CLACKAMAS, Ore. (KOIN) — Clackamas County Chair Tootie Smith spoke out against Oregon Gov. Kate Brown’s latest mask mandate ahead of a board meeting Thursday night attended by hundreds of unmasked community members.
The meeting came the day after Brown announced masks would be required once again in indoor public spaces starting Friday.
Oregon is currently experiencing an ongoing surge in COVID-19 cases as the delta variant spreads through communities. On Thursday, state health officials reported a record 2,387 new confirmed and presumptive cases of COVID-19 across Oregon while 670 people were being treated at hospitals due to the virus — also a record high.
“This week, Governor Brown issued a mask mandate to all indoor buildings yet said local authorities would not be charged with enforcement. My question to her is this: if it’s not enforced, how is it a mandate?” Smith asked.
A large group gathered outside the building where Clackamas County commissioners were meeting Thursday night, unable to get inside due to the capacity limits. Tensions were high in the crowd as people sweated in the heat.
Smith addressed the crowd outside before the meeting started. She said the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office would not be enforcing any public health emergency declarations. She said the county would continue to provide education, PPE, vaccinations, incentives and transportation to vaccination clinics among other things.
“We will continue to encourage these efforts. It is the role of government to support the citizens it represents, not to control or force policies on them,” Smith said. “Let me be clear: mandates are not acceptable. All medical treatments are to be voluntary and not coerced. Mandates encourage resistance rather than achieve the desired goal, which is good health.”
Smith went on to state that control over these issues should be left up to counties and their elected leaders and to the “people living in the trenches of life” in order to maintain order and peace.
“Vaccine and mask mandates are wrong and fail to improve public health,” she said. “Government officials are as only good as their word. Governor Brown lied to health officials when she returned the health authority to us on June 30. She wants mask mandates and has started down the road of vaccine passports in her own executive branch of government. She has panicked, realizing her management of this situation has failed. “
Smith called on Brown to increase capacity at Oregon hospitals using the “hundreds of millions of dollars” the state has received from the federal government for management of the pandemic. She said the state should offer incentives to encourage doctors and nurses to enter the health profession and stay in it.
“We have endured lockdowns, mandates and failed promises for 18 months. Our citizens have the right to make their own choices regarding their own health. Let me repeat: our civil liberties and freedoms are at stake. They are calling it a mandate, but in the end, if we have to show our papers to hold a job or go to the grocery store it’s a passport,” Smith said. “We need to be united, thoughtful and courteous to one another. After all, united we stand, divided we fall.”
Some in the crowd yelled for commissioners to take their meeting outside where they could watch and listen. Some people said they were at the meeting to share public testimony. Others said they wanted commissioners to speak out against the governor. Disagreements broke out regarding the tone of the group’s message as they waited.
“We are not here to tell people that they can’t wear masks, or they can’t access a vaccine that they want. It’s their body, it’s their choices, but we want to make sure that our bodies are our bodies, and our choices are our choices,” said Tiff Mumma.
“We need to see each other’s faces and each other’s smiles,” said Karen Cook.
“We’d really like to see it be a choice rather than a mandate,” said Thomas Cook. “The way I look at it — if someone wants to wear a mask, knock yourself out, go for it. I just don’t want to be told I have to wear one.”
Smith said in a tweet that she stands with Marion and Polk counties, both of which won’t require masks indoors.
KOIN 6 News has reached out to Brown’s office after the meeting and will update this story if we receive a statement.