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Politics And Science Collide: Yolo County Health Officer Speaks On Pandemic Response, Political Pressure

YOLO COUNTY (CBS13) — California's first recorded COVID-19 death, intense political pressure, and physical threats. All of those events happened just months after Dr. Aimee Sisson took the job as Placer County's Health Director.

"I don't think there is going to be a bigger public health crisis," explained Sisson. "I think what the state failed to appreciate was the amount of political pressure on local health officers."

Her health orders, seen as strict by some, were challenged and even made her a target for threats.

"Some are vague and veiled. I've received at least one that called for physical harm to me," she said.

As the county health officer in a politically conservative area, Dr. Sisson says it was when the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to rescind their emergency health order in September, claiming herd immunity was a better strategy, she decided it was time to leave.

READ MORE: Dr. Aimee Sisson, Placer County's Public Health Director, Submits Her Resignation

"Understanding where your own limitations are...where I would say that is not an acceptable compromise that would violate my integrity, and knowing that, is the time to walk away," she said.

Sisson said she has seen politics and science collide through the public and local politicians' response to the pandemic.

"We aren't all working from the same set of facts and I think that makes it very difficult to convince people of truth when they seek alternate sources of their own," Sisson said.

While other county officers have retired or quit, Sisson who's now leading Yolo County's response to the virus, says that was never an option.

"It's more of a calling than a job," she explained. "This is what I want to do. I feel like this is where I'm supposed to be."

Sisson said the biggest lesson the state has learned was that it re-opened too soon. As we approach the second wave with most counties in the restrictive purple tier, Sisson believes the state's rollbacks are essential to moving forward.

"We have a light at the end of the tunnel now and I think for the public to realize we don't have to do this forever but we do have to keep doing this now," Sisson said.

Yolo County is one of the few counties that impose fines for businesses that do not follow health orders. They have only issued around four. Sisson said that's because the area is largely following the rules. For those who don't, she says, an educational approach has been more effective.

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