Chair Tootie Smith on mask mandate: Governor 'lied, panicked'
Clackamas County Chair Tootie Smith condemned Oregon Gov. Kate Brown's latest mask mandate, accusing Brown of lying to public officials, failing to manage residents' safety and reinstating the mandate out of panic.
Smith's comments received cheers and applause from the hundreds of unmasked community members in attendance at a public hearing Thursday night, Aug. 12, the evening before Brown's reimposed mask mandate went into effect across the state. Many in the audience voiced their opinions on the mask mandates, as well.
Brown had lifted the mask mandate in June but reinstated it this week amid a surge in COVID-19 cases statewide, with 593 new reported cases in Clackamas County between Aug. 1-7, a 46% increase from the week prior, according to the county's public health division.
"This week, Governor Brown issued a masked mandate to all indoor buildings, yet said local authorities would not be charged with enforcement," Smith said. "My question to her is this. If it's not enforced, how can it be a mandate?"
Smith, who has been a vocal opponent of Brown's virus restrictions throughout the pandemic, added that the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office will not enforce public health emergency declarations, and highlighted that the county has outperformed many other counties in providing education, equipment, vaccinations, incentives, transportation, clinics and more to residents. Clackamas County has a 58% vaccination rate, according to the state, outpaced by both Multnomah and Clackamas counties, as well as Baker, Benton, Deschutes Hood River and Lincoln counties.
"Let me be clear. Mandates are not acceptable. All medical treatments are to be voluntary and not coerced mandates," Smith said, claiming that "mandates encourage resistance" rather than producing "the desired goal" of good health. Decision making by people "living in the trenches of life" creates "better results" and a "peaceful society," she said.
"Never seen before have our civil liberties, freedom and choice been so violated," Smith said. "Government officials are as only good as their word. Governor Brown lied to county officials when she returned the health authority to us on June 30. She has panicked, realizing that her management of this situation has failed."
Smith suggested Brown utilize the "hundreds of millions of dollars" the state has received from the federal government for management of the pandemic to increase hospital capacity and offer incentives to doctors and nurses.
"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," Smith said. "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. We need to be united, thoughtful and courteous to one another. After all, united we stand, divided we fall."
Following Smith's opening remarks, several community members were each given 60 seconds to voice their opinions publicly.
"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."
"Ladies and gentlemen, I've been moved tonight by the patriotism I've heard in this room," said Commissioner Mark Shull in response to the several testimonies. "Tonight is an example of the First Amendment freedom of speech, and I want to congratulate each and every one of you who came here."
Commissioner Martha Schrader then offered her opinion in support of vaccinations and masks, which received jeers from the crowd whom Smith had encouraged.
"I wear a mask, and I got vaccinated, because I believe that's helping us, you not get infected with this terrible virus. I would strongly suggest that you take a look at our website, our medical website. I would strongly suggest that you look at the CDC website," Schrader said.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.