The Price of Admission to the Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo? Priceless

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Source: KRCR TV/Facebook

In a perfect world, there’s a magical morning-after-rodeo pill to protect about 2,000 men, women and children who enjoyed one sunny Sunday afternoon of bliss in exchange for COVID-19 risk of infection during a mass gathering that ignored national, state and county public health restrictions in the middle of a deadly pandemic.

Unfortunately, it’s a highly imperfect world in general, and more so here in Shasta County lately. Friday, our county was flirting with full engagement into Stage 2. Sunday, the mass gathering — more commonly referred to as the Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo –took place. By Monday, the state had soured on its relationship with Shasta County when it became known that the Cottonwood event was held despite our state’s ban on large gatherings during the COVID-19 crisis. Shasta County screwed up royally. We lost the state’s trust, and who knows how long it will take for Shasta County to convince the state that we committed a one-time mistake, and that we’re worthy of trust and respect again one day.

No surprise, the story of how thousands of Shasta County Californians defied state and county orders for a rodeo has been picked up around the world. It was addressed in “SF GATE,” with the headline: ‘We have rights given to us by God’: Calif. rodeo draws thousands, and even an Australia publication: “California attracts thousands despite social distancing restrictions.

Closer to home, an exuberant  KRCR TV reporter – sans mask – went to the rodeo, talked with some people and shot some interesting video. The video was cringe-worthy, showing people crowded shoulder to shoulder in the stands, and not a face mask in sight.

But the worst part of all this wasn’t the global shaming. The worst part is that our entire county — all 180,000 of us — now face the dire consequences of 2,000 individual’s decision to break the rules and attend one rodeo.

Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency sent out a press release Monday to announce the disappointing news. 

For the record, I don’t put the lion’s share of blame on the people who attended the annual Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo. More about that in a second.

Cottonwood is an idyllic rural community south of Redding. It’s also the small Shasta County town in which Shasta County Supervisor Les Baugh recently thumbed his nose at our governor’s executive order by getting a non-essential haircut at a non-essential business, and then bragged about it on Facebook.

Wonder of wonders, guess who’s Cottonwood’s supervisor? Les Baugh.

Shasta County District 5 Supervisor Les Baugh hams it up with his Cottonwood barber in defiance of the governor’s executive orders.

Regarding Shasta County, I’ve long said there’s pretty much one degree of separation between most folks, but especially when it comes to our movers and shakers. One of Les Baugh’s best buddies is former Sheriff Tom Bosenko, who retired a few months ago, but not before recommending that the Shasta County Board of Supervisors hire Undersheriff Eric Magrini, which is exactly what happened. The quickie BOS appointment meant no pesky election, which won’t occur for that position until 2022.

Shasta County Sheriff Magrini.

Newcomer or not, when it comes to the fallout from the Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo, the buck stops squarely at the feet of Shasta County’s top gun, Sheriff Eric Magrini. Not only did he know about the upcoming rodeo, but he justified it, and did nothing to stop it. If he had headed that rodeo off at the pass by forbidding it from happening in the first place, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. We wouldn’t be wondering how much longer we’ll be in time-out because of one rodeo.

You can see exactly how big a part the sheriff played in giving the rodeo a glowing green light of approval by watching a KRCR interview in which a reporter talked to Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini before the rodeo: “Cottonwood Rodeo to take place on Sunday, Sheriff Magrini won’t enforce stay-at-home order.”

The station aired the clip the day before the rodeo. The upshot was the sheriff justified his approval for the rodeo, an event that has now jeopardized Shasta County’s ability to move fully into Stage 2 and start the ball rolling toward Stage 3. Right now, we’re in pandemic purgatory.

Sheriff Magrini told the reporter during the interview that the rodeo would go on as planned on Mother’s Day. Magrini said he’d spoken with Jeff Davis, the rodeo producer, who assured the sheriff that Davis was being responsible, that he wouldn’t be selling food or beverages, and that the rodeo would have hand-washing stations throughout the rodeo venue.

Slight segue, but I’m curious: If local students made the same pitch to Magrini as the rodeo folks, would their graduations be allowed, too? How about a small outdoor wedding with the promise of hand-sanitation stations, BYOB, and everyone brings their own food? Just wondering.

Magrini delved further into his pre-rodeo justification during the interview.

“And this is a very small little arena,” Magrini said. “It’s not like a stadium setting. It’s an outdoor venue, and he’s also going to be handing out CDC guidelines at the gate, so when they come in, they could practice their social distancing and watch some people ridin’ broncs and ridin’ horseback. The sheriff’s office works to gain compliance through education.”

After that, he delivers a quickie soundbite about about people being responsible and how we’ve flattened the curve and something about not opening floodgates.

