Jenny Rae Le Roux is vaccinated, but if she’s elected governor of California, she’ll make sure you don’t have to be.
“I’m in a weird middle place,” Le Roux said, explaining that her personal decision to vaccinate and wear masks isn’t something she feels should be mandated for others.
As COVID rates surge across Shasta County, Le Roux attended a “Medical Freedom Rally” Thursday night as part of her campaign to replace Newsom as governor. She’s one of forty-six candidates on the ballot for the September 14 recall election.
Le Roux conversed with some of the approximately 150 unmasked attendees of the event, who braved unsafe air quality conditions from wildfire smoke to tell the community they oppose vaccine mandates for healthcare workers, teachers, and others. They rallied in front of Shasta Regional Medical Center.
Shasta Scout interviewed Le Roux, a business owner, author and strategic advisor, prior to the rally. Even though she’s vaccinated, Le Roux does not support a vaccine mandate, which she says would provide only a “small gain” for public health and could cause an exodus of California’s teachers, public safety officers, medical staff, and state employees.
“We’re talking about people who are really important to our state,” Le Roux says, “and we’re not valuing them and their choices. The loss of those people out of our state will result in really big shortages for our community.”
She said she was attending the “Medical Freedom Rally” to listen to a variety of perspectives as she decides how she will lead California.
In making decisions about COVID, Le Roux says she weighs a mandate to retain personal liberty alongside the requirement to manage public health by constantly reassessing data and the ongoing science related to COVID.
“I have two guiding lights for everything I think about,” Le Roux explained, “One is data and the other is freedom. Sometimes if we only look at one or the other it doesn’t tell the full story.”
Many oppose mask and vaccine mandates on the grounds of personal liberty, reflecting a longstanding tension in America between freedom and public health and safety. The full story of resistance to COVID restrictions includes suspicions related to how quickly COVID has emerged, and how the science and data around the disease continue to change as new information emerges. It also includes the complex web of conspiracy theories that has accompanied the emergence of the disease and which often informs opposition to vaccines and masks.
Le Roux is outspoken about what she feels California Governor Gavin Newsom has done wrong when it comes to COVID (many things), but she’s also quick to admit what’s working (prioritizing vaccines for the vulnerable and COVID treatment plans). And she’s open about her plans to confront the pandemic, should she be elected.
She says her top priority is preventing loss of life. To do so, she plans to manage ICU capacity while prioritizing healthcare to the most vulnerable. And because her second priority is protecting personal freedoms, Le Roux says she’ll manage ICU capacity without lockdowns for businesses or schools, vaccine mandates, or mask mandates for kids in K-12 education.
Mask and vaccine mandates are based on evidence that masks help prevent COVID transmission and vaccines lessen both transmission and severe disease. Without them, California will experience higher number of hospitalizations and more patients in ICUs. Even with careful management of ICU resources, it’s likely this approach would increase overall loss of life because more patients would reach a critical stage of COVID, where survivability for the disease decreases.
But Le Roux says her plan, which includes changes to the state’s COVID detection system and reductions in vaccine hesitancy, is workable. She says increasing testing availability and expediting test results will help reduce transmission of COVID in educational and medical facilities, regardless of vaccination status. “We can adopt a more consumer-friendly, customer-focused approach to testing,” Le Roux says. She says she intends to address vaccine hesitancy by increasing the availability and convenience of vaccines, and building trust with the government, among other strategies.
Asked about whether not mandating vaccines for healthcare workers might impact the personal freedoms of patients, Le Roux says the risk/benefit analysis indicates hospitals will still be safe for patients without vaccine mandates because most healthcare workers vaccinate and mask.
“We see that the percentages (of infection) are low for those not vaccinating in healthcare,” Le Roux says, “(Healthcare workers) are masking, and we are seeing infection rates of people with vaccines and without vaccines can be similar, even though their personal outcomes are different.”
But in Shasta County, the rates of infection between vaccinated and unvaccinated people have been starkly different. Kerri Schuette, with Shasta County Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) says between May 3 and August 3, 2021, more than 90 percent of COVID infections involved the unvaccinated. That number, she says, closely matches state and federal data and serves as an indicator that the COVID vaccine is significantly preventative in transmission of the disease.
