Opinion: Tall Tree award to Dr. Cody sends the wrong message — let’s find out if the county handled the Covid crisis appropriately

Dr. Sara Cody, Santa Clara County health officer, speaks at a news conference on Jan. 31. AP photo.


Daily Post Editor

Every year, the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce has a gala event to honor the recipients of the Tall Tree awards. The recipients are people whose accomplishments are well known across the community.

I was surprised to hear that this year, one of the winners will be Dr. Sara Cody, the controversial Santa Clara County Health Director.

Controversial is the right word for Dr. Cody, though it may not be kind.

Some people see her as a hero who saved lives with her shutdown orders, fines and other restrictions.

Others are angered at how the county appeared to go overboard in dealing with Covid, and they focus their anger at Dr. Cody. The restrictions, they say, led to hundreds of businesses permanently closing, job losses, an increase in suicides and drug abuse, postponed medical treatments, and learning loss at school.

To lay all of that at Dr. Cody’s feet is going too far, in my opinion. Counties all over the country imposed lockdowns and other restrictions. Dr. Cody has taken the heat because she was the figurehead of the county’s efforts to combat a virus whose effects were largely unknown.

While the venom directed at her is misplaced, it’s also too early to declare “Mission Accomplished” and start handing out trophies. Especially while the county continues to operate under a state of emergency.

An independent review

The county government needs to take a look back to see how well it handled this crisis and what could be done differently in the future.

The Board of Supervisors should hire an outside investigator — a firm with no ties to the county government — to see if Dr. Cody made the right decisions when she imposed lockdown orders and restrictions that were more heavy handed than other counties.

Businesses in Santa Clara County were 13 times more likely to get slapped with a fine than those in any other Bay Area county, and the fines here were 50 times more than the next highest county, San Mateo, according to the Mercury News.

But despite these restrictions, Santa Clara County still had the highest per capita Covid-related death toll of any county in the Bay Area, the Post reported in November.

Another problem is that California law puts the decision of locking down a community in the hands of a county health officer, who isn’t elected, and not the elected board of supervisors or a group of experts. It’s not fair to expect that a doctor, who has spent her adult life training and practicing medicine, would be an economist or an expert on the public schools.

Different process needed

The decisions on lockdowns and other restrictions should have been made in public, in a room full of experts in every field that would be affected by the new rules. Everybody should have had their say.

Instead, with limited input, it appears we made decisions that were too restrictive and didn’t result in a lower death toll.

Government, and its supporters, are often too quick to congratulate themselves for poor performance. In 1998, a flood devastated Palo Alto, East Palo Alto and Menlo Park. Thousands of homes were severely damaged. Water in parts of town was waist-high. At the Palo Alto City Council meeting after the flood, the council and various city employees spent the first hour congratulating one another.

The council chambers were packed with residents who were seething at the city’s poor response, and their anger boiled as they watched all the backslapping on the dais.

The disconnect between the people in the government and the governed was palpable that night. In the months ahead we learned that firefighters had fortified then-City Manager June Fleming’s home with sandbags, which would have led to criminal charges in other communities. I think the celebration immediately after the flood would have been muted had people known that fact.

Nobody should be getting an attaboy for how they handled the Covid crisis, at least not yet. It’s going to take years for local businesses, families and students to recover from this. And maybe the restrictions were absolutely necessary? Or maybe they went overboard? Let’s get those questions answered first before we start handing out awards.

Editor Dave Price’s column appears on Mondays. His email address is [email protected].


    • There are a lot of victims who could participate in the award celebration. How about a child whose learning loss prevented him or her from getting into a good college? That’s due to Dr Cody keeping schools closed. How about people who turned to drugs when they lost everything financially due to her shut down? [Portion removed due to Terms of Service violation, false and obscene] A lighter touch by Cody would have protected people from COVID without destroying our community. I hope the Tall Tree people mull that over.

  1. “It’s not fair to expect that a doctor, who has spent her adult life training and practicing medicine, would be an economist or an expert on the public schools”.

    So much to unpack there. First of all, she never practiced medicine but has been a public bureaucrat her entire career. That’s a red flag right there. Second, before trying something new and extraordinary like lockdowns, stay-at-home orders for the healthy, mask mandates, etc., which can have disastrous consequences, at the very least you talk to experts in other areas, get public input and show us the studies you relied on for lockdowns and data afterwards. Cody did none of that. We actually had data from E. Asia and the Grand Princess cruise ship before March 16, roughly 0.2 death rate or bad flu season.

