The COVID Storm in the Land of Unbelievers

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Just as we were warned would eventually happen – ready or not, believe it or not – the COVID-19 storm is upon us here in Shasta County. We’re in the eye of the storm, surrounded by mounting, swirling numbers of infections and deaths that increase by the day.

If anything, the official numbers, as alarming as they are (a record-breaking 242 for just Friday alone) fall short of the actual numbers, because Shasta County COVID test sites are overwhelmed by sick people, let alone asymptomatic people. There are stories of people who have all the classic COVID symptoms, who wait so long for a test that they recover before finally being tested. Those people are not included in the data.

Shasta County public health recently broke down the numbers to put things into perspective:

It took 206 days for Shasta County to reach its first 1,000 COVID cases.

It took 28 days for Shasta County to reach its second 1,000 COVID cases.

It took 16 days for Shasta County to reach its third 1,000 COVID cases.

It took 7 days for Shasta County to reach its fourth 1,000 COVID cases.

It doesn’t take a math genius to see the trend, and guess what’s coming in the way of escalating COVID cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

We’ve had plenty of time to prepare. Our local public health experts sounded the alarm way back in the spring, dutifully passing along information from higher sources, some of the best minds in the world. And even as they learned more, and even as the trickster COVID virus shapeshifted and led us to believe one thing about it and then another, our healthcare experts and public health professionals shared what they knew in real time. When that happened, they were ridiculed for “changing their minds” rather than applauded for debunking previous assumptions and uncovering new discoveries.

Scientists don’t call this the novel coronavirus for nothing. Novel, as in new. New, as in never seen before.

Shasta County, home of the brave, the stubborn and the nonbelievers

Generally speaking, here in Shasta County we don’t like new. We like the old Americana glory days. Also, we don’t cotton to a bunch of uppity, morally superior, socialist know-it-all’s telling us what to do.

We sometimes see a form of that mentality during wildfires, when police and deputies bang on doors and say, “A fire’s coming! Run for your lives!” There are always those few stubborn folks who ignore the evacuation orders and stay behind, armed only with grit and garden hoses, vowing to protect their property to the death. Usually, it works out OK. Sometimes, it doesn’t.

But we’re not talking about a wildfire here, but a deadly pandemic. Unlike fire, we can’t see the virus. There’s no smoke to alert us that it’s heading our way, because the virus is silent and invisible to the naked eye.

Here in Shasta County, day by day, week by week, month by month, the COVID-19 storm is picking up speed faster than public health can even keep up with the numbers. As of Saturday, COVID-19 has killed 43 people in Shasta County. Fifty-one people are hospitalized because of the virus.

Raise your hand if you know someone who’s been infected. Raise your hand if you’ve been infected. Raise your hand if you know someone who’s died of the coronavirus. Soon, everyone’s hands will be raised in surrender, to the point where it will be easier to count those who don’t know someone who’s been sick from the virus, or who’s died from it, than those who do.

Shasta County, where law enforcement leaders refuse to enforce

Unbelievably, during the very time when society most needs law enforcement officers sworn to protect and serve, Redding’s police chief and Shasta County’s sheriff continue their steadfast refusal to enforce state public health mandates.

For the record, no, I’m not suggesting they hand out tickets. I’m suggesting they get on the same page as public health, and truly give more than lip service to the claim that they’re providing education.

Lest there be any misunderstanding, Sheriff Magrini even put his anti-COVID-enforcement philosophy in writing, as praised by Ian Smart, co-founder of Stake in Nor Cal (a Redding-based militia-lite group).

Here’s Smart’s second part.

Likewise came praise from Sean Feucht, Bethel mega-church’s most famous plague rat.

If you’re unfamiliar with Feucht, he’s invaded unfortunate cities across the nation where he’s held massive illegal egomania-fueled concerts under the guise of “worship protests”.

What a preposterous proposition in itself, as if the pandemic could keep true believers from worshiping their God anytime, anywhere; from tents to tract homes, cabins to castles, mobile homes to mansions. People are free to worship God one-on-one without turning it into a super-spreader event.

We’ll talk more about Feucht in a moment.

Let Us Worship participants crowd around Sean Feucht and musicians in July beneath Redding’s iconic Sundial Bridge during a pandemic when large gatherings were banned. Photo by Steve DuBois.

Is Shasta County doomed?

One week ago I gave Shasta County an ‘F’ for failing on its COVID-19 report card with regard to education, the unfortunate reality of where we live.