” … We’ve had a low, we’ve flattened that curve, we’ve gone almost a week and a half now with no positives,” Magrini said. ” … So that’s very good.”

Why, after acknowledging the importance of public safety with regard to the novel coronavirus, would Magrini forge ahead and still sanction a mass-gathering rodeo? It defies logic.

Hey! I have an idea! Shasta County doesn’t have THAT many COVID-19-related deaths, and we’ve gone almost a week and a half without any positive COVID-19 cases! What do you say we celebrate with a rodeo out in supervisor Les Baugh’s district! Heck, we saw what happened when Baugh blatantly thumbed his nose at Gavin by publicizing his Cottonwood haircut stunt in a non-essential barbershop while Baugh’s wife (vice mayor of Anderson, but oh well) looked on. Nothing happened to him, except a little closed-session spanking. Heck, he’s pretty much a hero at this point! Giddy up!

Did Magrini think the public would somehow overlook his wholesale acceptance of the rodeo and the part he played in its existence if he said yes to the rodeo first and then recited some public-health rhetoric second? Not likely. It was about as effective as telling a bunch of teenagers they can have the keys to the house without adults present, plus the entire stocked liquor cabinet for the weekend, but then switching to a winking Mr. Authoritarian with a suddenly stern speech about responsible drinking and safe sex.

Y’all be good, OK?

When you have a sheriff who displays such little regard for his own county’s public health directives, it’s no wonder the rodeo organizers didn’t cancel their annual event.  When the sheriff says yes, why would the rodeo say no?

For the sake of all Shasta County residents, Magrini should have stopped that rodeo in its tracks before it got out of the chute; before the first of those 2,000 cabin-fever-suffering rodeo-lovers plopped down 15 bucks each for the pleasure of mingling with a few thousand other rodeo-lovers, using public restrooms and enjoying food from the same food trucks. Pandemic be damned.

Why should Magrini have put a stop to the rodeo? Because he’s the freakin’ sheriff, that’s why, and because we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and because it’s his sworn duty to not just protect and serve our people, but also protect the process that enables our county to move safely and methodically through all four stages to re-open our region and restore our economy. That’s why.

Instead, he hid behind his claims to be an educator, not an enforcer. News flash, sheriff: You’re supposed to enforce when rules are being broken. That’s why they call it law enforcement.

But there are plenty of other bucks to pass around, and I’d say the next major buck stop is the very top of Shasta County’s heap, at the desk of County Executive Officer Matthew P. Pontes.

Like Magrini, Pontes is relatively new on the job, too.  He’s only been the county’s CEO since January, while Magrini has been the county’s sheriff since December.

Matt Pontes, Shasta County Executive Officer 

You may have noticed that Pontes has been eerily quiet about the events of the last few days regarding Shasta County’s briefly successful brush with Stage 2, followed by the county’s backslide to its former restrictions. What does Pontes, our county’s leader, have to say about all this?

[Crickets.] 

However, during the Shasta County HHSA’s urgent media briefing on Monday, naturally the topic of the rodeo came up, and when the other e-word (enforcement) was mentioned to Pontes, in terms of consequences for those who’d defied public health guidelines, Pontes said that he preferred education over enforcement, though he added that enforcement was in the tool kit if needed.

There it is again: Education, not enforcement.

I do not know what kind of apocalyptic rainy day Magrini and Pontes are waiting for before they’ll open their rusty toolbox, set down the dull little educational pencil and swap it for an enforcement hammer, but now might be a good time.

Don’t misunderstand. Education is my preferred means of persuasion, but it only works for those who respect and value education, who want to learn, and who believe the teachers have their best interests at heart.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to be Shasta County Health Officer Dr. Karen Ramstrom these days, whose mission it is to keep an entire county safe. Monday, during the urgent media briefing, Ramstrom looked somewhat wistful when she described going into a store over the weekend, and being one of the only shoppers wearing a mask. This is what Shasta County public health people are up against lately: scores of people who scorn, ignore, fight and even mock public health efforts.

Source: Facebook

What’s more, here in Shasta County, the tide turns uglier by the day as a growing number of residents equate face masks and social distancing as a slippery slope toward ruining America and stripping them of their God-given rights.

Case in point, a flurry of posts erupted on Facebook regarding Shasta County’s jeopardized Stage 2 status following the rodeo.

“Sorry, but rules are not laws!!! Cowboy up!”

“I feel like we are being held after class because one student acted up… Pretty sure collective punishment is illegal…”

“this is not okay folks….we are being told when where what….come on????…it was a “rebel” move ,on the part of the rodeo officials they said “no” to shasta supervisors… and I applaud it ….no more (“mother may I “)…..nothing is more american than a good “ole” rodeo…God bless America”

That’s fairly mild. Take a scroll through Facebook and you’ll see examples of swastikas and concentration camps, and other signs that allude to violence, like this one that I found today posted by a Shasta County resident, someone who’s technically a Facebook “friend” of mine.