    The more serious the problem, the less need for government. Private individuals and organizations have property rights, knowledge and incentives to make any adjustments in behavior and business practices…as they were doing before March 16, 2020. The government-imposed lockdowns were the worst social panic in history.

    • Alvin, heading up the public health service is certainly “practicing medicine.” What do you think a health officer does? Repair cars? Fix roofs? Sell computers? You really don’t know what you’re talking about Alvin, do you?

      • Since you have no response to the main point of my post, namely that lockdowns, forced quarantines, stay-at-home orders, masks, vaccines were ineffective and led to destruction of lives, you instead chose to focus on the minor point. Is that to avoid the uncomfortable truth that you bought into the greatest lies of our generation and cannot admit you were wrong? Can you even point to one life saved from her lockdown policies, leaving aside the thousands or millions that were destroyed from business shutdowns, school closures, missed medical diagnoses and treatments for cancer, diabetes and other non-Covid diseases, the spike in suicides and drug overdoses, depression, isolation of the elderly from their children and friends, children not seeing smiles, reading facial expressions, and children with disabilities unable to read lips or speak properly due to masks covering faces, and so on?

        Be that as it may, the position of public health director does not require a M.D. or D.O., does not treat patients in a clinical setting like doctor’s office or hospital, and does not perform surgery. They practice public health, not private health or medicine with actual patients. Who are Cody’s patients? Who are her clients? Again, there is no requirement of a medical degree for her job. The Public Health Director of Los Angeles, Barbara Ferrer, has a Ph.D. in Social Work. Does she practice medicine too?

  2. Alvin, you’re going to die on this hill? You make some solid points about the harm caused by the health orders, but your argument about medical degrees is uninformed. Whether or not state law requires an M.D. to serve as health director (and you’re right, it does not), an M.D. serving in that position is regulated as a doctor under Business and Professions Code Section 2052. It doesn’t matter whether she has patients or not. It doesn’t matter if she does surgery. The California Medical Board holds her to a higher standard because she holds a medical license. It sounds like you don’t understand much about licensure, so I would encourage you to read up on the subject. Read some of the cases about it.

    • There are 58 counties in CA and many have medical directors that are MDs. They were not bound by their license to enforce foolish and harmful policies on their counties. In fact SCC is one of only two counties in California with a mandate now. Shat does Sarah know that all the others don’t. Sarah needs to go.

    • Dr. Cody seems to have forgotten what “do no harm” means. Or perhaps her instructor was wearing a mask on the day of that lesson plan, and she misunderstood the directive as “do more harm.” Dr. Cody’s decisions have certainly done more harm than good. If the City of Palo Alto wishes to add insult to injury, let them go ahead and celebrate her while the people she has injured opt out of the festivities.

  3. Of course it’s not a hill to die on, just a minor point that I took little umbrage with in Dave’s column. Since you raised it, Section 2052 applies to anyone practicing medicine and does not mention doctor. Also, you’ve now changed the argument from “practicing medicine” to being “regulated as a doctor”. If Cody works as a cashier at Safeway, she can still be regulated as a doctor for being a licensed MD, but that does not mean she is practicing medicine when she works as a cashier. Do you see the difference?

  4. Alvin, I appreciate that you’re trying to understand this, but you still don’t get it. Let me explain it in terms you might get. If a licensed doctor does a job where she holds herself out to be a doctor, she falls under the authority of the Medical Board. It doesn’t matter if the job requires a license. Your proverbial Safeway checker with an MD wouldn’t be subject to Medical Board regulation in that job unless she was providing advice or medical services to Safeway customers. Is that clear to you?

    • Not clear. “if she holds herself out as a doctor”? I’m not sure what means. If I hold myself out as an attorney, that doesn’t mean anything, but If I hold myself out as an attorney for Company X or Client Y, that’s different. Does Cody hold herself out as a doctor or physician for Santa Clara County? I don’t think so. She is public health director.

      Your Safeway qualification – providing advice or medical services to Safeway customers – is getting somewhere. If MD Safeway worker says I think Covid is a scam, masks are useless and harmful, vaccines have bad side effects, germ theory is bogus, Vitamin D is more effective than any anti-viral, 6-ft distancing is completely arbitrary – none of that is practicing medicine. On the other hand, if MD Safeway workers tells customer: you should not use blood thinners but get angioplasty instead for your blood clots – then that might be crossing the line to practice of medicine.

      Like I alluded in my previous post, is Barbara Ferrer, who is not a physician, practicing medicine in LA County? If she’s not, then neither is Dr. Cody. if Ferrer is, then she (and many others) should be prosecuted for unlawful practice of medicine. Which is it?