I pointed out the disparity and blatant unfairness where some businesses comply with public health mandates, while others thumb their noses at it. And nothing happens. Well, when I say nothing happens, I mean in the way of citations for the offenders, not the increase of cases.

Compliant businesses, like La Cabana, my favorite Mexican restaurant, couldn’t begin to compete with the non-compliant businesses, some of which were located directly across the street, packed with customers, despite the purple tier that banned indoor dining.

A few days later I drove to La Cabana to order lunch. There, I was devastated to see this note taped to the door.

“La Cabana Mexican Restaurant – We will be closed until further notice. We thank you for your continued support. Sincerely, La Cabana’s Family.”

My heart aches for La Cabana’s entire family. I cannot imagine Redding without that restaurant, a welcoming place owned and operated by a large, wonderful family who happens to create unforgettable food. La Cabana has been a Redding institution for more than 25 years. What’s even more impressive than La Cabana’s success and longevity are its community connections, and the genuine relationships they’ve forged with customers like me and my family, who they treated like members of their family.

La Cabana is family-owned and operated. Meet the sisters.

What will they do? How will they survive? How can we help them?

This is a large family unit comprised of the parents, their children and grandchildren, all of whom are scattered throughout many households, of all which have their own demands and financial responsibilities, from mortgages and medical bills to college tuition and yes, running a family business.  La Cabana supported them all. And La Cabana did every single thing right as mandated by the governor.

And while they complied, all across our county, thousands of people continued to treat COVID-19 as if it was a joke. The cruel truth of the matter is that the very people who complained the loudest about the purple tier were the very people whose refusal to comply with the most simple requests contributed to driving our numbers up. Consequences, people.

Clean up on aisle 5, Supervisor Baugh

There are some former noncompliant COVID nonbelievers who may be seeing the light — better late than never — such as Shasta County District 5 Supervisor Les Baugh, the poster child for coronavirus disobedience from Day 1.

He recently posted a Facebook about-face in which he told his (surely confused) followers that Shasta County’s coronavirus numbers aren’t looking so good lately, and maybe people should take public health requests seriously after all. He ended by imploring people to be nice (to him). He even quoted his dear mama, who said if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

“No matter where you stand on Covid or the great mask debate, the following information is relevant for your consideration. This just in from Shasta County Public Health. I’ve read it several times and they have my attention … Friends, this is solid information I believe to be factual. Our information. Shasta County data. Yes, there are many other factors, many, many, but there’s no denying Covid is pretty much everywhere … Thanks for your thoughtful consideration. Let’s avoid personal attacks and respect all comments. Remember what your mama told you, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. If nothing else, information is always good… just read and scroll on by…
#GoodAnalogy” – Source: Les Baugh’ Facebook page.

I’m a big believer in Mama Baugh’s philosophy, except when it involves calling someone out on unmitigated hypocritical bullshit.

Les Baugh, that’s grand that public health – the same department you suggested gutting recently – finally has your attention. But for more than eight months you have caused incalculable damage to our community through not just your personal total disregard for public health and safety mandates during a pandemic, but you encouraged your followers to do the same.

Welcome to the enlightened side, Les. Your prize is a mop and bucket, which you’ll need to clean up the messes you created.

Winter of Redding’s discontent

While I’m handing out prizes to leaders for missteps taken during not just a pandemic, but an economic disaster, I bestow upon Redding City Council member and Bethel elder Julie Winter a Salvation Army Mickey Mouse watch to recognize her spectacular display of bad timing and mind-boggling insensitivity.

If you missed it, Winter took to Facebook recently to show off her brand new cherry-red Tesla, a gift from her husband.

Certainly, Winter has the right to own whatever car she wishes. But she showed a colossal level of rotten judgement when she flaunted such an extravagance on social media at a time when so many of her fellow Redding residents are struggling financially and are barely keeping afloat. The fact that this didn’t dawn upon Winter shows a stunning absence of compassion and an impressive lack of understanding and supreme disconnect.

What’s in store for Shasta County?

If you believe scientists, the entire world is on the brink of seeing some of our worst pandemic days, weeks and months to come as temperatures drop and people are cooped up together for longer periods of time in confined spaces.

To compound that scenario, places most at risk for being hit the hardest by the coronavirus are those places where people don’t take scientists’ forecasts seriously; places where, despite all the warnings and science-based predictions, facts and evidence, people seem oblivious to the killer storm bearing down upon us this very second.

Ring a bell? Remind you of any place you know?

Unless our community stands united to do everything in our collective power to protect ourselves and everyone around us from the virus, Shasta County is heading for some unspeakably horrific times.