Schuette also offered data contradicting Le Roux’s claims that most healthcare workers are choosing to vaccinate. In Shasta County, Schuette said, a full 43 percent of hospital healthcare workers remain unvaccinated as of August 17. (That number does not include Mercy Medical Center data, which was not provided to HHSA, she said.)
Le Roux offers an “Action Plan to Stop School Mask Mandates” on her site. The plan encourages parents to ask for a school survey to elicit parental views on masking. If parent survey responses support dropping mask mandates, Le Roux advocates for parents to form a petition, attend board meetings, contact the media, plan protests, and even threaten to withdraw their kids from school if masks continue to be mandated.
Masking in schools has become a battleground issue in states like Texas and Florida, where Governors have banned mask mandates in educational settings and where many school officials are concerned that the highly contagious Delta variant makes the likelihood of transmission in schools more likely. That’s led local school districts to enact their own mask mandates in an effort to protect the constitutional rights of their students to a safe and secure public education. The Centers for Disease Control has recommended that all children wear masks in schools.
Le Roux says as the parent of a five-year-old she’s certainly concerned about the adverse impacts of COVID on kids. But she believes the data so far doesn’t indicate that schools are a big risk area in terms of transmission or infection. “We’re not managing this (pandemic) towards perfect health outcomes,” Le Roux said, explaining that there’s risk to any activity involving social contact, and that risk must be constantly weighed against new data and science.
“It’s not wise to tell people it is or isn’t safe to go to school,” Le Roux says. “We can say it’s more or less beneficial. There’s never going to be a zero-percent chance of transmission. We have to focus on not overwhelming our hospitals.”
Schuette with HHSA said Shasta County data supports Le Roux’s statements that school’s last year were low-transmission settings. But, she cautioned, thata data is drawn from last year, when students were not only masked but also socially distanced, and prior to the emergence of the highly contagious Delta variant.
This year, Schuette said, masks are the only preventative measure being used to prevent COVID transmission in California schools, and there’s no data yet about how well masking alone is working to prevent COVID transmission in schools. She said the HHSA schools team, which includes an epidemiologist, will be tracking that data.
HHSA reported this week that some schools in Shasta County are already overwhelmed with case investigations and staff absences due to illness or quarantine. Judy Flores, superintendent of the Shasta County Office of Education, said lack of adequate substitutes for all school positions — including cafeteria workers, bus drivers, and teachers — may create difficulties in keeping Shasta County schools open. Parents are being asked to keep sick children home, have them tested, and notify schools when children test positive for COVID-19. For now, Schuette emphasized, compliance with mask mandates in schools is critically important.
When it comes to local issues, Le Roux says she supports Shasta County’s decision last year to follow Newsom’s COVID restrictions, including lockdowns. “I would always encourage that (the county) follow the governor’s mandates,” Le Roux said.
She takes no position on local efforts to recall three members of the Shasta County Board of Supervisors over their decision to uphold those COVID restrictions. “Just as I would if I were governor,” Le Roux says, “I support their ability to recall. And I’m not active in that effort locally.”
Le Roux attends Bethel Church, a local megachurch which espouses the Seven Mountains Mandate — a theology that calls Christians to infiltrate the “seven mountains” of society, including government, in order to “bring heaven to earth”. Le Roux, who says she attends Bethel, flatly rejected the Seven Mountains Mandate as motivation for her political candidacy.
“I’m not acting on that. I’m not driven by a mandate or anything like that,” Le Roux says. “My focus is on serving the people of California and on bridging the divides in the state.”
She says she has no interest in using her faith to limit or impact other people’s religious freedoms, and that her personal beliefs impact her political leadership only in that they have made her a person who is driven not by fear but by science, data, and information.
“I don’t want people to make COVID decisions out of fear,” Le Roux said. “I made the personal decision to get vaccinated because it was the right risk-adjusted position. I think that mandates can drive fear while education is the key to reducing fear and reducing division … I want to reduce polarization.”
Disclosure: Annelise Pierce is a former member of Bethel Church and a graduate of Bethel School of Supernatural Ministry.
Update: 8.29.21 – A disclosure was added to this story.
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