San Bernardino County offices reopen, but health workers get more time to recover
San Bernardino County government offices reopened for the first time Monday with heightened security and a pledge by officials to “embrace the ordinary again” after a mass shooting last week that killed 14 people.
But employees of the Division of Environmental Health Services, whose members were gathered for a training session and holiday celebration when the shooting occurred, were scheduled to remain off the job for at least another week as the county made plans to tend to their mental health.
More than 70 workers in the 100-person division of the Department of Public Health had attended Wednesday’s events. Of the 14 people killed, 12 were county employees. Many of the 21 who survived with injuries were also from the division.
“To honor them, to express our gratitude for their unimaginable sacrifice, we have to fight to maintain that ordinary,” San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford said of the victims Monday. “We can’t be afraid of our lives, of our community, of our neighbors, of our co-workers.”
County officials were drafting workers from neighboring counties and local universities to help cover the division’s workload of nearly 60,000 annual safety and quality inspections of restaurants, food trucks, swimming pools, mosquito hot spots and other sites in a county that is larger than nine states.
“These are the folks that are making sure that, when you’re in a restaurant, the food is the right temperature and doesn’t have diseases in it that are going to make you sick,” Rutherford said.
Corwin Porter, who led the division until he was promoted two months ago, said the workers labored “behind the scenes, defending us from disease and injury, and they were very rarely recognized for their effort.”
For now, not even the top managers have a firm date to return to work.
“One challenge is that the division chief, who is only a few weeks into the job; the immediate past division chief, who was promoted to deputy public health director; and the public health director were all in the room where the shooting took place,” said David Wert, a spokesman for the county executive. “They weren’t physically injured, but the county is trying to ask as little of them as possible at the moment.”
Trudy Raymundo, the director of the Department of Public Health, spoke with her voice wavering at a Monday morning news conference, describing her office as one with close personal bonds.
“They have always supported each other. They are beyond co-workers,” she said. “They are friends and they are family. They are tight and we are holding on to each other right now.”
A county hotline has been established for workers in need of counseling, and in-person sessions were conducted across the county.
Rutherford said she attended one counseling session in a conference room Monday with about a dozen workers. Handouts were provided for survivors of terrorist attacks, as well as guidance on self-care techniques after a traumatic event.
“They’re just trying to process their emotions and get a grasp on the new reality of their workplace,” Rutherford said.
Salihin Kondoker said his wife, Anies, became best friends with fellow division employee Tin Nguyen when they shared their experiences as immigrants from Asia. Nguyen was killed in the shooting, and Kondoker said his wife wants to take as much time off as possible to process the loss and prepare to confront a workplace with gaping voids.
And in smaller ways, restaurant operators noticed the absences as well.
Sean Konkel, assistant manager of the Islamorada Fish Company Restaurant in Rancho Cucamonga, was one of the last to be inspected by Nicholas Thalasinos.
A picture of Thalasinos popped up on Konkel’s Facebook feed Thursday. At first, he couldn’t place the face but then asked his fellow managers.
“It clicked. It was surreal. This was the health inspector sent to our restaurant just a week ago,” Konkel said. “I did the walk-through with him. It’s just one of those things that just sends a little chill. It’s a shock.”
Thalasinos inspected the restaurant at least once a year, he said. The inspector sometimes ate lunch at the restaurant after the inspection and joked with the managers.
“We knew if he was coming it would be more enjoyable,” Konkel said.
On the day before she died, Yvette Velasco visited Genesis 2000 Bakery to conduct the restaurant’s annual inspection.
The tiny storefront bakery is filled with trays of Mexican sweet breads, pastries and heart-shaped sugar cookies decorated in bright pinks and purples.
Teresita Reyes de Gonzalez, who has run the bakery for 15 years with her husband, Teodosio, said last week was the first time Velasco had come to the bakery to do an inspection. She patted the counter where Velasco had set up her laptop to take notes on the inspection.
Her husband said Velasco docked points for a few violations, such as using plastic bags to store dough, and not properly labeling bins of flour and sugar.Still, the bakery earned an A rating.
“She was efficient, friendly and very respectful. Very respectful,” Gonzalez said. “What a shame.”
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