Sadly, unlike the rest of the most civilized parts of the world, where many people anticipate the vaccine as a way to one day return to some degree of normalcy, wouldn’t it be just like Shasta County to roundly reject the vaccine as yet another thing to push back against? It brings me no joy in taking that  bet.

When the going gets tough, the tough break curfew

Speaking of pushing back, Saturday was Shasta County’s first night of a state-mandated curfew starting at 10 p.m.

So how do some people handle that news here in Shasta County? By defying the curfew with a cruise, of course.

I headed for Hilltop at 10 p.m. Saturday to check out the action. I had my media pass, in case I was stopped … wait, by who? Never mind. Moot point.

I parked in front of the Holiday Inn and waited. At first, Hilltop Drive looked like such a ghost town that I was tempted to take a photo in the middle of the empty street. But soon the air was filled with the rumble of large trucks, many of which were decked out in American flags and State of Jefferson Flags and Trump 2020 flags, and cars, including one vehicle with a large “FUCK NEWSOM” sign on its side. Drivers revved their engines. They sped south on Hilltop Drive, and then disappeared onto East Cypress, and then a few minutes later they popped back up onto Hilltop again.

Around and around they went. Honking and hooting. On one pass an RPD vehicle was at the rear of the cruise, but it didn’t reappear for the rest of the laps.

Oh what fun it is to live in a county where law enforcement can be counted on to not be counted on during a pandemic.

Jesus Christ, Super-Spreader

Feucht (rhymes with exploit, and I’m told it means “moist” in German”) is a Bethel mega-church member and failed congressional candidate who lives in Redding. He’s made a name for himself for his White House connections, but mostly his defiance against large gatherings, all under the guise of worshipping Jesus. A Rolling Stone magazine story about Feucht ran the headline, “Jesus Christ: Super Spreader,” something most sane people would consider an insult. Not Feucht.

“Rolling Stone wrote an article called ‘Jesus Christ Super-Spreader’ that went crazy on the internet,” he said. “And guess what? Today we’re turning what they meant to vilify us, we’re turning what they meant to slander us, right back to our good. We made a T-shirt today called ‘Jesus Christ Super-Spreader’ that’s what we’re all meant to be. You gotta get it!” 

The good news, the bad news and the good news again

The good news is that while many of our residents continue to act out and push against all public health measures, other residents and businesses are sticking to state COVID-safety guidelines, for everyone’s sake. Some businesses even have signs like this one posted on their doors and windows.

The bad news is that somewhere in Shasta County today there’s another distraught family discussing whether to close their business.

The bad news is that in southern Shasta County, there’s a shocked, grieving husband trying to figure out how exactly his vibrant wife could go from feeling sick on a Monday to being dead on a Wednesday, and how will he live without her.

The bad news is that all over Shasta County there are people selling things – anything (have you noticed?) – on Facebook for extra money, or seeking any kind of work possible to earn enough to keep the lights on, to put food on the table, and to pay the rent or mortgage. Ironing, window-washing, anything.

Meanwhile, there’s a Redding councilwoman driving a red Tesla while people lose jobs and businesses. Cake for everyone!

There are law enforcement leaders who openly refuse to do their part to help keep the community safe.

Then there’s Sean Feucht, selling T-shirts printed with the Rolling Stone’s title: Jesus Christ, Super-Spreader, which he is delighted about. Who knew being a plague rat could be so lucrative?

There are healthcare workers risking their lives and their loved ones’ lives to care for COVID patients, even those former anti-maskers and COVID-19 nonbelievers, whose eyes will open wide with disbelief as they’re intubated.

See, that’s the thing about COVID-19. It’s no respecter of beliefs.

Do you know what I believe? I believe this week is Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday. Granted, it’s the most bizarre Thanksgiving ever for nearly everyone I know. So many tiny Thanksgivings. So many Thanksgivings postponed, or skipped entirely. So many Zoom Thanksgivings. So many nontraditional Thanksgivings with anything but turkey.

At my house, we’ll have Thanksgiving dinner for four at a dining room table with all the leaves inserted, so everyone will sit as far away from one another as possible. It’ll look like a scene from “The Crown”.

There’s a consolation, a silver lining in this COVID storm: The very thing that helps make this non-traditional Thanksgiving more tolerable is knowing we have lots of company, with millions of people across the country, in pretty much the same boat. So yes, we’re apart, but if I can write this, and if you can read it, it means we’re still here, together. And for that, and the fact that you’re here, I give thanks.

Happy Thanksgiving. Stay safe.

Doni Chamberlain
Independent online journalist Doni Chamberlain founded what’s now known as 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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