  5. “If a licensed doctor does a job where she holds herself out to be a doctor, she falls under the authority of the Medical Board.” You keep changing the issue. Of course, a licensed doctor falls under the authority of the medical board, regardless of how she holds herself out or what her job is. If licensed doctor commits a felony, she has obligation to report to the medical board, regardless of what her job is at the time of the incident. But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m arguing that working as public health officer for the county is not practice of medicine. That’s all. Like working as Safeway cashier is not practice of medicine. But working as Safeway physician who gives annual checkups to Safeway employees IS practice of medicine.

  6. She’s wreaked havoc on the county for years and continues to this day. She would burn Santa Clara County to the ground to stop one Covid case.

  7. Just once during the pandemic I would have appreciated it if Dr. Cody had shown the public the “science” backing her decisions. For instance, what study says it’s safer to reside at home where other people might have Covid-19 than visit a restaurant, where the chance of transmission according to New York State’s Health Department, was less than 1%. She never showed us the science. Just the other day, when she refused to lift the indoor mask mandate even though every other county in the Bay Area had, she never presented any scientific reasoning for that. The press should have pushed for that information. But the news people just caved and didn’t do their jobs.

  8. Andrew L., the woke left has bastardized the word “science.” They don’t believe in science or even know what the word means. They just use the word “science” to push critics away. If you disagree with them, then you’re not following the science. If you support a particular economic policy, then you’re anti-science. To stop the media and public from questioning them, they say they’re just “following the science.” If you ask them to define science, they’ll change the subject. If you really push, they’ll say that what’s scientifically correct is determined by a poll of scientists. That’s completely contrary to the scientific method, but they don’t know that. They know that they got away with the Climate Change claim by saying it was correct because a consensus of scientists agreed on it. They didn’t know that consensus meant “all” scientists. They meant a majority. So Dr. Cody and others in control just used the same techniques as the Climate Change bunch to push their school closings and lockdowns on the community. Funny how so few people objected to them. Of course if you try to post anything like this on some newspaper websites, it will be removed and you’ll be permanently banished. They’re not fond of free speech or the First Amendment.

  9. I’m so glad there’s a Daily Post. The other newspaper in town censors comments that don’t agree with their political biases. I know one person, Rececca Eisenberg, who has been completely blocked due to politics. I realize some things like obscenity or racial comments shouldn’t be allowed, but I prefer the viewpoint-agnostic philosophy of the Post.

    • YES!!! I am grateful we have the PA Daily Post for that very reason. They allow for free exchange of ideas and expression. I’m sure at least half my comments would be censored by that other PA paper.

  10. Kudos to this publication for pointing out the obvious…to NOT award anyone while there’s still so much unknown INCLUDING the data that Sara Cody spews at each BOS & Health & Hospitals meeting. Wait until the truth is revealed as it will be! There’s absolutely zero science and a lot of garbage to how this county is trying to control WE THE PEOPLE. I have a better idea…why not give an award to all the people who have been adversely affected by these draconian completely unconstitutional mandates: lost jobs, have passed away, been psychologically & medical damaged…oh & let’s give them all of her over 400k salary too. Now that I can applaud. The PA Chamber of Commerce is desperately out of touch with reality.

  11. There is no reason why one person should be able to have this kind of unchecked power: to close businesses, schools, public areas; force people to impede their breathing; make them take a certain medication on pain of losing their job. There was no committee, no hearings. Not even a pretense of something like an Environmental Impact Report. The worst part is not that one Sara Cody did all this single-handedly with a stroke of a pen, it’s that anyone living in the United States would think this is the way things should work.

  12. The Tall Tree Awards are given out by the Palo Alto Chamber of Commerce, which is supposed to represent businesses. How can they give an award to Dr. Cody, whose health orders destroyed so many businesses, and whose fines are 50 times higher than the next highest county in the Bay Area. Is the Chamber a business organization or a cheerleader for out-of-control government?

    • Perhaps the PA chamber of Commerce recognized that with a pandemic, customers stay home and your employees become sick.
      There is no doubt that with less Covid restrictions more people would have died.
      That businesses and workers suffered is more a sign of an insufficient social welfare net.

      • Actually, the per capita death rate was lower in all other Bay Area counties, even though they had less onerous restrictions than Cody had imposed here.

        If we had had Alameda County’s health director, or San Mateo’s or Marin’s, more of our friends and neighbors would be alive today.

