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'Toughest Decision I've Made in My Time Here,' Says Mayor
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By Bill McEwen, News Director
Published 4 years ago on
March 19, 2020

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Fresno Mayor Lee Brand says knew there would be pushback on his decision to impose a shelter-in-place emergency order — even one calling for voluntary compliance.

Portrait of GV Wire News Director Bill McEwen
Bill McEwen
Opinion
He was being inundated with phone calls from worried business owners.
And he knew Fresno County and Clovis leaders likely would further evaluate the situation before deciding whether to follow suit.
But the nationwide shortage of COVID-19 test kits and the rapid spread of the killer virus convinced Brand to act sooner rather than later.
“This really weighed heavily on me,” Brand said in an interview Wednesday afternoon after the shelter-in-place announcement. “But there is such a lack of testing that we have a silent killer out there with people not knowing they have the disease. The potential for deaths is mind-boggling.
“This is the toughest decision I’ve made in my time here.”
For the record, Brand is in his 12th year at the City — eight on the council and four in the mayor’s chair.
Brand frequently is criticized for not being decisive. Wednesday, he came out strong. And, he made the right call.
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Brand frequently is criticized for not being decisive. Wednesday, he came out strong. And, he made the right call.
The best thing we, as Americans, can do right now is limit our physical contacts, practice social distancing, and help contain COVID-19.
By doing that, we give the medical community time to catch up in this deadly fight.

The City Leads, but the County Doesn’t Follow

Though he had expressed hope earlier in the day that Clovis and Fresno County would also issue voluntary shelter-in-place orders, it didn’t happen.
Paul Nerland, director of human resources for Fresno County, sent an email to employees after the city’s announcement stating:
“This order was not issued in coordination with the County Department of Public Health and does not impact the County of Fresno or County employees. Department Heads are coordinating and defining essential and non-essential services to be ready for “shelter-in-place” in the near future. However, please coordinate with your department and note that the County and County employees are not impacted by this order in any way. This has also been confirmed by County Counsel.”

Neither Does Clovis, but Brand Isn’t Backing Down

Clovis also said it wasn’t giving a shelter-in-place order and, instead, would follow the county’s COVID-19 recommendations.

This order was not issued in coordination with the County Department of Public Health and does not impact the County of Fresno or County employees. Department Heads are coordinating and defining essential and non-essential services to be ready for “shelter-in-place” in the near future.” — Paul Nerland, director of human resources, Fresno County
And, Fresno City Councilman Garry Bredefeld made several valid points in speaking out against the order Wednesday. Bredefeld said that there wasn’t enough available data to warrant the order.
“We don’t shut down the entire country over (flu deaths). I understand this is different,” Bredefeld said. “This is serious. It’s a pandemic. We need to take it very serious. But it’s important not to live your life in fear.”
But, the mayor said, he isn’t second-guessing his order.
“In a perfect world, I wish it would have come out (coordinated), but it could result in an extra 10, 20, or 30 deaths if you wait a couple of days,” Brand said. “I don’t disagree with Garry, but he doesn’t have the answer either.”

Help Is On the Way

The businessman side of Brand acknowledges that the order — in effect from 12:01 a.m. Thursday until 11:59 p.m. Tuesday, March 31 — creates great hardships for many entrepreneurs and their employees. But he is counting on President Trump’s economic stimulus package and anticipated state funding to help businesses and laid-off employees to weather the storm.
On Wednesday, the Treasury Department proposed two $250 billion cash infusions to individuals: a set of checks issued starting April 6 and a second wave in mid-May. The size of the checks would depend on income and family size.
And, the Small Business Administration is offering low-interest loans for small business owners during the pandemic. The SBA said the interest rate is 3.75 percent for small businesses. The interest rate for private non-profit organizations is 2.75 percent.

Brand: Tough Times Bring Out Best in People

“Based on my talks with the other big-city mayors, we can expect at least 80% compliance. We’ve already seen so many people coming forward to volunteer to help people get groceries, get their medicines and get to the doctor.” — Mayor Lee Brand
“I understand the impacts. I’ve gotten many phone calls from people who are upset,” Brand said. “But I’ve also heard from business leaders who said you have to do the right thing. And, there are many state and federal programs to keep people going.”
Brand says he’s confident the city will emerge from this challenge on solid ground — and having saved lives that might be lost without the order to voluntarily self-isolate.
“Based on my talks with the other big-city mayors, we can expect at least 80% compliance,” Brand said. “We’ve already seen so many people coming forward to volunteer to help people get groceries, get their medicines and get to the doctor.
“In tough situations, the best (in people) comes out.”

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Bill McEwen,
News Director
Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email

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