CALIFORNIA—On Thursday, August 6, San Mateo County Health Officer Scott Morrow released a statement expressing his lack of support for California’s COVID-19 regulations.

Morrow has held his position in the County’s health department since 1992. He has a MD and MPH degree from the Loma Linda University School of Medicine and a MBA degree from the University of California, Riverside. Morrow also works as a physician at the Innovative Care Clinic at the San Mateo Medical Center.

“I wish to apologize to all the businesses that were closed this week,” he said in the statement. “I am not supportive of these actions and, for San Mateo County, I believe they are misdirected and will cause more harm than good.”

The industry sectors which were closed (as a result of being on California’s COVID-19 watchlist) are:

  • Gyms and Fitness Centers
  • Places of Worship
  • Offices for Non-Critical Infrastructure Sectors
  • Hair Salons and Barbershops
  • Malls
  • Personal Care Services

Morrow compared the closing of businesses to “looking for your lost keys under a streetlight even though you lost them miles away,” and noted that “we have to minimize spread while not destroying everything else in the process.”

San Mateo County has been on the state’s COVID-19 watchlist — officially called the “County Data Monitoring” list — since July 29. According to the California Department of Public Health, the County “is experiencing an elevated case rate that exceeds the State threshold.”

Additionally, “the County sees roots of community transmission related to social gatherings without sufficient physical distancing and wearing of facial coverings, as well as higher exposure for residents performing work that involves person-to-person contact and crowded housing conditions that make home isolation difficult.”

As of August 6, San Mateo County has reported a total of 5,978 COVID-19 cases and 120 related deaths. Morrow claimed that “our numbers indicate we are in a relatively stable state in regards to the spread of the virus,” “our hospitalizations are stable and/or decreasing,” and “our deaths have been low.”

Source: San Mateo County Health

He also explained that officials have an idea as to what is causing the spread of COVID-19, “and it’s not primarily from barber shops, nail salons, or the other businesses that were targeted in this most recent closure.” Morrow added that “there is no evidence that I have, and no evidence the State has provided to me, that leads me to believe the spread is higher in these businesses than those businesses/operations that are allowed to operate.”

Morrow then proceeded to list an array of problems that he had found with the state’s “fundamentally flawed” framework for placing counties on the COVID-19 watchlist. These include “huge data quality and data consistency issues” and “benchmarks and time frames that may work on a state level, [but] may not work on a local level.”

San Mateo County previously filed a COVID-19 County Variance Attestation Form, which was approved on June 16. Approved counties are allowed to accelerate reopening procedures.

“To get out of this situation depends on all of us,” Morrow said. “Our collective best course of action: No gatherings outside of immediate households, use facial coverings extensively, and social distancing.”