On Friday, the Riverside County Board of Supervisors rescinded all but one of their own public health officer’s coronavirus orders, effectively loosening restrictions on mandates such as the requirement to wear face masks in public and practice social distancing. KVCR’s Benjamin Purper spoke with Riverside City Councilmember and small business owner Ronaldo Fierro about the Board’s decision and what it means for the city of Riverside.
Before last week’s vote, the Riverside City Council voted to send a letter to the Board asking them to delay it.
Fierro: “Because although we are a region, the city of Riverside is the county seat, we are the most populous area, we are the city with the most cases. So we were simply asking the County BOS to wait until Friday to make any decision like that so we could, within the city ourselves and within our city council make decisions about what direction we were going to move in. But unfortunately they made the decision to lift those orders and now cities are on their own to come up with health and safety orders that will keep our community safe and we don't have a health expert, the county has a health department, we don't have that. So you know in a lot of ways we were going to be flying blind if we didn't have that expert to lean on.”
I asked Fierro if he thought it was premature on the Board’s part to rescind the orders requiring face masks and social distancing.
Fierro: “You know, I don't think it's so much about it being premature as it is - I'm not 100 percent sure what the goal was. And I think public comment, I mean gosh it was almost 11 hours of public comment - that was the mantra, that was the main sticking point for most frustrated citizens was that they were ready to get back to work, they have this invisible enemy that hasn't reared its head in as ugly as a fashion as we were originally expecting, and the question is why is that the case? So I think there's a strong argument to be made that it was the mitigation efforts we took and the order that the county had in place that helped slow down the spread and kept that curve flattened and kept that number of cases low as well as mortality rates. To lift those orders too soon is to slow down the re-opening of the economy. This was never about masks, this was never about social distancing, this was about slowing down the spread of the virus and if lifting those orders even in a slight fashion slows down our re-opening of the economy, we're going to be in a worse place than we were before. And the County Board of Supervisors waited until Friday for guidance from the governor's office about what type of metrics we were going to require as a region to re-open quickly or quicker than other areas. And it's clear to me that that is now the goal, right, these ambitious data points that the governor's office wants us to have as a region in order to re-open our economy, and I want us to hit those data points as quickly as possible because I mean I own a small business myself, I am desperate to re-open, but I don't think there's any business owner in this city, certainly in the state or in the country that wants to open in an unsafe fashion or in a way that gets the public sick or more importantly for me, my staff sick. I'm not going to put them on the front lines and put them at risk unless I feel like that risk has subsided. And unfortunately, the orders that were lifted had nothing to do with the re-opening of the economy, in fact I think it actually works at cross odds with that goal.”
Fierro says that there a lot of strong feelings about this issue, but he thinks it’s important to stay united during this time.
Fierro: “The government's job is to protect people, and that's what we're attempting to do. And if the efforts we're taking to protect people have unfortunate side effects as they clearly do at this time, people's bank accounts are drying up, unemployment is going to begin drying up, small businesses and mid-size businesses are running low on cash reserves if they had any to begin with, and we're - we've been pushed to the limit, and I just want to make sure that if we're pushed to the limit we're not pushing ourselves also to a breaking point. And clearly, we're a community divided, in a lot of ways - especially when you watch public comment not just of the county but even at the city level, because people are frustrated. And I think it requires a certain amount of discipline amongst our elected leaders to stay the course that we know will work to mitigate the effects of this virus and if we begin to lose sight of that, I think we're going to be lost. We're going to be lost as bodies of elected leaders and I think that speaking with one voice and remaining united is vital.”
Ronaldo Fierro is a City Councilmember for Riverside’s Third Ward.