The CEO of the largest not-for-profit health care provider in Shasta County is disappointed with a social media post from a Bethel Church leader that disparages the importance of wearing masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
During Wednesday’s Shasta County public health news conference, officials were asked to comment on an Instagram video from a Bethel Church leader circulating on social media.
Among other things, Beni Johnson, who with her husband Bill Johnson is a senior leader at Bethel, says in the video, “If you’ll do the scientific research, these masks are worthless and they’re people’s security blankets.”
“I just want to add that from the medical provider standpoint, this whole pandemic has been extremely stressful on (health workers) and it’s disconcerting to see leadership in any role disavowing the basic public health tenets of distancing and masking,” said Shasta Community Health Center CEO Dean Germano. “So, to the extent that Bethel leadership needs to step up, I think it matters because it matters to the people who are taking care of sick people.”
Germano said he is pleased that Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry is taking the necessary steps to stem the outbreak among its students and staff — there have been 274 cases at the school since early September — but he hopes the entire Bethel community is taking the virus seriously.
“Basic things that shouldn’t be so oppressive, we’ve politicized and it’s infuriating for those of us working in the health care side of things where we’re close to this and we’re dealing with the repercussions of people failing to do those things,” said Germano, whose clinics see about 40,000 patients annually.
Referring to the video, Bethel spokesman Aaron Tesauro said the church is aware that it can be confusing for the public to see and hear different perspectives from “all levels of leadership and staff.”
“We believe in a diversity of opinion and thought, and choose to come together as a leadership team, lay our personal perspectives aside, and make decisions that are best for our church, schools, and the local Redding community,” Tesauro said in an email.
Collective statements and actions reflect decisions made by Bethel’s leadership team “on how we navigate and lead our large organization,” Tesauro said and referred to bethel.com/coronavirus for more information.
On her Facebook page Tuesday, Johnson said the church values freedom of expression by members and directed people to Bethel’s coronavirus website for more information.
County Health Officer Dr. Karen Ramstrom on Wednesday said medical evidence shows that wearing masks and social distancing helps stop the spread of the virus. She urged people to ignore the misinformation on social media.
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Shasta County for two straight weeks has had the highest rate of new COVID-19 cases of any county in California, state data shows. The county went into the more restrictive red tier last week and likely is headed for the most-restrictive purple tier next week.
“Wearing that face covering is going to allow us to get out of the purple, get back to the red and hopefully the orange,” Ramstrom said.
Public Health Branch Director Robin Schurig said, “Our data has qualified us for the purple tier for a couple of weeks now, but we are required to be in one tier for at least two weeks before they’ll move us to a more restrictive tier. So, yeah, the writing has been on the wall for a couple of weeks now. I think that we’re headed to purple.”
Local health officials said even without the coronavirus cases linked to the Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry, Shasta County would still be in the red tier and headed to the more restrictive purple level.
Schurig said the concern is the number of cases at the School of Supernatural Ministry and not the church.
School of Supernatural Ministry Director Kris Vallotton said last week they are working with public health to contain the outbreak. The health of their students and staff is important, he said, adding that school officials have told students and staff about the importance of protecting “our local community in Shasta County by wearing masks, social distancing and staying home.”
Schurig said the public health department is encouraged that Bethel’s school leadership is taking the outbreak seriously and telling students and staff the importance of wearing masks and social distancing.
The school, with an enrollment of 1,600 students, pivoted to distance learning on Oct. 2 and has not said when it would resume in-person instruction. Classes for first-year School of Supernatural Ministry students were held at the Redding Civic Auditorium before the outbreak forced the classes to go online.
David Benda covers business, development and anything else that comes up for the USA TODAY Network in Redding. He also writes the weekly “Buzz on the Street” column. He’s part of a team of dedicated reporters that investigate wrongdoing, cover breaking news and tell other stories about your community. Reach him on Twitter @DavidBenda_RS or by phone at 1-530-225-8219. To support and sustain this work, please subscribe today.
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