LANCASTER — The City Council unanimously approved a vote of no confidence in Los Angeles County Health Department Director Barbara Ferrer and directed staff to commence the research necessary to establish a local public health department at a special Thursday evening meeting.
“I want to be clear: What we’re about to do may not have an effect on her,” Mayor R. Rex Parris said. “We’ve never had to do it to somebody before. We’re essentially saying a city with 150, 160,000 people have no confidence in the way you protected us, and that you failed to protect us. And it’s very easy to not think that we’re actually dealing with a human being that has feelings.”
Parris added without the Council’s action nothing would change.
“My opinion is she failed and she has refused to accept the fact that she failed, and so she’s continuing to make the same mistakes that they made very early in the epidemic,” Parris said, adding the mistakes were justifiable in the beginning.
Community members supported the Council’s move to establish a health department independent of the county.
One caller expressed concern about Ferrer’s authority to enact sweeping restrictions on local businesses such as restaurants.
“If done correctly, I think a local public health department would greatly benefit the residents of Lancaster,” the caller said.
A public comment submitted via email from the owner of a hair salon praised the Council for the decision to hold a special meeting to explore the idea of establishing a separate public health department.
“Los Angeles is a big county and the entire Antelope Valley is not being treated fairly,” the letter said. “Certain businesses like restaurants and personal care are being purposefully forced to close down without any scientific reason behind it.”
The City Council’s action followed discussions with Lancaster’s neighboring cities of Palmdale and Santa Clarita regarding a regional partnership.
The council scheduled the special meeting after the county imposed new restrictions on in-person dining in response to spiking COVID-19 cases, most notably a three-week ban on in-person dining at restaurants. The county also enacted a three-week “Safer-At-Home’’ order on Monday, banning most gatherings of people from different households and enacting strict capacity limits at businesses.
Restaurants in the city of Pasadena, which has its own health department, remained open for in-person dining after city health officials resisted a county ban on the practice. However, the city’s restaurants prepared on Friday to close under California’s regional stay-at-home order, which was expected to take effect in the coming days.
Deputy Mayor Dr. Jonathan Truong said during a presentation at the meeting that Lancaster is better off than the San Fernando Valley but worse off than the city of Santa Clarita as it relates to positive COVID-19 rates compared to most of LA County.
As of Wednesday, Antelope Valley Hospital had 68 confirmed COVID-19 cases, up from 23 cases the previous month, with 20 patients in the Intensive Care Unit. Palmdale Regional Medical Center had 45 confirmed COVID-19 cases, up from 18 last month, with 14 patients in the ICU.
Lancaster has a higher adjusted case rate than LA County and a lower death rate per 100,000. Palmdale has higher case rate and death rate.
‘We’re so close to getting this vaccine,” Deputy Mayor Dr. Larry Stock said during the meeting. “There is light at the end of the tunnel. … We know the vaccine is coming and we know we’re going to start very soon. There’s a staged roll-out for this thing. There’ll be enough for everyone in the country who wants to be vaccinated.”
Federal health officials proposed a staged roll-out of the vaccine giving some people such as health care workers priority over others.
Truong estimated the vaccine would be available to the general public by April.
Deputy Mayor Tiffany Tanner, a physician assistant, urged people to get tested for COVID-19.
“I feel like we need to make it very, very clear that everybody being tested as often as they feel is necessary for them, based on their exposures just in the public, is only going to help us control this more accurately and quickly,” Tanner said.
Parris said the city needs to make it a misdemeanor for individuals who refuse to wear a mask.
“I get your frustration about the masks,” Councilman Ken Mann said, adding he believes the problem is group gatherings among friends and family members.
Parris added everyone in the city has to be aggressive about reminding people to wear their masks and to keep them on.
“If you have children and they come home, you are at extreme risk more now than ever,” Parris said. “You have to take precautions inside the house. You have to educate your kids. You cannot take that mask off.”