PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Yamhill County commissioners voted in support of reaccrediting the county’s health department after debating COVID-19 language used on their website.
The meeting with the county health department, held virtually over Zoom on Thursday morning, came after one commissioner said there would be a “showdown” over the state’s COVID-19 policies.
On Friday, Jan. 21, Mary Starrett attended a meeting for an anti-COVID restrictions group called Free Oregon. Starrett is heard in the video saying there would be a “showdown” at Yamhill County’s board of commissioners meeting on Thursday.
“I’ve been asking our public health department to put some numbers on our public health website because I don’t want to be an accomplice to another kid dying from myocarditis, and I don’t want to be an accomplice to this lie that vaccines and masks will keep you healthy,” Starrett said in the video that was posted to the group’s Facebook page.
Three days later, Starrett sent a letter to be added to Thursday’s meeting agenda regarding a letter needed from the commissioners for the re-accreditation of Yamhill’s public health department. Starrett’s letter suggests additions to the county’s public health website.
During the meeting Thursday, Starrett said she thinks there has been “a real disconnect and a real lack of confidence in public health anymore.”
Starrett criticized the county’s website saying, “it’s as if we’re looking at OHA’s website, and I think we can do better.”
She said there should be more information on the site about natural immunity, what defines vaccinated and unvaccinated, prevention and early treatment of COVID-19.
“These are all things that I think, as a public health department, we can be proactive about and not simply rubber-stamp the Fauci, OHA, prevailing COVID narrative,” Starrett said.
More than an hour was spent talking about what should be listed on the site about vitamins and supplements as a way to boost your immune system.
Commissioner Lindsay Berschauer asked “why would we not be able to say that, that these particular ones are key in preventing or in the at-home care of symptomatic COVID?”
Health and Human Services Director Lindsay Manfrin said “there is not evidence, and I know that not everyone on this call agrees with me, but there is not evidence that directly links vitamin supplementation to COVID prevention or to COVID treatment.”
Commissioner Casey Kulla explained “putting something onto a treatment page that is not authorized, that doesn’t have rigorous studies behind it is irresponsible…frankly and it brings us into the picture of liability because we’re not the doctor.”
Starrett added “I’m a little bit concerned about our liability when we say getting vaccinated prevents severe illness, hospitalization, and death, so that might be a question for Christian [Boenisch, County Council] in that we’re making a statement which we know is not true.”
However, Manfrin pointed out “the data also still continues to clearly show that hospitalizations and deaths are drastically, drastically reduced by individuals being vaccinated and that plays out at national levels, international levels, state levels, and even our local data.”
After a lengthy discussion during the meeting, Commissioner Starrett agreed to approve the letter of accreditation for the health department, but in an email said her concerns have not been adequately addressed.
Starrett called her suggestions not “anti-vax, it’s pro-information,” but prior to the meeting, Starrett requested that the county public health department remove the strong recommendation that all Yamhill County residents get the COVID-19 vaccine as a protective measure for themselves and others.
Commissioner Berschauer questioned the county website’s statement that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.
“A lot of people are questioning the effectiveness right now,” Berschauer said, pointing to breakthrough cases of COVID-19 in Multnomah County, adding, “So, some of this information needs to be a bit more balanced in terms of how we’re portraying these options around COVID to our public.”
She did not immediately suggest any specific replacement to the language.
Berschauer also called for more detailed instructions on the county website for those told to stay home after testing positive for COVID-19.
Commissioner Casey Kulla sent the following statement to KOIN 6 News, accusing Starrett of “being willing to tear down our community’s public health resource.”
“Threatening the stability of our public health department and challenging staff is not the behavior I expect from an elected official, let alone a colleague who has a working relationship with health leadership at our county. When we were challenged in previous meetings by Commissioner Starrett to include information on the county website that was resulting in my colleagues getting kicked off of social media platforms, I asked Commissioner Starrett to have the folks who wanted to give advice to share that with our advisory body, the Board of Health.
“The Board of Health listened and chose not to propose new language or modify what we share with the public. I see this latest escalation as Commissioner Starrett refusing to take ‘no’ for an answer, and her being willing to tear down our community’s public health resource in her anger at being told ‘no.’ The Yamhill County Board of Commissioners needs to rely upon staff for their expert knowledge and trust them, rather than endangering real lives of real residents because they don’t like what staff tells them.”
Editor’s Note: The full Yamhill County Board of Commissioners meeting for Thursday is embedded above.
As of 1 p.m. Thursday, the Yamhill County Public Health website still includes the strong recommendation that all county residents get the COVID-19 vaccine to protect themselves against the virus.
Commissioner Starrett agreed to approve the letter of accreditation for the health department, but in an email said her concerns have not been adequately addressed.
She also wanted the words “safe and effective” removed when talking about COVID vaccines, but the health director says that language has not changed.