Dr. Aimee Sisson, Public Health Officer and Public Health Director for Placer County, said Wednesday that she will leave her post later this month.
The announcement comes shortly after the Placer County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to terminate the local health emergency they passed regarding COVID-19 on March 3.
“The circumstances that led to proclaiming the original emergency no longer exist,” the county wrote in a comment on their YouTube channel.
“We cannot continue to keep our community shut down for some unknown amount of time as determined by the ever-changing metrics according to the Governor,” Placer county wrote in a press release. “Health emergency declarations are obligated to be terminated at the earliest possible date that the conditions warrant and, based on the number of COVID-19 cases in our county, there is no longer a health emergency with regards to COVID-19 in Placer County.”
In the resolution, county supervisors wrote that most deaths are “not by COVID but with COVID,” arguing that California is exaggerating the death toll of the virus by including people with underlying health complications. Health experts refuted a similar claim made by President Donald Trump earlier this month, stating that even when someone has a preexisting condition, COVID-19 is still the cause of death.
As of Wednesday the county had reported 3,238 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 36 deaths.
The state still has Placer listed in the “substantial” tier, which is the second most risky category after “widespread.” Over the past seven days the county has reported 5.6 new cases per 100,000 residents. It would need to lower that to less than 4 cases per 100,000 to move into the next tier.
Placer County moved down into the substantial tier on Tuesday when the California Department of Public Health allowed the county to relax restrictions under the state’s COVID-19 reopening plan. Placer and several other counties now have more flexibility regarding what businesses can operate indoors. The county said in the press release that residents should still continue to practice safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Sisson said the board’s choice to terminate the emergency spurred her to resign.
“Today’s action by the Placer County Board of Supervisors made it clear that I can no longer effectively serve in my role as Placer County Health Officer and Public Health Director,” Sisson wrote in her letter of resignation.
Several county health officers have left their positions in recent months, and experts suspect the pressure of navigating the COVID-19 crisis played into those decisions. In some areas, county health officers are facing pressure from the public to reopen the economy more quickly.
Lori Tremmel Freeman, CEO of the National Association of City and County Health Officials, said rescinding the emergency declaration “leaves the public health officer with no tools or no ability or no authority to enforce anything to keep their community safe.”
“So if I were in that position, I’d resign, too,” she said.
Freeman says because health leaders have medical training and not political training, they’re often put in conflict with elected officials who want to make financially rather than scientifically driven decisions.
“You’re not trusted, or there are components of your community working against you,” she said. “It’s extremely demoralizing. They’re left powerless.”
Sisson has been in her position since 2019. She will remain on the job until Sept. 25.