Source: Facebook

In my gut, I have a hunch why the sheriff did not step up to shut down the Cottonwood rodeo after he saw the “very small little” rodeo numbers swell into the thousands; when he saw that there was zero social distancing, no masks, and that there was in fact food served, when the organizer promised otherwise. Maybe he truly did think it would just be a little rodeo, and that everyone would maintain proper social distancing.

Magrini may be the new sheriff in town, but he’s local; an Enterprise High School graduate, someone who knows this area and its people well. No wonder that on March 25, Sheriff Magrini was quoted in a Riverside County story that explained why Magrini believed gun shops were essential services during the COVID-19 crisis, an area of discretion the governor granted to each county.

Here’s an excerpt:

“Our way of life in this rural county warrants this decision,” Shasta County Sheriff Eric Magrini said in a social media release earlier today while announcing that gun stores within Shasta County would be allowed to remain open as “essential services” to the County’s residents.

My hunch is that the sheriff knew that here in ultra-conservative Shasta County, and especially in District 5, it’s a place where many residents/voters applaud their supervisor for openly disobeying our governor’s executive order. Here in Shasta County, he knows that our people also like their guns. It’s about, as Magrini said in the article, “our way of life in this rural county”. Likewise, it’s no secret that many are loaded for bear and itching for a fight to defend what they see as their dwindling rights, especially during this “plandemic“. They don’t believe it. They think COVID-19 is exaggerated; a liberal hoax to destroy our country.

Protesters who want Shasta County to re-open rally outside the Shasta County Sheriff Office in Redding recently. Photo by Steve DuBois.

That’s why I’d like to give our sheriff and county CEO the benefit of the doubt for why they’re soft on enforcement and strong on giving lip service to the notion of education. Maybe the reason they aren’t comfortable with enforcement here in Shasta County is they’re afraid of the blow back.

Can you imagine what kind of a shit show might have ensued had law enforcement arrived after the rodeo was in full swing on Mother’s Day to break things up? I can imagine, and it’s not a pretty picture.

Side note, but many weeks ago during one of the HHSA media briefings, back when some people were protesting the stay-at-home orders in other places outside Shasta County, I asked Sheriff Magrini how he’d handle it if Shasta County folks showed up to protest. He said that if it happened in Redding, it would be an RPD jurisdiction situation, and so on for all the cities within the county. And when I asked if that meant he was in charge of the other areas that aren’t cities, like Cottonwood, for example, he said yes.

Good to know.

Urgent Public Health Message

Meanwhile, if you’ve read this far I have a public health message especially for those who attended the Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo: If you and your loved ones were there, Shasta County HHSA advises you get tested for COVID-19 periodically, and by periodically, public health folks say every couple of weeks, to ensure you weren’t infected at the rodeo.

We’re lucky here in Shasta County, because we have a number of options. Visit https://lhi.care/covidtesting to make an appointment for this new walk-up testing option. Appointments are available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday at Shasta College. Or, contact your healthcare provider for testing, or call Shasta County Public Health at (530) 225-5591 to be screened and scheduled for a mobile testing appointment.

Also, if you attended the Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo, and you work with vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, the immune-compromised, or those in congregant settings (like group homes or assisted living facilities), HHSA recommends you let your employer know, just to be on the safe side.

Finally, if you attended the Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo, you may consider self-isolating for a few weeks, just in case you have the COVID-19 virus, but you’re unaware, because you could be asymptomatic.

With any luck, nobody who participated in the Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo will become sick. Everyone will be fine, especially the children, because they have so much life ahead of them. As long as we’re wishing, here’s to wishing that Shasta County will have zero new cases, and no more deaths. Soon we’ll be in the state’s good graces again, and we’ll zip along quickly to Stage 4 in no time. Life will return to normal. All will be well. We’ll never take our old lives for granted again.

And hopefully, despite the fact that thousands of people gathered tightly together for the Mother’s Day Cottonwood Rodeo, despite a governor’s executive order that said otherwise, maybe the worrywarts will be wrong, and there will be no spikes in Shasta County’s COVID-19 numbers this month.

And if all that happens, and if all is well, then maybe it is a perfect world here in Shasta County after all.

Monday-evening update: Shasta County reported one new positive COVID-19 case. 

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as anewscafe.com in 2007 with her son, Joe Domke. Chamberlain is an award-winning newspaper opinion columnist, feature and food writer recognized by the Associated Press, the California Newspaper Publishers Association and E.W. Scripps. She lives in Redding, California.
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