As a resident of Orange County, I am deeply concerned about the lack of action on the part of our county’s officials. The pandemic continues to ravage across cities, counties, and states, and it is unsurprising to see the disproportionate consequences affecting low socioeconomic cities like Santa Ana and Anaheim. As a resident of Santa Ana, I am concerned not only for my family but also my friends, neighbors, and community. Therefore, it was surprising and disappointing to see the response from our representatives to this public health crisis. We deserve and need better leaders during this most difficult and uncertain time.

I am frustrated with the lack of community, understanding, and trust in science and medicine. At the core of this pandemic is a public health issue which requires the expertise and knowledge of medical professionals. But when the former OC Health Officer, Dr. Quick, mandated wearing masks the response was to send threats and protest at her home. More disturbingly was the lack of other elected officials like the Board of Supervisors to stand behind her and support this most vital and basic decision to curb the spread and flatten the curve.

The result of this inadequate leadership is a surge of cases in Orange County and the uninhibited and uneducated responses from residents. (No, masks do not cause brain damage). The major consequence of this is the growing number of deaths in Orange County, but in particular cities like Santa Ana and Anaheim. This should not be surprising to many as we know that these cities are predominantly populated by low-income residents of color. In the midst of racial protests across the nation, this fact is both sad and heartbreaking. Our most vulnerable residents are not only fighting racial injustices like police brutality but also a pandemic that disproportionately impacts those with underlying health conditions like diabetes. According to the American Diabetes Association, 12.5% of Hispanics are diagnosed with diabetes as compared to 7.5% of non-Hispanic whites. For county officials to ignore this fact and to continue to entertain those who question the existence of the pandemic and the science-backed strategies to mitigate the effects of the Coronavirus is race discrimination.

Poverty should not dictate health outcomes, but the reality is that it does, and it falls on the leaders of these cities and their county to respond to protect the most vulnerable. Here is their chance to do so, a once-in-a-lifetime scenario where it is not hard to step up, but incredibly disappointing when they don’t and haven’t. Currently, the OC Board of Supervisors has not said that they would enforce the state mandate of wearing masks despite an increase in COVID- 19 cases and deaths. Masks are essential to preventing the spread of the virus. Look at how many health officials at the federal and state levels recommend wearing face masks or at the studies that demonstrated the efficacy of face cloth coverings. According to a UCSF article, a study published in Health Affairs compared COVID-19 infection rates before and after mask mandates and found that in the first five days after a mandate rates of COVID-19 decreased by 0.9 percentage points (Bai). Over time, the rates of COVID-19 further decreased.

I understand that this is a very unusual time for leaders and dealing with the public is a difficult task even in typical circumstances. Many citizens in Santa Ana, Orange County, and across the nation feel the ending of what was “normal” and have to reckon with this upending of their entire lives. However, public outrage to the redefining of normalcy should not supersede concerns for overall public health and safety. Elected officials need to respond with logic, leadership, and authority that is grounded in science and medicine not re-election concerns. Now, is the time to put the politics aside and be sensible because people’s lives are at risk and that should concern anyone who represents the people for the people.

While this pandemic has made many feel hopeless, I have taken this time to be deeply reflective and understand that my current position as a citizen offers me one immediate path to action – to use my power as a voter. To my fellow OC residents, this is an election year, and now, in this particular context of a pandemic, we should carefully monitor our elected officials and their responses to this crisis. Their job is not only to represent us but also to think and act for the betterment of our communities and families – a minimum requirement of the job. We have the power to change the landscape of OC politics, and the current leadership has failed us and the 330 people (and counting) who have died from the Coronavirus. Please register to vote and request a mail-in ballot; we are in the midst of a pandemic. Let’s hold our leaders accountable for their (in)actions and vote.

Michelle Nguyen is a born and raised resident of Santa Ana. Currently, she is a graduate student at George Washington University to pursue a degree in public policy with a focus on women’s, gender, and sexuality studies.

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