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Some elected sheriffs say they won't do that which nobody's asked them to do: Police the wearing of masks.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Nobody in Oregon is asking sheriff's to be "mask police," yet some sheriffs are attempting to make political points by saying they won't enforce the rules. Fine. That's a case of scoring political points while muddying the waters about COVID-19 protection. 
As a handful of sheriffs in Oregon rush to issue statements saying they refuse to enforce Gov. Kate Brown's latest mask mandate, we have to wonder what point exactly they are trying to make.

We know precisely no one who expects sheriff's offices or any other law enforcement agency to become the mask police. Can you imagine the logistical chaos that would ensue if they did? If a single shopper at a grocery store defies the mask mandate, will someone call the sheriff or the local police department? There are not enough officers in all of Oregon to respond to such reports.

Yet a few sheriffs in Oregon, including those in Columbia and Marion counties, have curiously decided to make a public declaration on the issue. They would be stating the obvious if they were just lamenting that they lack resources — the personnel — to enforce a mask requirement. Of course, they aren't being asked to do that anyway. Instead, they are clouding the matter with silly rhetoric about personal choice. Their pronouncements are not helpful for the health of their communities, and their words may encourage people to make the wrong decision when it comes to stopping the spread of the delta variant in Oregon.

Meanwhile, the surge in cases keeps getting worse. Over a three-day period, Aug. 13 to 15, Marion County saw 163 cases. Then another 169 cases on Wednesday, Aug. 18, alone.

For Columbia County, it was 19 over that same weekend and an additional 33 on that Wednesday.

The wisdom of wearing a mask during this pandemic is well established by science, showing that face coverings significantly reduce the rate of transmission. The efficacy of vaccines — now starting to get full and final approval from the FDA —also is well documented. Masks and vaccines, when combined, will go a long way toward ending the scourge that is stretching hospital intensive care units to capacity.

People are dying, and it's not just from the coronavirus. Because hospitals are filling up with COVID-19 patients, other people in need of critical care aren't getting it as quickly as they should.

In declaring their disobedience to the governor, the sheriffs may score political points with portions of their communities. But along the way, they are making it harder for their constituent businesses and local institutions to enforce their mask policies. That means more people will get sick, and some of them will die. Personal choice? Perhaps. But as the virus proliferates, their choices affect everyone else, hospitals overflow and this pandemic rages on and on.

All elected leaders, including sheriffs, must do everything they can to promote responsible behavior. If they dislike the governor, that's perfectly acceptable. But please find another issue — one that doesn't encourage life-endangering behavior — to illustrate that particular point.

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