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As the Delta variant continues to rise in Oregon, Clackamas County chair remains staunch in her defiance of virus restrictions

Tootie SmithBy the time Oregon health officials released a statement on Tuesday recommending people wear masks in public indoor settings regardless of vaccination status, Clackamas County Board Chair Tootie Smith had already made her stance quite clear in support of "optional" masks.

Smith, who has been vocal against virus restrictions throughout the pandemic, took to Facebook in the days preceding the Oregon Health Authority (OHA)recommendation and insisted that county residents should not be required to wear masks or get vaccinated.

"Another mask mandate is NOT acceptable," Smith wrote in a post on Monday. "Clackamas County residents have complied for over 15 months with constantly changing edicts about COVID from state government. Vaccination rates in Clackamas County are one of Oregon's highest. The wearing of masks must be optional."

Smith maintained that county residents can maintain good health on their own without governmental restrictions, and should be free to interpret information from scientists and the OHA however they would like.

"We have been told to trust the scientists. Do you believe the Tobacco industry scientist? Trust the Coca-Cola scientists? Trust the Opioid scientists? Trust the Animal Factory Farming scientists? Trust the Coal industry scientist? Trust the Big Oil scientists? Or just the ones the media tells you to trust. The claim of science is running tired and old. Which 'science' should we believe?" Smith said.

Days earlier, on Sunday, July 24, Smith reposted an Associated Press article showing data that most currently unvaccinated Americans don't want to get the shots, commenting: "And that's exactly why it shouldn't be forced upon them."

On July 23, Smith shared a KGW article in which she is quoted as saying: "When it comes to a mask mandate for my county, this is what I say: 'Hell no!'"

Smith has also been censoring opposing viewpoints from her post's comments sections, said Cris Waller, a Clackamas County resident and Oregon House District 40 leader for the county's Democratic Party. Waller alleges Smith blocked her from her page and deleted several of her comments refuting Smith's sentiments.

"I am extremely concerned by the irresponsible public Facebook postings of Chair Smith that are serving to inflame and incite her anti-vaccination base and result in dozens of factually inaccurate responses that perpetuate harmful anti-scientific rhetoric," Waller said in an email to county officials asking if someone could have a "heart to heart" with Smith about the topic.

Smith, a Republican, unseated incumbent Democrat and former County Chair Jim Bernard in the May 2020 election. Under her as the new chair this year, the county board no longer hears weekly updates from public-health officials.

"COVID weekly updates were an invaluable source of data to rebut the antivaxxer tide, and they are sorely missed," Waller said.

County Administrator Gary Schmidt replied briefly to Waller's comments, thanking her for the feedback and saying that he will "talk with" Smith. Schmidt noted that Smith, as chair, sets the meeting agendas for all county board meetings.

When Gov. Kate Brown reintroduced COVID restrictions in November 2020, Smith appeared on Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight" saying the rules made her feel like a "second-rate slave," a comment that led to condemnation of Smith by state representatives.COURTESY: FACEBOOK - Clackamas County Chair-Elect Tootie Smith's Facebook posting in November 2020.

Smith doubled down on her statements later at a Jan. 1 "Women for Trump" rally at the Oregon state capitol.

"Let me be clear: Gov. Brown has no authority over me or any other elected official in Oregon," Smith said. "I stand for freedom, smart health programs that heal and allowing people to make intelligent decisions."

Gov. Kate Brown lifted most of Oregon's pandemic restrictions on June 30 due to nearly of 70% state residents being fully vaccinated, but mandates may be reinstated as health experts learn more about the rising Delta variant.

"The highly contagious Delta variant has increased tenfold in the past two weeks in Oregon, and it is now estimated to be associated with 80% of the new cases in Oregon," said Dr. Dean Sidelinger, state epidemiologist and state health officer in Tuesday's press release.

"The use of face masks provides significant protection for individuals who are unvaccinated as well as an additional level protection from a small but known risk of infection by the virus for persons who have already been vaccinated," he added.

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