    have you ever studied what happened to the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto?
    you seem to want to bring us all back to that place.
    be ready!!!!

    • We want our friends, neighbors and fellow residents in this great community to do the right thing, protect themselves and get vaccinated. It is the only way we can get beyond this grave public health crisis.

  9. Thank God there are some people here with some common sense against this tyrannical regime. We must stand up now or we are done as a free nation.Look at the Marxist government of Australia to see what they want here!!!

  10. We should all do a little research on the cdc and vaers website. Too many serious adverse events to consider the jab “safe and effective “
    I don’t want to be genetically modified either.

    • Yes, reliable research is key. Document the ‘too many serious adverse events’ please. The genetically modified claim has proven to be bogus over and over.

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