        I feel powerless about this. But I’m not voting for any incumbent in future elections. And maybe I’ll make a picket sign and protest outside the JCC when Cody gets her award. Then again, this being Palo Alto, the police will probably arrest me for exercising my First Amendment rights.

  13. Dear Dr. Cody,
    Thank you personally for postponing my examination for the Darwin questions of selection…I wear a seat belt when I drive and snow chains when conditions require…the daily tally of the sick and dead makes me consider the merits of doing something. Thanks for the time to make my considerations.

  14. Remember when she said we needed to shelter in place for three weeks to flatten the curve? She never showed anyone her “science” behind that order, and the hospitals never got close to being full. But since the public never questioned that, it was one lie after another for two years. Dr Cody should get an award, she should get an indictment.

    Maybe the people who were harmed by her orders could gather at the Tall Tree awards and hold a protest? Make enough noise that the elites inside ask themselves, “what’s that sound? oh and can you pass the bobbins?”

  15. I want to thank Dr. Cody for losing my job after trying to live with two years of Covid and getting every Covid shot including flu and booster. I am now leaving California and seeking work somewhere else. As a public official she never thought enough of the economic damage she created. She should try living in the bay area on unemployment.

  16. Right now Sara Cody could instill some lost trust in our leaders if she removes all mask mandates from our children. The lack of oxygen they experience is causing less oxygen to their brain functioning each and everyday. (which in turn increases risks of learning disability.)

  17. There are 1,914,397 people in Santa Clara county. 2102 deaths. That is 0.00109799587024. Not even one percent and Sara Cody has emergency powers?!

    • And that relatively small percentage died mainly of other things. Also, how many millions of years of life lost and the hundreds of billions of foregone lifetime earnings for children – which directly correlates to quality of life and life expectancy – from school closings alone. Cody really is a psychopath.

  18. This woman is RUINING THE LIVELIHOODS OF OUR FIRST RESPONDERS WHO WERE THE ACTUAL PEOPLE RESPONDING TO EMERGENCIES THROUGHOUT THE ENTIRE PANDEMIC, WITH NO VACCINES! She is creating a public health emergency by firing these heroic people. Sara Cody needs to go to the GULAG.

  19. Only a fool thinks the public health officer is at fault, and not the virus. And 99% of the people who have posted here, criticizing Sarah Cody for saving hundreds of lives, are fools indeed!

    • Virus didn’t lockdown “nonessential” businesses. Virus didn’t close schools. Virus didn’t force millions out of work and onto unemployment. Virus didn’t force people to choose between their jobs and the vaccines. Virus didn’t cancel kids’ sports clubs and activities. Virus didn’t cancel “non-essential” medical procedures and cancer screenings. Virus didn’t force masks on children for 8-10 hours/day. Virus didn’t create population of faceless zombies. Virus didn’t cause dramatic increase in suicides, drug overdoses, and mental health problems. All courtesy of your un-elected public health officials.

    • You don’t get away with making the following comment “…Sarah Cody for saving hundreds of lives”. Explain that one with real data, peer-reviewed studies and/or comparison to other counties with similar demographics and climate but fewer restrictions? Then discuss the opportunity costs of Cody’s measures in terms of lives, livelihoods, educations, medical and mental health, and so on.

    • Don G says Cody saved hundreds of lives. Really? Santa Clara County’s per capita death rate from Covid is higher than any other Bay Area county, according to https://padailypost.com/2021/11/19/santa-clara-county-had-the-highest-per-capita-covid-death-rate-in-bay-area/

      Santa Clara County had the harshest restrictions and the worst results.

      If a competent person held Cody’s job, the county could have saved lives, limited learning loss and saved businesses.

      That’s why it’s a disgrace the Chamber of Commerce is giving her this award.

  20. Sara Cody needs to fired for the harm she’s done and continues to do in Santa Clara County. Especially to our children. My kids have suffered tremendously. You can’t mandate your way out of this and certainly can’t mask your way out. Let people take responsibility for themselves to protect themselves. Florida and Texas has been open for a long time. She doesn’t need a award she needs to be held accountable for the harm she’s caused.

    • And that’s the problem. We left the decision on the lockdown and the other measures to MDs and MPHs, and we had terrible outcomes when it came to business closures, school disruptions, suicides and drug overdoses, just to name a few. We needed experts with broader experience. The county really screwed this one up. Everyone needs to be replaced in the next election. We can start there.

    • Anonymous: a citizen doesn’t need to be an MD or hold an MPH degree to read and understand basic data which the County itself has published, nor to critique the reasoning presented to us by public officials.

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