Ed Moreno cropped

Monterey County Public Health Officer Dr. Ed Moreno announced on March 17, 2020, the first two confirmed cases of COVID-19 and a shelter in place order in the county due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It was March 17, 2020, and Monterey County Health Officer Edward Moreno stood behind a podium at a press conference to issue his historic order: All residents were to shelter-in-place beginning at midnight that night. The move was necessary to prevent the spread of Covid-19, the infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The unprecedented situation left municipalities like Monterey County scrambling to respond.

Two years later, the Monterey County Civil Grand Jury found fault with the county’s scrambling in the first 30-60 days of the pandemic. That’s according to a grand jury report issued on May 9. The volunteer jurors stated county officials either didn’t follow established emergency response plans in messages to the public or lacked the staff or guidelines to do so. “Consequently, the Covid-19 public messaging was not coordinated nor consistent across the county government,” according to the report.

The jury found the county still lacks a pandemic response plan that focuses on addressing public health needs and that an existing pandemic influenza plan does not state how the Health Department will continue to provide services during a crisis. Jurors also found there were not enough translators to deliver messages to non-English speaking residents, and there was no American Sign Language interpretation.

In other findings, the grand jury reported the Health Department did not acknowledge a lead role as incident commander within the county’s emergency operations center, and that Moreno “did not appear to use the full authority of his office to command and direct the county response” to Covid-19.

While Monterey County Administrative Officer Charles McKee said in a statement that the county appreciates the jury reviewing its messaging, he pointed out the nature of the situation. “This was an extraordinary and unprecedented crisis, the magnitude of which surpassed any health, natural disaster or other crisis in the last hundred years,” he said.

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