COVID Q&A with Dr. Scott Kellermann and Supervisor Dan Miller
COVID-19 has impacted our Nevada County community and every individual who lives here. As we continue to navigate a pandemic in our rural community, leaders from Nevada County’s Board of Supervisors and Public Health Department discuss what we know, what we have learned, and how we can move forward from their individual perspectives. Dan Miller represents District 3 and currently serves as the chair of the Nevada County Board of Supervisors. Dr. Scott Kellermann currently serves as Nevada County’s public health officer.
Miller: What have you seen in the Health Department that can be expanded and what are they doing extremely well?
Kellermann: After many decades working in the private sector, this is my first experience with government employment. I am exceedingly impressed by the people that I work with at public health. They are intelligent, dedicated and function as a close knit team, focusing solely on the health of this community. This pandemic has brought to the forefront the important role of public health; however, public health has been under-resourced by the state and federal governments for quite a while. I would encourage the community go out of their way to thank their public health workers and for Nevada County to actively support public health in every way
Kellermann: What is the Board of Supervisors’ role in supporting the Health Department?
Miller: The Vision, Mission and Value statement for our Public Health Department is to “prevent disease, promote and support optimal health and wellness, and protect the community against disasters.” If you put aside the pandemic and the huge burden placed on the Public Health department, we have always been confident that Public Health has delivered on their objectives to protect the health and safety of our County.
Our Public Health department has always been able to make decisions based on accurate information and put into effect protocols and practices that have always been successful.
The pandemic, however, has not removed the responsibilities that Public Health operates under, but the authority to make decisions to address the COVID-19 threat have been stripped away. Decisions that I believe can be made at the local level.
So, Public Health finds themselves in a difficult position because they are an extension of the state Health Department that dictates and gives direction to county public health officials, even when the direction changes continually and without much warning. ven under these conditions, our Public Health Department operates with transparency and professionalism and the supervisors should continue to support and encourage their efforts.
Miller: Why would you take on this responsibility in the middle of a pandemic?
Kellermann: Nevada County has been so generous to the work that I have been involved in Africa, and as my subspecialty is public health. How could I possibly say “no” to a request to assist this county in the midst of a pandemic?
Kellermann: During your term as chair of the Board of Supervisors, what do you hope to accomplish?
Miller: I would like to see us make a significant impact on our board priorities. More housing for working families, increased broadband countywide, more vegetation management to mitigate the fire danger, and a better partnership with local jurisdictions.
Of course, the big issue is the COVID-19 problem that has taken control of the way we live our lives and conduct our routine daily activities. We don’t have all the answers, and we will continue to see homelessness as we look for a solution. These board priorities are really community priorities, and we are looking for practical strategies that can be turned into solutions.
Miller: What knowledge of disease do you have from your work in Africa that can benefit our county?
Kellermann: In 2001, when my wife Carol and I arrived in Uganda to work with the Batwa pygmies, there was no health care delivery or educational system. Over the past 15 years, Nevada County residents have given of their time, treasure and talents to help create a 175-bed hospital and a 400-student nursing school and have assisted in extricating the Batwa out of their cycle of poverty.
Nevada County residents are incredibly dedicated and resourceful. Not long ago, I was in Uganda when Ebola was raging in nearby Congo. A gene-based vaccine, from a similar scientific approach as the newly approved Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, was developed and distributed. Despite being in a war-torn, roadless region of the globe, recently, the Ebola epidemic was declared ended. Cannot we residents use our resourcefulness and dedication to achieve the same success with COVID-19?
Kellermann: If you had access to a genie in a bottle, what would be your wish to improve this county?
Miller: I would love to have access to a genie, but we don’t live in a fairy tale. Removing fear and replacing it with trust or removing divisiveness and replacing it with understanding or cooperation would be great starts. Unfortunately, that is a very elusive solution because we are all individuals given to our own set of values and principles that guide our choices and personalities.
It would be nice if local government had more discretionary money to improve local infrastructure and attract more outside investment into our economy.
Now, I understand that I’ll receive pushback on what I’m going to say, but we can’t agree on everything. The political climate at the national and state level has created a huge division in our community.
The national election is over, and our county needs to look forward to the future and not let history dictate our progress. Stop the insults and nastiness and instead look for common ground to solve our problems and make our community prosperous.
I know you have the right to free speech. However, there are times that we put the good of the community first. Get rid of the anger that has taken control of our hearts and remember that “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Miller: Looking at the science we are told to follow, is there new science we should be exploring?
Kellermann: Great question, Dan! I am aware that you are staying current regarding the science of COVID-19. This is a wily virus. Much is still unknown. Researchers around the world are working at record speed to find the best ways to treat and prevent COVID-19, and investigating the possibility of re-purposing existing drugs to searching for novel therapies against the virus.
Current approaches to COVID-19 therapies fall into two categories: antivirals, which prevent the virus from multiplying; and immune modulators, which help the immune system to fight the virus or stop it from overreacting dangerously. There are thousands of clinical trials of COVID-19 therapies taking place across the world.
At Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital, infusions of antivirals and monoclonal antibodies have demonstrated great effectiveness in preventing the progression of COVID-19.
In small trials, traditional anti-depressants have shown efficacy, as well as ivermectin, a medicine that I am very familiar with in Uganda, as it is the treatment for river blindness. Keep an open mind, be patient and stay tuned. It’s a constantly changing landscape.
Kellermann: How can we pull together to vaccinate this county and open up businesses?
Miller: When we consider ways to vaccinate county residents and open up businesses, the question arises, “Do we have to have everyone vaccinated before we open up completely?”
Realistically, not everyone in the county wants to receive the vaccination. Our county has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the state, and the COVID-19 vaccine scares many of our residents. However, the availability to receive the vaccine is continuing to increase, and if you have the opportunity to receive the vaccine, I would encourage you to do so.
As far as opening up our businesses, decisions to open should be made on information available and that can be substantiated. Locally, I wish we had more data to address that concern. I believe we should be consulted by the state and have more information to help our businesses — including restaurants, gyms and others — to be allowed to operate.
We have been given the responsibility by the state to enforce the COVID-19 restrictions, but our authority to make local decisions is limited. County and city staff make practical and informed decisions while still protecting the community every day.
I can only speak as one board member, but I wish these decisions could be made with the flexibility to allow local elected and public health officials to customize our response to the unique needs of the rural communities we have in Nevada County.
We don’t want to elevate the fear many residents have about the COVID problem. I trust our local public health officials, but at the same time we need to get people back to work. This is a huge task, and everyone should be involved when making decisions.
Miller: What do you consider the best course of action for our county to fight the virus?
Kellermann: The usual prescriptions: wearing of masks, physical distancing, hand washing, avoiding large gatherings and the silver bullet — the COVID vaccine! The case counts are currently trending in a very positive direction. Let’s keep it up. By mid-summer, you and I will be celebrating with the bubbly — it’s on me, Dan!
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