Mike Geniella’s incisive voice and watchful eye have been aimed at Mendocino County for many decades as a long-standing reporter for the Press Democrat and the spokesman for Mendocino County District Attorney’s Office. Now retired, Geniella finds the writing habit hard to shake. We’re excited to host a column from him sharing his thoughts, comments, and concerns about life here in Mendocino County.
The so-called ‘Mendocino Patriots’ are planning Sunday to show up outside the Ukiah home of the County Public Health Officer to protest his decision to continue indoor masking requirements for another month.
The Patriots in doing so are ignoring past requests that they confine their protests to public places, and not at the private residences of decision-makers.
“Join us for a rally at our Public Health Officer’s house this Sunday, February 13, at 1:30,” declares the notice put out to Patriot followers.
“We’ll meet in Michael’s craft store parking lot at 1:30, then leaving the parking at 1:45 to head to his (Dr. Andy Coren) house.”
The Patriots’ notice claims that Dr. Coren’s decision to keep the indoor masking requirements in place through March 15 is an abuse of local authority, and prolonging ‘the nightmare.’
Like escalating rhetoric ala, the Canadian truckers’ blockade, the Patriots claim Coren’s latest order issued on Feb. 11 allows the “government to take you from your home and detain your somewhere else if they don’t think you are quarantining properly.”
The Patriots are promising to have ‘extra signs on hand so don’t worry if you don’t have time to make one.’
Dr. Coren has said still high local hospitalization rates are driving his decision not to lift the masking requirement at this time in Mendocino
To lift the requirements now in a county where local medical facilities remain tested would be ‘inviting problems,’ said Coren.
Dr. Coren told MendoFever News on Thursday that his primary concern is about local hospitals and their capacity and the fact that “our Mendocino hospitals are full, with 0-1 ICU and 0-1 general admission beds available most days in the last 1-2 weeks.”
The limited capacity has meant “our facilities have had to postpone care to many who need hospitalization and even transport out of county local patients with emergency problems, such as surgery,” Dr. Coren told MendoFever.
Supporters of lifting Mendocino’s current restrictions cite a MendoFever reprint of a published story from CalMatters.org that shows other rural counties with higher rates of hospitalized Covid patients than Mendocino including Lake, Siskiyou, Shasta, Tehama, and Del Norte. Those counties, in general, have been among the most resistant to Covid-related protection requirements.
CalMatters research shows that Mendocino County’s hospitalization rates are higher than neighboring Sonoma, Humboldt, and Napa counties.
Dr. Coren’s policies have been scorned before by local critics including the Patriots. In early September, Dr. Coren voluntarily appeared before a large and mildly hostile crowd in a parking lot outside a local gym club to debate proposed vaccine mandates for employees and customers of local restaurants and bars.
Yet even the organizers acknowledged Dr. Coren’s decision to publicly meet with critics, and they praised him for “a lot of trust, courage and respect on his part.”
But the Patriots are not having any of that now.
“Our silence is prolonging the nightmare. We need everyone to stand together and say enough. We WILL NOT comply.”
The Patriots made headlines in early December when twenty-one of them showed up at the Ukiah Co-Op and grabbed shopping baskets but refused to wear masks as required by store policy. Employees offered them individual masks.
The Patriots disrupted the Co-Op’s check-out line, and one of their children opened and started eating chips they insisted they intended to buy.
Patriots do not list their membership or organizers. They claim their intent is to ‘unify community members of Mendocino County, regardless of political affiliation, to peacefully stand up against overreaching local, state and federal governments.’
“We disagree with the intrusive handling of Covid-19 and the restrictions and mandates placed on us with little to no justification and without following standard public health guidelines that have always been in place,’ according to the Patriots website.
California’s indoor masking requirements will be allowed to lapse statewide next Tuesday, Feb. 15. Rather than requiring all residents to wear masks indoors, vaccinated residents can remain unmasked indoors, while unvaccinated individuals must remain masked. It is unclear who will enforce the unvaccinated requirement.
Even though California and other states are rescinding indoor mask mandates still championed by the federal Center for Disease Control, the state allows counties to assess their individual conditions and determine whether indoor masking requirements should remain in place.
Dr. Coren, citing Mendocino County’s still high hospitalization rate and the recent extraordinary surge of the omicron variant cases, contends it is not yet safe enough from a public health perspective to lift the indoor masking requirement.
*An initial title for this piece reflected the false attribution in the column connecting the Mendocino Patriots to a quote celebrating Dr. Coren for his “trust, courage and respect.” That quote is not attributed to the Patriots, but a business owner who organized a gathering where Dr. Coren met with local business leaders.