Calif. Prosecutor Dies of COVID at 46: Politician Was Outspoken Vaccine Mandate Opponent

"My heart is broken and I'm in tears. I lost a dear friend to Covid complications," one colleague of Kelly Ernby's wrote on social media

Kelly Ernby
Kelly Ernby.

California prosecutor and former political candidate Kelly Ernby is being remembered both for her dedication to environmental law and her opposition to vaccine mandates after the 46-year-old died of COVID-19 complications this week.

Ben Chapman, chair of the Greater Costa Mesa Republicans, confirmed his "dear friend" Ernby's cause of death on Twitter.

"My heart is broken and I'm in tears. I lost a dear friend to Covid complications. I love you @KellyErnby," Chapman wrote. "You've been nothing but an inspiration to many of us here in Orange County."

County officials likewise mourned her. "Orange County District Attorney Office is heartbroken by the sudden and unexpected passing of Deputy District Attorney Kelly Ernby," Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer wrote in a tweet published Monday.

Ernby was a California native who lived in Huntington Beach, with The Los Angeles Times reporting she grew up in San Diego and earned her law degree at the University of San Diego School of Law.

After working in private practice, Ernby joined the Orange County prosecutor's office in 2011, taking a "significant pay cut," the Times reports, and developing a passion for environmental work.

In his remembrance, Spitzer wrote that Ernby was a member of the county's Environmental Protection team, co-authored publications on the topic of environmental law and was honored with an award for "Significant Contributions to Environmental Enforcement" in 2019.

"It was an absolute privilege to fight the good fight alongside Kelly," Spitzer continued. "Her passion and her shining light will be forever missed."

Others remembered Ernby — whom the Times reports is survived by her husband — for her commitment to conservative causes.

"She was very passionate about her love for politics, for America and the Republican Party," Orange County GOP activist Jon Fleischman told the Times.

A self-described political outsider who lost a race for California's state Assembly in the 74th District in 2020, Ernby, who was serving as a county Republican Party official, went on to speak out against vaccine mandates throughout the pandemic.

Per the Times, she once said vaccinations were "a decision between doctors and their patients." (It's unclear if Ernby had been vaccinated against COVID; her employer told PEOPLE they couldn't discuss her cause of death and weren't allowed to ask her about her vaccination status.)

Health officials say vaccines are the best safeguard against serious illness or death from the virus, but COVID vaccine requirements have become increasingly politicized as a matter of personal choice.

Ernby spoke at a rally organized by local chapters of the right-wing group Turning Point USA as recently as Dec. 4, according to the Times.

She told the crowd, "There's nothing that matters more than our freedoms right now."

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