Ventura county hit the national headlines when controversy about the county’s plans to aggressively isolate, trace and quarantine potentially COVID-19-infected people went public. It began with a Monday, May 4, press conference in which Dr. Robert Levin, who was identified as the director of public health for the county, made the following statements:
“As we do more testing, we will find more and more people who have COVID-19,” said Levin, “and again, we will isolate every one of them and we will find every one of their contacts, and we will make sure that they stay quarantined, and we will check in with them every day.”
He continued, “There are going to be thousands of people hired who will be these contact investigators throughout the state,” he continued. “We also realize that as we find more contacts, some of the people we find are going to have trouble being isolated. For instance, if they live in a home where there’s only one bathroom, and there are three or four other people living there, and those people don’t have COVID infection, we’re not going to be able to keep the person in that home. Every person who we’re isolating, for instance, needs to have their own bathroom. So we’ll be moving people like this into other kinds of housing that we have available.”
That was enough to start a firestorm among thousands of county residents who filled the comments section of the County of Ventura official Facebook page with questions, demands for clarity, and opposition to what they perceived as an unconstitutional infringement on the privacy and civil liberties of county residents. Social media users responded on the County of Ventura official Facebook page with comments such as, “If you try and take me or one of my kids out of my home you will quickly learn what ‘mama bear’ means. It will absolutely not happen.?” and, “Does anyone realize how ridiculous this thinking is regarding separating infected individuals from others IN THEIR HOME where there is only one bathroom? If this is contact tracing then it makes sense that everyone in the household is a contact!! This most definitely needs to be challenged and stopped.”
On Wednesday, May 6, Levin spoke at another press conference, apologizing for creating misunderstanding with his comments, then made new controversial comments: “We’ve looked at having thermometers on many, many people so if we start to see a little pocket where fevers are developing, we are alerted in advance. We are looking at ways of cell phones and perhaps tracking and — there are people who are into Constitutional rights, so this could hit blockades — but looking at where people have been in terms of contacts when we find a case.”
The comments section on the live-stream came alive with people saying, “I hope we’re all into Constitutional rights!” The issue was boiling over locally. Requests from the public called for Levin to publicly speak in favor of upholding basic civil liberties. Social media users responded on the County of Ventura official Facebook page with comments such as, “did he just say “there are some people that are into constitutional rights?”…..DUH!” and, “Turns out there are people who are into constitutional rights” and “These are your elected officials: contact tracing means they monitor everywhere you go….yeah I’d say that is against your constitutional rights.”
Levin also issued a statement which read in part: ““What I would like to say to those people who interpreted what I said as forcibly pulling people from their homes if they become COVID positive is that if I conveyed that, it was a mistake on my part and I apologize for that. I am sensitive to that as well. We have no intention of taking people from the environments they feel safe and comfortable in. To demonstrate our past actions, because they speak louder than words, we have managed over 600 people in our county with COVID-19 and we have not forcibly removed anyone from their home or wherever they wanted to be.”
By Thursday, the issue had gone national and was the subject of a feature on Fox News’ popular Tucker Carlson Tonight program, as well as many news websites.
After Levin became a national figure for what many considered government overreach in the name of public safety, he said this at the May 13 press briefing: “Because you can go all the way down to having no symptoms at all with COVID, we’re looking for people who were not typically being tested before. We’re changing the criteria. … The more we see [aiming for 1,300 per day], the more patients we can put in isolation; we can put in quarantine. We’ve expanded our force of people to more nurses — or we’re in the process of expanding — and more contact tracers. We realize that not only the people who have the disease but their contacts are potential sources of infection.”
That prompted responses like the following from a social media user on the County of Ventura official Facebook page: “So we are SICK until proven HEALTHY?? Get out of here with this more testing [baloney]. All you want is more false positives to continue your draconian quarantine and isolation measures.” Ventura County’s health plans continue to draw public attention from local residents.